STONY BROOK, NY — It was perhaps overdue, but James Madison women’s lacrosse finally earned well-deserved respect on Sunday afternoon. They also earned their first ever national championship, beating Boston College, 16-15.
With 1:05 remaining in the game, Haley Warden slipped inside the Boston College defense, took a pass from fellow senior Katie Kerrigan and gave the Dukes a 16-14 lead. Warden threw her stick. Kristen Gaudian spiked hers. James Madison was on the brink of magic.
Boston College won the next draw, and Tess Chandler’s shot dribbled across the line as the Eagles pulled within one goal with 22.1 seconds to play.
But who came through with the game-clinching draw win? Warden. Again. The Dukes were able to waste out the rest of the clock. Gatorade poured over head coach Shelley Klaus- Bawcombe’s head, and James Madison gathered to raise the penultimate trophy in the sport.
Warden, the tournament’s most outstanding came through for the Dukes several times down the stretch, including with 7:02 to play in the game. Then, she scored on a rifle to give the Dukes a 14-11. Elena Romesburg lept into her arms, fist in the air.
On the ensuing possession, Sam Apuzzo — the Eagles superstar — got to the interior of the Dukes zone defense for an open look. But Molly Dougherty made a crucial save, as her name echoed across a cold, foggy and wet LaValle Stadium.
“Molly! Molly! Molly!” the fans screamed, as she secured her seventh of NUMBER stops in the game, a save total that doesn’t really do justice to how terrific she was for much of the game.
But it couldn’t be that easy, could it? Not against this Boston College team, that had just knocked off Stony Brook and Maryland — No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls — the previous two weeks.
On the man down, Apuzzo scored from free-position. Then Taylor Walker did the same. Boston College pulled within 14-13, still very alive.
But then at the other end, Gaudian, the former-walkon-turned-Tewaaraton-finalist hounded by defenders as she had been all-game long split two Eagles players and gave JMU a 15-13 advantage.
Boston College opened the second half with a pair of goals — Emma Schurr and Tess Chandler — to take a 10-8 lead. It was a 4-0 run dating back to the closing minutes of the opening half, but then the Eagles started to get a bit sloppy. A dropped pass by Apuzzo and a failed clear opened the gates for a 4-0 James Madison run in response.
Against James Madison’s vaunted zone defense — which allowed 20 combined goals against Florida and North Carolina — Boston College used a pass-oriented attack. Eleven out of 15 of the Eagles’ goals were assisted (they entered the game having assisted on 40.3 percent of goals this season). Apuzzo led the way with four helper to go along with three goals and eight draw controls. BC won the draw battle, 20 to 13.
The crowd at LaValle was noticeably thin because of the weather conditions, but the poncho-insulated James Madison and Boston College contingents were noisy with cheers and jeers after every goal, every draw control, every questionable call.
The defensive gameplan for Boston College was obvious: limit Gaudian. Hannah Hyatt, the Eagles’ junior defender, stayed on the Tewaaraton finalist like a parasite. In the end, Gaudian got her due, scoring three goals, but she was quiet for much of the first half.
But for the Dukes, who have great offensive depth, other players stepped up. Junior Hanna Haven scored the first two goals, then senior Morgan Hardt scored their next two. Gaudian didn’t get on the board herself until 8:13 remained in the first half, when she finally escaped from Hyatt and found a bit of space at the right side of the goal.
This marks the first time in 12 years that a team other than Northwestern, Maryland or North Carolina wins the national championship. For Klaus-Bawcombe, it is one of the greatest coaching accomplishments in the sports history, taking a team of walk-ons and no-names to Division-I national championship glory.