Hawks ace first playoff test, beat UNE to advance to CCC Championship

Senior Kaelin Hogan (left) and sophomore Shayne Rivard (right) celebrate after Rivard scores a goal in the second half of the game.

Andrew Wuebker, Herald Reporter

As the clock hit triple zeros and the final horn sounded, the Roger Williams University women’s lacrosse team tossed down their sticks and ran to their goal on the far side of the field. 

As the Hawks embraced one another with loud cheers, everyone knew what it meant — the title game awaits.

“It was just a lot of screaming, a lot of not actual words and it was just so exciting to finally be at the end of the season,” said junior Emily Stoeppel, the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) 2018 Defensive Player of the Year. “We’ve been playing all season just for that moment.”

On Tuesday night at Bayside Field, the second-seeded Hawks (13-3, 8-1 CCC) made quick work of No. 6 seed University of New England (8-9, 5-5 CCC) in a CCC Tournament semifinal matchup, coming away with an 18-6 victory that sends them to the conference title game for the fifth consecutive year.

The Hawks came into Tuesday’s contest as winners of five straight and well-rested after not playing since their regular season finale against Gordon College on April 18, while the Nor’easters came off a 17-8 upset win last Saturday over third-seeded Western New England University in the CCC quarterfinals.

While RWU never trailed, the game was close early. In the first half, it appeared the Hawks may have had a slight case of jitters. RWU started out slow on offense, holding a slight 3-1 edge just over midway through the first half. The Hawks had a heap of scoring opportunities, outshooting UNE 22-14 in the first, but had trouble hitting the mark as a amped UNE defense stood in the way.

RWU’s defense, anchored by a stout 10-save performance from sophomore goalkeeper Lydia Nelson, helped to keep the Hawks in the lead during their struggles on attack.

“We gave our MVP game ball to our goalie, Lydia,” said Hawks Head Coach Jennifer Fox. “Yes, I think our defense was unbelievable.”

With a 5-3 lead with just under 10 minutes to play in the first, the Hawks were able to open things up after winning a few face-offs, closing the period with four unanswered goals.

In the second half, the Hawks continued their scoring burst, adding three more scores in the first 8:39 of the half for a 12-3 advantage. 

As the Hawks D continued to stand their ground, RWU’s offense had found their groove. 

While back-to-back CCC Offensive Player of the Year Kaelin Hogan struggled to shoot the ball (3-for-13), she added a game-high seven assists to keep RWU’s attack going with her underclassmen teammates as the recipients.

“People are gonna have off games and it’s just a matter of who’s gonna step up, but I think they played well together and they’re really good at making each other look good,” Fox said. “Not a lot of fastbreaks, single just to drive goals, a lot of assists and I think that’s the style we’re really looking towards.”

The Hawks had eight different players score on offense, led by underclassmen Delana Erickson, Maeve Gillis, Shayne Rivard, Devon Sarazin and Ashley Warren who all combined for 13 goals. 

Fox was complimentary of her underclassmen stepping up on the big stage.

“I was really proud of our freshmen today, I think they really stepped up overall,” she said. “At the end of the day these kids are fighters and I think they showed it. And again, I keep saying it, they played with heart and hustle.”

Behind a cleaner second half, the Hawks paced themselves to a 18-6 win, earning a Friday night date with top-seeded Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts.

The conference’s top two teams will meet for the fourth time in the last five years in the championship game, but that’s just the beginning of the storied history between these two powerhouse programs.

With the Gulls’ semifinal win over No. 4 seed Salve Regina University, Endicott will get their 13th title game appearance in the last 14 seasons, while RWU will get their seventh appearance since 2008.

The Hawks and Gulls will meet in the postseason for the ninth time since 2008. Since 2008, the team that won the regular season matchup has not lost the postseason matchup in that timespan. The last time the Hawks did outfly the Gulls was in 2016 when the Hawks won their first title in school history.

Endicott leads the all-time series 21-4 (14-1 at home) against RWU, where the Hawks were outmatched 14-3 in the 2017 finale. The Gulls are 5-1 all-time in the CCC Championship against the Hawks.

While the odds appear as if they’re stacked against RWU, Fox — a former Endicott College assistant coach — believes her group is evenly matched with the Gulls, evidenced from the close battle her Hawks gave them in Bristol in early April.

“I had a feeling we were gonna see them again,” she said.

Fox is confident in her team’s ability to bring a tough fight to the Gulls and win despite being the underdog. She referenced the Division I women’s lacrosse Atlantic Coast Conference Championship between Boston College and University of North Carolina last week, where the favored Eagles were beaten by the underdog Tar Heels. She hopes for a similar result for her team on Friday night.

“BC was ranked No. 1, undefeated, lost in their ACC Championship to UNC and they beat UNC the first time, but UNC won in the championship,” Fox said. “So we’re hoping that’s like us. The No. 2 beats the undefeated No. 1 the second time around. I screenshot the score and sent it to our team as soon as it happened.”

The players appear confident as well, knowing perfectly well the great challenge that lies ahead.

“Endicott is definitely a formidable opponent,” Stoeppel said. “They’re crazy good and they have so much depth to their team, but we know how to play against them. Last game it was 14-9, so it was closer than it was last year. We just need to be able to execute our own game plan and stay out of our own heads.”