F&M; reaching its prime

The Baltimore Sun

What could be better than winning a national championship?

For Franklin & Marshall, looking back on last year's 21-0 Division III championship season, the answer might be having almost everybody back.

The No. 1 Diplomats, from Lancaster, Pa., won their first national women's lacrosse title, 11-8, over Salisbury, with seven sophomore and two freshman starters.

"We have only one senior, so we still have a really young team. We're just trying to develop more as a team as we go," said Diplomats coach Anne Phillips, whose team has won 27 straight games.

Three key players hail from the Baltimore area - junior midfielder Sarah Meisenberg from Severn and sophomore attacker Blake Hargest and goalie Lidia Sanza, both from St. Paul's.

Meisenberg and Hargest are tied for second in scoring with 24 points each, and Sanza allows just 6.64 goals per game.

Each plays a very distinct role in keeping the Diplomats (6-0) at the top of the rankings heading into Saturday's 2 p.m. showdown at No. 2 Salisbury (12-0).

Meisenberg does a bit of everything with 14 goals and 10 assists as well as being a leader in draw controls, ground balls and caused turnovers. "We call her our Visa," Phillips said, "because she's everywhere you want her to be."

Hargest set a Division III record for most assists in the national tournament with 14 and set a school record for assists in a game with nine. Being 6 feet is an advantage around the crease where she has 13 goals and 11 assists this season.

Sanza, The Sun's 2006 All-Metro goalkeeper, stepped in behind a veteran defense last season and allowed only 5.37 goals per game with a .583 save percentage. She made 10 saves in the title game against Salisbury.

Heading into Saturday's game, Phillips is looking for a tight contest, as the Diplomats slipped by the Sea Gulls, 8-7, in the regular season last year after Salisbury got lost and showed up 10 minutes before game time.

"These are two programs that have gotten to the top pretty quickly," Phillips said. "We expect a pretty physical game. We're kind of evenly matched as far as talent. ... We're not that dissimilar in our play."

Heading south

The Diplomats and the Sea Gulls played the biggest roles in the past few years in ending a northern stranglehold on the Division III national championship game.

In 2005, the Sea Gulls became the first team south of the Mason-Dixon Line to reach the final in the 21st year of the NCAA Division III tournament. In taking last year's title, the Diplomats were the first from outside New England or New Jersey to win since Ursinus in 1990.

Between 1991 and 2006, The College of New Jersey and Middlebury won all but one championship. Amherst won in 2003. No team from outside New England, New Jersey or New York even reached the title game between 1991 and 2004.

Salisbury coach Jim Nestor said an increased focus on recruiting has brought players into Division III who might have opted for a Division I program.

"We've been able to get some of the players who would rather go D-III, knowing that it's a high level of lacrosse but it's not working at it the whole time. It's not a job. It's got that great balance. I think some of the talent is staying more local," said Nestor, in his seventh season with the Sea Gulls.

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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