WEST GOSHEN >> The number 25 has had a very special meaning all season for West Chester’s lacrosse program. And on Sunday, it meant even more as the Golden Rams cruised past Seton Hill, 22-9, to capture the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Championship Game for a record 25th time.
Former WCU player Julia Rossi wore the number 25, was a four-year letterwinner, and was on two conference champions before graduating in 2022. The squad was devastated to learn of her tragic death last November, so they dedicated the ’23 season to their former teammate, had T-shirts printed and often broke huddles in her name.
“We are on a mission,” said Rams’ head coach Ginny Martino, who is in her – you guessed it – 25th season at the helm. “We are doing all of this for Rossi. We’ve felt her all along the way. It is no coincidence this is our school’s 25th. She was number 25. It is fate.
“And the love that these guys have for each other and what they’ve been through already as a team – they are unbreakable. I am proud of the effort they put in today against a good team.”
Now a perfect 19-0 for the season, West Chester earned an automatic bid into the upcoming NCAA Division II Tournament. And as the nation’s top-ranked team for most of the season, the Rams are almost certainly the team to beat.
“I think they are a contender, for sure,” said Seton Hill head coach Courtney Grove.
“You always want to control your fate, so we had to take care of business today,” Martino added. “We needed to check this off of our to-do list.
“I feel like we are prepared, which is why we scheduled (in the non-conference) as tough as we did.”
For Martino – the winningest coach in NCAA Division II history – it is conference crown number 15. West Chester improves to 5-0 all-time against SHU (15-4 overall) in the league final, and is now an astounding 22-2 all-time in the title game played at home.
“It never gets old. It always feels just like the first,” Martino said.
“It’s not easy. To have a target on your back all season, that weighs on you more than anything. We talked about it often, and told the girls to just focus on us. For us to bend and respond the way we have is phenomenal.”
In the final huddle before the start at Vonnie Gros Field, Martino said: ‘We are on a mission. Let’s see it through.’ And the Rams proceeded to score the first five goals in less than 10 minutes. And all five were from different players.
“We just moved the ball really well and everybody was in the right spot,” said sophomore midfielder Keri Barnett.
“The start was awesome,” added junior defensive midfielder Grace Fasso. “We came out absolutely on fire.”
Junior Julia Littlewood (Conestoga) and grad student Lindsay Monigle each notched second goals on the day to make it a five-goal margin early in the second quarter. But the Griffins fought back with two in a row to cut it to 7-4, and momentum had shifted.
“You never want to put yourself in a hole like that. However the girls bounced back and chipped away at it,” Grove said.
Seton Hill came close to slicing the lead even further, but WCU senior goaltender Jess Gorr (Bishop Shanahan) made a big save, which led to a Barnett goal at the other end. Moments later, Barnett scored again on a free position. Later, the Rams added four more in a row to make it 13-5 early in the second half.
“We said to each other, ‘we are going to win this game,’ and we were going to do it for Rossi,” Frasso said. “We are playing for something bigger than ourselves right now.”
The Griffins did put back-to-back goals in midway through the third, but WCU came right back to two of its own. Seton Hill was never able to seize any momentum in the second half.
“That is the tough part,” Grove said. “(West Chester) has a ton of threats, they are fast, and we needed to possess at certain times and we weren’t able to do that when we needed to.”
“We needed to play our best game, and we did not.”
And to cap it off in style, WCU scored the game’s final five goals, necessitating a running clock for most of the fourth period.
Barnett poured in a team-high five goals, added an assist, and was named the tournament MVP. Stanislawczyk and Littlewood had four goals and two assists apiece, while junior Meg O’Donnell and Monigle chipped in with two goals and two assists. Of West Chester’s 22 goals, 18 were scored by non-seniors.
“Whether we are up or down in a game, they are so poised — they are unfazed,” Martino said of her team. “That’s amazing considering our youth.”
The Rams were dominant in just about every statistical category, including shots on goal (37-19), draw controls (20-15) and ground balls (22-13). And WCU had a big edge in shots (45-21).
West Chester heads into the NCAAs having already toppled the defending national champs (Indianapolis), and is now 14-0 against PSAC foes, which is annually the toughest conference in the nation.
“We had a very tough schedule – a lot of top-5 teams – so I think that prepared us for days like this,” Barnett said.
“But we still have a lot to prove and we are playing for a lot more this season. That fuels our fire.”
West Chester 22, Seton Hill 9
Seton Hill 2 3 4 0 — 9
West Chester 5 7 6 4 — 22
Seton Hill goals: Bunker 2, Sutfin 2, Conlan 2, Orlowski, Udovicic, TeSelle.
West Chester goals: Barnett 5, Stanislawczyk 4, Littlewood 4, O’Donnell 2; Monigle 2, Edinger 2, O’Brien, Smallwood, Kreschollek.
Goalie saves: Hessian (SH) 15; Gorr (WC) 10.
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