SALISBURY, Md. -- Meredith College controlled possession throughout Saturday's NCAA Division III Women's Lacrosse Tournament first round action, closing a 20-9 victory over the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Mariners. Carlee Joseph led the attack with six goals, and Cameron Ruffin ignited the defense with four caused turnovers on the way to the Avenging Angels' program-first NCAA Tournament victory.
With Sarah Arbes on the draw throughout the contest, Meredith dominated control collecting 20-of-31 draws in the 60 minutes of play. Holly Hite led the match with 10, adding four goals and three ground balls, and Arbes grabbed six of her own. Lilia Cruz dished out four assists with one goal, and Julie Capretti finished with three goals, including two-of-three from the eight-meter mark.
Maria Codispoti found the cage twice, assisting on two others, and Olivia Higgs entered from the bench for three points on two goals and one assist. Joy Deitrich started and won her third match in-goal for the Avenging Angels with five saves in nearly 45 minutes of play. Haley Whitfield closed out the match with one stop.
Arbes produced the opening draw, but an unforced Meredith turnover gave Merchant Marine several chances at the net. Ruffin interrupted the series with a caused turnover, and Joseph put the Angels on the board at the other end of the field. Capretti followed with an eight-meter goal for an early 2-0 Meredith advantage.
Two more Ruffin steals led to an on-goal attempt by Joseph, but USMMA keeper Hanna Gizzi grabbed the save. Codispoti and Arbes finally ended the back-and-forth with a third point for the Angels.
Ruffin drew a yellow card in the next series and a turnover at the goal caused by USMMA's Meredith Willard left Willard in position for a man-up goal. Hite controlled the resulting draw, and with 17:40 on the clock, Joseph looped in an underhanded shot to extend the Angels lead back to three.
Two minutes later Jessica Reilly scored her first goal of the match to pull the Mariners back to within two. A missed free-position attempt by the Angels led to Willard's second goal of the match, as USMMA crept closer to Meredith 4-3. But Hite rolled in a winner past the Mariner goalie to keep Meredith out front.
Meredith nearly recovered a missed free-position attempt by Capretti, but Cruz intercepted the Mariners first pass to give Codispoti another chance. Neither team scored on their next shot leaving the Avenging Angels with a 5-3 advantage and eight minutes left in the half.
On a free-position shot Cruz finally threaded the needle to find the far corner of the net for a 6-3 Meredith lead. USMMA's Maura Malone produced a draw for the Mariners, but Hite forced a quick turnover to put the ball back in Meredith's control. Higgs finished off the play for a four-point Angels lead.
The Mariners whistled for a timeout, and Willard made good on the call with her 72nd season goal.
Arbes picked up the next draw and Joseph's attempt flew wide. The Angels maintained possession and Cruz found Joseph inside for the score. Capretti notched her second eight-meter goal to extend Meredith's lead to five, and Codispoti quickly found Henley Peatross in the next play advancing the lead one more.
With a 10-4 advantage and seconds left in the half, Peatross helped Arbes produce the Angels 10th draw control leading to an eight-meter attempt by Peatross from the right side of the net. Codispoti picked up the miss and scored Meredith's 11th point on the day. A USMMA miscue gave Hite one more eight-meter attempt before the buzzer to send the Avenging Angels into the break leading by eight.
The Mariners returned to the field on the attack after the break and scored three of the first five goals. But the Avenging Angels netted the next two with a player in the penalty box to reclaim control and head toward the win.
Ruffin forced her fourth Mariner turnover, and Joseph flew the ball past the defense for a 17-7 Avenging Angels lead at 22:15. After a scoring drought on both ends, Hite finally broke through for her fourth of the match with an assist from Cruz to pull Meredith away for an 11-point lead.
Arbes produced the draw and scored her only goal on the match in the next play, and Joseph finished off the Meredith scoring with her 84th goal on the season. Merchant Marine would find the net twice more, as the Avenging Angels captured the victory.
In just six years Meredith's Head Coach Lauren Scott established a strong women's lacrosse program, respected by the nation's top programs. With five consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the Avenging Angels finally broke through to the next level with today's first advance to the second round. In the post-match press conference, Scott said, "this is just what we've been trying to do every year -- to move the program forward." And she did that today using a deep front line, a tenacious defense, and team primed for the win.
Meredith returns to Sea Gulls Stadium tomorrow to face off with #2 Salisbury at 1 p.m. The Sea Gulls enter tomorrow's match-up 18-1 overall with a perfect 8-0 in the Capital Athletic Conference. Salisbury earned the automatic bid after defeating Mary Washington 12-7 for their 18th CAC Championship and 16th consecutive title.
Follow the live action HERE.