After ‘trying’ 2018 season, Seton Hill women’s lacrosse qualifies for NCAAs
After each season, Seton Hill women’s lacrosse coach Courtney Grove takes a solo trip to the beach. She spends much of her time reflecting on the team’s performance: what went right, what went wrong, what can improve.
When she takes her trip this summer, she can reflect on a watershed season.
The Griffins (11-8, 8-4 PSAC) qualified for the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time and will travel to West Chester to meet the PSAC champion Golden Rams on Friday in the first round of the Atlantic Regional. West Chester has beaten Seton Hill twice this season but needed overtime to win in the PSAC semifinals.
Seton Hill went through what Grove called a “trying season” in 2018 — “Just a lot of drama … and injuries.” — and came into the new year intent on a turnaround. But after an 0-3 spring break trip to Florida, the Griffins were at a crossroads.
“I knew that was going to be the turning point,” said Grove, in the sixth season of her second stint as the Griffins coach. “I knew we were going to step up and move forward, or we were going to hold onto that 0-3 record.”
Said redshirt senior midfielder Keagan Pontious: “Being 0-3 definitely was a little hit to the heart.”
The Griffins went 2-2 in their next four matches before a 13-5 win over then-No. 25 Bloomsburg started a run of seven wins in nine games to end the regular season. Included was a 22-6 win over perennial tormentor Lock Haven.
“We came out so hot against them and scored so many goals,” said junior midfielder Olivia Caragein, a Seton LaSalle graduate. “We just kind of looked at each other like, ‘This team used to beat us, and we’re killing them.’
“That’s when we got our confidence. Last year, I think we kind of lost it a little bit … and we just had to fight our way back.”
Other factors figured into Seton Hill’s success.
Former Griffin Emma Simmers came on as a volunteer assistant, easing the load for Grove, who had been a one-woman show. Simmers also brought her experience of having been to the PSAC semifinals in 2015 — Pontious’ freshman year.
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, the Griffins cut down on turnovers and ran a more efficient transition game. They also got contributions up and down the roster rather than relying on one player.
Six players had at least 19 goals, with Mackenzie Kilduff leading the way with 66 and Pontious adding 54. Caragein had 25 goals.
Even the players who didn’t always get on the field, Pontious said, had a hand in the winning.
“They come with gameday speeches and are ready to step on that field whenever we need or just sit there and cheer us on,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
The Griffins hope their “amazing” isn’t finished. Against West Chester, they will try to repeat what they did in April against IUP: The Griffins lost to the Crimson Hawks in overtime in the penultimate game of the regular season, then came back to beat IUP a week later in the PSAC Tournament opener.
“For us, this is redemption,” Caragein said about the rematch with West Chester.
Caragein is looking forward to being a senior leader next season to see if her class can take the program up another notch. A PSAC title, she said, is the next step.
Pontious and the rest of this year’s seniors won’t be around for that, but she said she can leave with a sense of fulfillment after achieving an NCAA Tournament berth.
“We weren’t even supposed to get (here),” she said. “I’ve definitely had a long ride. It was a little bit rough in certain situations. I wasn’t satisfied with being a part of something that was so close but not over the top.
“And that’s where we got this year, and that was huge.”
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .