Franklin Regional graduates part of top-10 IUP women's lacrosse team
When Sarah Ward joined the IUP women's lacrosse team before the 2011 season, the Crimson Hawks were coming off an 8-9 season and had just one winning record in their 13-year history.
Four seasons later, Ward and IUP are enjoying the best year in program history.
Ward, a 2010 Franklin Regional graduate, is one of the key attackers for IUP (8-2), which is ranked seventh in the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association poll. Before this season, the Crimson Hawks had never before cracked the top 10.
Hannah Bertolo, a 2013 Franklin Regional graduate, is a freshman defender for the Crimson Hawks.
“It's awesome,” Ward said of the team's lofty ranking. “There's 11 of us seniors, and we worked so hard together. We're just really excited about what's to come with the rest of our season. We have some more big games coming up, too. It's just exciting and fun to be playing for a winning team.”
IUP's rise to the elite program ranks came gradually. The Crimson Hawks finished 8-9 in 2010 before posting back-to-back 11-win seasons in 2011 and 2012.
Last season marked a bigger breakthrough, as IUP set a program record for wins, finishing 13-3, and won a game in the Pennsylvania State Athletics Conference tournament. Although the Crimson Hawks returned several key players from that team, they lost goalkeeper Kaitlin Sterling and leading scorer Alexa Lodovici.
Still, the Crimson Hawks picked up right where they left off. Since dropping its season opener to Lindenwood, IUP had won eight of nine games and was outscoring opponents, 140-85, in that span.
“We were a little nervous (before the season),” Ward said. “But we made it to the playoffs last year, and we definitely thought we could do it again. That was our whole goal the entire time, and we had something to work off of this year. It's been exciting.”
Bertolo and Ward are two of four WPIAL alumnae on the IUP roster. Other former WPIAL players include junior Brenna Gallagher (Seneca Valley) and sophomore Drew Hayden (Pine-Richland).
In eight games, Bertolo had recorded four ground balls.
Through nine games, Ward ranked seventh on the team in scoring wth 21 points (12 goals, nine assists). After scoring 23 goals in a slashing attacker role last season, she now plays behind the opposing team's net and is a key passer in the team's offense.
“I've normally been the one cutting from up top looking at the girl behind,” said Ward, who added she's getting more comfortable in the behind-the-net position. “It's kind of nice having a reversal on that and trying to assist people. I'm just looking forward to helping out with others scoring.”
IUP, looking for its first PSAC title, is currently the top-ranked team in the conference. The Crimson Hawks picked up a key victory over nationally ranked Lock Haven in their first conference game, but they will play big games down the stretch against Mercyhurst, West Chester and Bloomsburg. The PSAC Tournament will begin in late April, with the final scheduled for May 3.
“It's awesome that we're ranked first in the PSAC. (We want to) try to maintain that,” Ward said. “Getting into the playoffs and coming out on top in the PSAC (are goals). Coach has talked about possibly getting a bid to nationals, which would be amazing because that's never been in the cards for this team. That would just definitely be something to look forward to.”