Marquette women’s lacrosse answered a 5-0 Connecticut run with a 6-0 run of their own and ended up taking a 15-14 victory in the regular season finale at Valley Fields on Saturday. With the win, Marquette clinches the first ever Big East tournament appearance in program history, and thus, the first ever postseason appearance in program history.
The Golden Eagles found themselves in a hole at a couple of spots in this game. Grace Nolan, the most prolific scorer in the Big East this season, went nuts early, scoring four goals in the first 16 minutes to stake the Huskies to a 6-2 lead. Marquette began the process of clawing that lead back, something they would have to do repeatedly in this game, as Megan Menzuber, Riley Hill, and Charlotte McGuire all hit the net in a less than three minute span in order to turn it into a one goal game. Lexi Kenneally would put UConn back up by three with under a minute to play in the half, but Hill found her second of the game just 20 seconds later to make it 9-7 at the break.
Hill was Marquette’s first goal scorer in the second half, breaking the ice after halftime to make it a one goal game, and Menzuber’s second of the contest evened things at nine with just over 26 minutes remaining.
That’s when things almost turned into a disaster for Marquette.
Over the next nine minutes, Connecticut would score five times, capped by a pair just 15 seconds apart from Caitlin Leary. Marquette managed just three shots in that span, and committed three turnovers as well, with all three giveaways coming in between UConn’s third and fourth goals. That meant a 14-9 lead for the visitors with 17:24 to go. That’s a lot of time, but it was going to require a defensive stand like no other.
As you can tell from the headline, Marquette got that stand.
Over the final 17:24, Connecticut attempted just five shots. Two of them came in the final 90 seconds. The Huskies coughed the ball up six times, with five of them coming as forced by Marquette. Grace Gabriel had three of her six caused turnovers in that final stretch, and Allison Lane notched half of her four in that period as well.
As important as the defense was, the goal scoring was just as necessary. The Golden Eagles fired six goals past UConn goalie Grace Beshlian in less than 15 minutes, slowly chewing up the Huskies’ lead. They did it by volume, though, firing 17 shots and generally causing havoc left, right, and center on the Connecticut defensive end of the field.
Ultimately, it was senior Allison Lane cashing in the game winner with just 1:55 remaining. It came off a draw control by Gabriel, her team high fifth of the game, as MU took possession after pulling even at 14 on a goal from Menzuber. Connecticut won the final draw control of the game, though, and the Huskies had two final swings at the net, one with 81 seconds left and one with just 17 seconds left. Both went wide, but the second one ended up with a Marquette player closest to the line, and thus all the Golden Eagles had to do was run out the clock.
The turning point of the game, or at least the biggest play of the game might have actually come with five minutes left in the game and Connecticut up 14-13. A foul on MU’s Kate Viviano resulted in a free position shot for UConn’s Sydney Watson. It was the third FPS of the game for Watson, and she had already connected on one of her first two in the first half. The third time was not the charm for her, though, as MU goalie Julianna Horning made her ninth save of the game to stonewall Watson and keep the margin at only one.
Riley Hill was the offensive star for Marquette, scoring four times, twice in each half, and chipping in an assist to lead the way in both goals and points. She did have to share that team lead in goals with Megan Menzuber, who also had four. Charlotte McGuire contributed a hat trick and a helper, while Grace Gabriel had two goals on eleven shots. It’s clear that she wanted the program record for goals in a season, but she fell short on this day, finishing the afternoon with 54 on the season, one fewer than Julianna Shearer’s record of 55. But that’s okay....
Up Next: ..... because thanks to Lane’s game winner, Marquette will be down in Gainesville on Thursday to tangle with Florida in the Big East semifinals, thus giving Gabriel 60 more minutes to break the record. The Golden Eagles are the #4 seed in the Big East tournament after Denver won on Saturday as well, thus giving MU a semifinal contest against the top seeded Gators. Florida defeated Marquette in Gainesville on April 14th by a margin of 18-6 after UF scored 11 of the first 12 goals of the game.