By John Boccacino/Sports Information Director
Around this time last year, the Keuka College women's lacrosse team was preparing for its first-ever berth in the NCAA Division III tournament.
After winning the North Eastern Athletic Conference's (NEAC) postseason championship, the Storm drew perennial power SUNY Cortland in the first round, and while the Green and Gold fought hard, they eventually fell to the Red Dragons in a first-round NCAA contest.
Fast-forward one year and the Storm (16-2) are the champions of the NEAC. Once again, the Green and Gold are preparing for a tough challenge in the first-round of the NCAA tournament, as Keuka College drew Mount Union (Ohio) in a 7 p.m. matchup Wednesday night.
The Purple Raiders (15-2) are in their second varsity season and captured both the regular season and postseason titles from the Ohio Athletic Conference.
But unlike last year, when the Storm were a bit overwhelmed by the national stage of taking on a Cortland squad that had advanced into the Final Four three straight years, this time around, the student-athletes feel more confident and more prepared for the challenge of the NCAA tournament.
"We're all proud that we're going back to the NCAA tournament. It's just an unbelievable thrill, I can't explain the emotions of earning another trip to NCAA's. We'll see how far we're able to go," said senior midfielder Taylor Smith (Webster, NY/Webster Schroeder), who earned her second straight first-team All-NEAC honors in 2014.
"We are coming off some good, hard-fought wins over Utica College (11-10) and Morrisville State (12-11 in the NEAC championship). Now that we're back playing some really tough competition, we'll be ready to not let someone run us over in the NCAA tournament. Hopefully we'll be able to put a little more pressure on the opponent and come out wanting to win."
Live streaming video is available from the first-round game at http://athletics.mountunion.edu/sports/wlax/2013-14/videos/mtu-keuka-ncaa, while live stats are available at http://livestats.prestosports.com/mountunion/.
If fans make the trek to Ohio for the contest, admission will cost $3, $2 for students with a valid student ID.
The winner of the Keuka/Mount Union contest travels to take on SUNY Cortland, the nation's top-ranked team, Saturday in the second round.
The Storm bring a 14-game win streak into the NCAA's, including Saturday's thrilling, 11-10, come-from-behind win over rival Morrisville State in the NEAC title game.
Junior Olivia Hudson (Adams, NY/South Jefferson) netted the eventual game-winning goal with 27 seconds left as the Green and Gold rallied from a 7-3, first-half deficit to win their fifth NEAC title in the tournament's six-year history.
Offensively, senior Maggie Bonafede (Churchville, NY/Churchville-Chili) is fifth in the nation with 68 assists and leads the Storm and is 12th in the nation with 99 points. Bonafede, a first-team All-NEAC attacker, scored 31 goals and was one of seven student-athletes with 30 or more points.
Smith led the team with 67 goals and set school records for draw controls (128), groundballs (100) and caused turnovers (51). Smith is currently seventh nationally in groundballs per game (5.56) and is 12th nationally in draw controls. She added 11 assists and finished with 78 points, second-most on the team. Smith broke the school record for career goals and currently has 202 career goals.
Junior Kaycee Maguire (Potsdam, NY/Potsdam) earned NEAC Tournament MVP honors after scoring 9 points (five goals, four assists) with 7 groundballs, 6 draw controls and 5 caused turnovers. Maguire is second on the team in goals scored (35), groundballs (75), caused turnovers (40) and draw control wins (30) and is third in points (45).
Senior Caroline Arancio (Clinton, NY/Clinton) and junior Jennifer Burt (Penn Yan, NY/Penn Yan) each totaled 42 points for the Storm, while freshmen Morgan Bruno (Seneca Falls, NY/Mynderse) and Sydney Forshay (Clifton Springs, NY/Midlakes) added 40 and 32 points, respectively.
Maguire said one of the team's strengths is that, with such a balanced offense, teams can't just focus on shutting down one student-athlete to be successful.
"We are such a deep and talented team. Everyone of our players on the field is capable of scoring," said Maguire, who earned first-team All-NEAC at midfield.
"This is a great opportunity to be able to go and be back in the NCAA's again. We know we've got a tough draw, but hopefully we can keep playing hard and make our school proud. We're all so thankful that we could win the NEAC title again."
The Storm scored 282 goals in 18 games, an average of 15.67 goals per game, ranking 18th in Division III. Keuka also ranked fourth nationally in scoring margin (+10.78).
The Green and Gold feature the nation's stingiest defense (4.89 goals per game). Senior Korie Fitzgerald (Vestal, NY/Vestal) is No. 1 in the nation in goals against average (5.48).
Fitzgerald, Hudson, junior Anna Patton (Newark, NY/Newark) and freshmen Taylor Willsey (Mexico, NY/Mexico) and Maura Gosson (Syracuse, NY/Marcellus) lead a stout Storm defense that pitched a school-record three shutouts and compiled a scoreless streak of 213 minutes and 24 seconds from April 19 to April 27, a span of four games.
Mount Union is sixth in the nation in scoring offense (17.07) and scoring defense (6.06). The Purple Raiders are led by Katherine Doraty (55G, 30A), Taylor Pensyl (53 draw controls) and Kolbie Haines (34 groundballs, 25 caused turnovers).
"I'm really excited for the NCAA's, all of us are," Hudson said. "Winning the NEAC conference is huge, but to get to another NCAA tournament says a lot about a small school like Keuka. While we have a tough game, we will just have to go all-out, do what we can and play our best."