Blooming trees pungently surrounded the pleasant air in Waterville, Maine this past Saturday. Like the meadowsweet, a flower native to the region where the game took place, the Cardinals themselves effloresced throughout the month of April. Following a tough loss against Colby at the beginning of the month, Wesleyan fructified with a 6-1 record over the course of the rest of the month. By the end, Wesleyan achieved the No. 17 ranking nationally and the No. 5 seed for the NESCAC tournament.
The month culminated against the Mules just as it began, this time with a much closer, yet similarly heartbreaking, result. The Cards jumped to the early lead with another impressive senior performance. Meredith Smith ’17 notched two wicked shots at the 27:52 and 24:39 mark to put the Cardinals put 2-0. Abby Horst ’19 joined in next with her 16th goal of the season to bring the lead up to 3-0 at 20:16. Back-to-back goals by the Mules receded the Wesleyan lead to just one, but Smith continued her rampage with another goal to push the lead back up to two. Soon after that, the beautiful lead began to wither away like the leaves after fall’s first frost. Three straight Colby goals put the Mules ahead 5-4. With time fleeting in the first half, Rachel Aronow ’17 tied the game to level the score at 5-5 as the teams headed back into the locker room.
Following a string of strong saves, Sasha Fritts scored to put the Mules back up one on a pass from NESCAC Player of the Week Emilie Klein. With a déjà-vu-inducing strike, Smith responded in a minute to tie the game back up. Ten minutes later, Liana Mathias ’17 found Abby Manning ’20 on a shorthanded goal to put the Dirty Birds back up, 7-6, with 7:52 left in the half. The lead was short-lived; the Mules’ Gemma Bready tied the game for the fourth time on a keen helper from Maddie Hatch at the 6:35 mark. In a heartbreaking overtime that seemed destined for a 30-for-30 documentary, Hatch scored on a free position shot at 3:05 in the extra period to give the Mules an 8-7 win.
“Saturday was a really tough loss for us,” said Dana Mitchell ’18. “We played so hard, fighting for every draw, every ground ball, racing to the line after a shot, etc., but I wouldn’t say we played the smartest game we could have. Our defense overall played really well, but our shot selection could have been better. It’s easy to nitpick little things like that, but honestly Colby is a really amazing team, I personally think maybe the best in the NESCAC, so while it still really hurt, it was a really tough fight until the end against a great team.”
However short-lived the Cardinals’ run was in the NESCAC playoffs, this season has already etched itself into Freeman Athletic Center history and in the hearts of all the team’s supporters on campus. Among the laundry list of accomplishments achieved this year are: winning the Little Three for the first time since 1982, setting a program record for wins in conference play and wins overall, and returning to the NESCAC Tournament for the first time since 2009.
“Overall, the game and the season have been so incredible to be a part of, having seven outstanding seniors leading the way,” Mitchell said. “Whatever happens with the NCAA tournament, and I honestly don’t know our chances, we have a lot to be proud of.”
The Cardinals will now await their fate for the NCAA playoffs. The NCAA Tournament Selection Show airs on Sunday, May 7 at 9:30 p.m. on NCAA.com. While this Argus writer is obviously a biased observer, the Dirty Birds are certainly deserving of a NCAA bid.
An incredibly strong season, inside of an incredibly strong conference, led by an incredibly strong septet of seniors has made the Cardinals one of the preeminent teams in NCAA Division III women’s lacrosse. Additionally, the Cardinals recorded statement wins throughout the season against teams like Hamilton, Tufts, and Bowdoin, who each will be making their own cases for a bid in the tournament. If Hamilton, seeded second in the NESCAC and eighth nationally, goes on to win the tournament, it will be tough to ignore the weight of Wesleyan’s dramatic 8-7 road win.