The story would be better if the lightning had come a tad earlier.
In the retelling, it just may, because they’re going to be talking about this lacrosse game and this season for a long time at Mount St. Mary’s.
The Mountaineers (14-2) won the Northeast Conference title May 8 to advance to the NCAA Tournament and will face seventh-seeded Duke on Friday, May 14 in Durham, N.C. It was the first time Mount St. Mary’s had climbed to the top of its league since 2005. The Mount beat Wagner, 9-8, in overtime. Senior Beanie Colson took a feed from senior Alayna Pagnotta and scored the game winner with just five seconds left in overtime.
As NEC Defensive Player of the Year Kaitlyn Ridenour recalled the game-winning goal, she harkened back to her first season at Mount St. Mary’s in 2017, when the Mountaineers went 4-11 and lost to Central Connecticut State, a team they beat 20-2 this year.
“I have not been able to wipe the smile off my face all week since the ball went in,” Ridenour said. “I threw my stick, my goggles. That was just the best feeling in the world.”
NEC Offensive Player of the Year Kate Kinsella and Ridenour are both grad students and among 11 “seniors” on the squad, though many will again have the option of coming back next year during these strange, pandemic times. Seventh-year Mount coach Lauren Skellchock — the Johns Hopkins standout from 2005-2008, when her last name was Schartzman — was a big advocate for the returning seniors from last year’s 6-1 team.
It’s the same nucleus that ran through the NEC undefeated in 2019 before falling to Wagner in the title game and finishing 16-3.
“We had such a great year two seasons ago, but we ended with some unfinished business,” said Skellchock. “We didn’t play the championship we all expected. I think we all thought about that heading into Saturday. This is a very experienced Mount lacrosse team now. We’ve learned a lot. We’re much more confident. We play a more complete offensive game and we’ve had a great defense for many years, always the backbone of our team.”
Still, the Mountaineers dug a hole, trailing that same pesky Wagner squad, 7-3, with about 20 minutes to play. That’s when lightning struck. OK, not really, not yet. Skellchock used a couple of timeouts to tweak the offense to find more cutters inside and cut the score to 8-6 after Pagnotta scored two goals 31 seconds apart.
Then the lightning came, forcing a 30-minute delay at Waldron Family Stadium on the Emmitsburg, Md., campus.
“We had used timeouts to light a fire under their rear ends a little bit,” Skellchock explained. “We weren’t playing Mount lacrosse. We needed to play faster, smarter and harder. Our defense was giving us opportunities and we weren’t capitalizing. We made some adjustments and then walking to the locker room [for the delay], I just knew we were going to get it done.”
Ridenour said visions of the 2019 championship loss crept into the Mountaineers’ minds, but not for long.
“We knew we had to get it done. I knew we would, I just didn’t know how, but something turned,” Ridenour said. “Coming back before the lightning and now down just two goals, we had more energy, and we were rejuvenated. It was like another halftime.”
Ridenour, the first player in program history to twice be named conference defensive player of the year, continued to ramrod that unit, fifth in the nation with just 7.75 goals allowed per game. She earned tournament MVP honors, forcing three turnovers, wrangling three ground balls and winning five draw controls in the championship contest. All that helped the Mount to a 21-13 advantage in shots on goal.
“Looking at Kate and Kaitlyn, those leaders, there was no doubt in their mind,” Skellchock said. “Looking at Beanie and Zoe [Hurlburt], they wanted it so badly and no one was going to deny them.”
Beanie Colson scored off a rebound after the unscheduled break, then Stony Brook grad transfer Sara Moeller tied the game with 5:28 left. Both teams had chances but couldn’t take control in regulation. The Mount’s Jordan Groover hit the post in overtime and then the Seahawks had three shots before the Wagner wheels finally came off. Colson’s late, lightning-strike score on a possession that began with under 20 seconds remaining won the title for the Mount.
“It was such a great feeling,” Kinsella said. “Almost everyone playing in that championship game [for Mount St. Mary’s] was in our last [title game]. Then last year was cut short. We know how to win. There’s so much leadership and experience on this team and it showed every day in practice.”
Having been together, building from that freshman season, reaching the Mount top was special, according to Skellchock.
“When I look at Kate and Kaitlyn, that senior class, it’s just extra special,” the coach said. “What they’ve been through and what those two, in particular, sacrificed — their commitment level, not only to the team, but to me is something I can’t really describe. I love them and am so proud of them.”
Kinsella had been looking into graduate opportunities at the Mount even before last season was scuttled early. She landed graduate assistantship in the development office helping raise money in addition to her classwork. Speaking of classwork, Ridenour had already accepted an elementary school teaching position in Montgomery County when she decided to stick with college lacrosse one more season.
Coming out of Middletown High School, Ridenour didn’t even want to visit Mount St. Mary’s, just 40 minutes from her Boonsboro, Md., home. Suddenly, she couldn’t imagine leaving. Not when the Mountaineers were so close.
“I was talking to [Skellchock] and talking to Kate and going back and forth with my parents,” Ridenour recalled. “We had so much left to accomplish and I finally said, ‘I can’t leave the Mount, yet.’ What at first was such a big decision was really easy. I put off my teaching career.”
Now, as she wraps up her master’s degree work began last summer, she has even more options in teaching.
“I’m a better candidate now to get a job and it’s the best decision I ever made,” she smiled, now a pandemic success story.
More such tales may be on the way, especially in Mount lacrosse.
“Whether we get some seniors back next year or not, this group has paved the way, created the culture we needed — a championship culture,” Skellchock said. “This is only the beginning. The younger players and the recruits coming in have had the opportunity to see what it looks like.”
The Mountaineers put their school-record 14-game winning streak on the line at Duke on Friday, May 14, and should they win, they could face a familiar foe on Sunday, May 16. Maryland (9-6) plays High Point at 7 p.m., in the other side of that draw in Durham.
At Syracuse on Friday, Loyola (11-2) plays Hofstra at 3 p.m., the winner getting the hosts and third-seeded Orange Sunday. Johns Hopkins (8-6) plays James Madison Friday at 5 p.m., in Chapel Hill, N.C., the winner facing top seed North Carolina Sunday. Towson (9-8), which plays 8th seed Stony Brook Friday at noon, is on the other side of that bracket.
(Photo Credit: David Sinclair/David Sinclair Photography