When goalie Eleanor Garvey enrolled at Mount Ida College outside Boston two years ago, she never dreamed that she would help put a stellar finishing touch on the Mustangs' women's lacrosse program.
The Francis Scott Key graduate and her teammates were in the middle of a nine-game winning streak, the longest in Mustangs history, earlier this month when they learned their small college would close at the end of this school year.
Garvey, a senior and one of the top goalies in Division III, called the news "frustrating," especially for the younger players, but she also saw it as an opportunity for them all as they headed toward the Great Northeast Athletic Conference playoffs, which begin Saturday.
"Our coach was like, 'All the more reason to try to go for the GNAC win,' " Garvey said, "and being the last girls team to play on the field, that's going to be a really big motivation for me. It's going to be sad and it's going to be different at the same time, but it should motivate everybody and I think it does motivate us to not leave any regrets."
At 11-4, the Mustangs have put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in the program's nine-year history. Garvey, who holds program records for career save percentage (.570) and career goals-against average (8.35), has been a major reason why.
Last year, the Mustangs reached the GNAC semifinals for the first time and on Saturday, they host a GNAC quarterfinal game against Norwich (Vt.). Although they're seeded third for the tournament and Norwich is sixth, the Mustangs will have to avenge their 14-11 loss from April 17 to extend their season.
"We're going to have to take every game as if it's our last game," Garvey said. "This Saturday, we're just going to go out and play harder than we ever have."
For Garvey, that won't be difficult. In her second season at Mount Ida, she has emerged as one of the top goalies in Division III. Her .583 save percentage not only ranks first in the GNAC but also fifth in Division III. She's giving up just 8.67 goals per game as the Mustangs' only keeper and has been the GNAC Goalkeeper of the Week three times this spring. Both statistics are the best in Mount Ida history for a single season.
"She's done an amazing job for us," Mustangs coach Nicole Poli said. "We got another goalie her first year, which I think helped her out tremendously because it gave her a year to get acclimated and toward the end of her first year, she just took off. She closed out almost all of our important games, and this year stepped into a starting position and just has been the absolute backbone of our team. Without her, I don't know if we'd be this far."
On April 11, Garvey became the first Mustangs lacrosse player to earn a national weekly honor as Interscholastic Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association Defensive Player of the Week after making 17 saves and posting a .708 save percentage in a 10-7 win over Simmons (Mass.).
"I was very shocked. It was just sort of weird and I think kind of embarrassing, because I didn't really understand what it was at first. Then we watched the video and I was like, 'This is some serious stuff,' " Garvey said with a laugh. "I'm very happy to get it, but I like to get a team recognition kind of thing rather than the individual type thing, because it's not just me out there. It's my team."
That reaction was no surprise to Poli.
"She's gotten recognition a lot this season," the coach said. "She's probably gotten the most of anybody on our team, but she doesn't like to be in the spotlight. She always wants to make a special point to acknowledge her teammates. She does her job and she does it well, because she wants to be the best for herself, her team and her coaches."
Garvey took a winding route to Mount Ida, one of few colleges to offer the combination of intercollegiate lacrosse and her major, game art.
She began her college career at Howard Community College, playing two years for the Dragons. As a sophomore, she posted a .488 save percentage and allowed just 8.58 goals per game as the Dragons (14-3) reached the National Junior College Athletic Association semifinals for the first time in program history.
Her search for the right place to finish her undergraduate degree led to her to Mount Ida, a college of about 1,500 students in Newton, Mass.
Garvey, who wants to provide the computer-generated animation for video games, said most schools in Maryland with an art major don't offer sports and the ones where she could have focused more on the technology involved in creating games required too much time to play sports.
"I was a little disappointed," Garvey said of not being able to find what she wanted in Maryland. "I don't remember whether [Poli] contacted me or I contacted her, but it just seemed like the best option for me."
On the lacrosse field, she's helping the Mustangs go out on a high note. Three more wins would match the most since the program began in 2010, tying last year's 14-win mark.
"That would be great," Garvey said. "It's much better to leave it this way. It shows that all of us work hard and want to be part of history."