Zoe Hurlburt Saves Best For Last With Mount St. Mary’s Women’s Lacrosse

Everybody likes when a story has a happy ending.

Especially Zoe Hurlburt, who decided Mount St. Mary’s 2021 Northeast Conference title during her senior season just wasn’t enough. The Mount Airy, Md., product was all set to embark on her teaching career this past fall before she decided to come back to the Mount and go for another championship with her teammates.

Good thing for the Mountaineers.

Guess which team hoisted a second straight NEC trophy, this time in its last go-round in the league before heading off to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference next season?

“When I graduated last year, I wasn’t going to come back for a COVID year,” Hurlburt said. “I was ready to start teaching after summer was over, live at home and go from there.”

Well, it’s hard to stick to a plan when all your friends don’t want you to put away your lacrosse stick just yet.

“Right when lacrosse ended, I already missed it,” Hurlburt admitted, saying that fellow seniors Beanie Colson and Alayna Pagnotta had texted her “and said they were taking a fifth year. We had all talked about [2021] being it. I had already told my parents, but Beanie and Alayna said [head coach Lauren Skellchock] wanted us back. My mom wanted me to go back and really, I didn’t feel like I was done.”

Hurlburt wasn’t done. Not by a long shot. The offensive linchpin in the Mount’s midfield, Hurlburt had her finest season this spring. The Mountaineers went 15-5 overall, 7-1 in the NEC, and avenged that only conference loss by knocking off the one league team that had beaten them, Bryant, in the NEC championship game on Bryant’s home field in Smithfield, R.I.

That 15-13 victory sent the Mount to its second straight NCAA Tournament, where they fell to sixth-seeded Loyola in the first round. But that did nothing to bring down players, coaches and fans at the Mount.

It was a magical season at Mount St. Mary’s, particularly for Hurlburt, who became the first Mountaineer ever to win conference Midfielder of the Year honors. She was tops at the Mount in points (68), goals (52) and assists (16). She also led in caused turnovers (19) and finished second in ground balls (36).

Statistics don’t tell the whole story of Hurlburt’s fifth and final foray on the college lacrosse field, though.

“What makes Zoe remarkable is the way she came in more offensive-minded and then honed in on her defense,” Skellchock said. “She has been one of our top defenders and matched up with the top midfielders on the other team. She did so much. We needed her to score, get the draw, all those other things.”

The Mount also needed Hurlburt to take a larger role as a team leader on and off the field. Instead of directing an elementary school classroom, Hurlburt stepped to the head of the class in practices as younger teammates looked for guidance.

“We have a great freshman and sophomore class and really, the whole team made a connection to one another,” Hurlburt said. “I just made a point of talking to all the freshmen one-on-one. I wanted to make them comfortable. I remember how hard it was for me as a freshman.”

Skellchock — no one connected with the team calls her that, it’s always “Lo” — knew this team would have an edge this year with Hurlburt, Colson, Pagnotta and seniors Jordan Groover and Erin Anderson.

“Honestly, a lot of our success is based on their leadership,” Skellchock said. “These girls have been playing four or five years. Those grads had five years of experience. There’s a lot to be said about in-game experience and what that championship experience meant in pressure situations.”

Pressure situations? Mount St. Mary’s trailed Wagner, 11-10, in the NEC semifinals with a little more than five minutes left. Sophomore attacker Christina Haspert scored to tie it. Then when junior midfielder Abigail Zeigenfuse won the overtime draw, Haspert did it again for a 12-11 victory.

Bryant had beaten Mount St. Mary’s, 14-10, in March in Rhode Island, and the Bulldogs had a 4-1 lead early in the championship game before Hurlburt did a Hurlburt thing and tallied a big goal in the final seconds of the first quarter.

Midfielder Dani Donoghue and goalie Madison Bradley, both juniors, took over from there. Donoghue, on her way to an NEC tournament-record 11 goals, had seven in the championship. Bradley, who ranked sixth in the nation in goals-against average (8.62), leashed the Bulldogs with 15 saves.

Skellchock has built her program around defense. It’s a solid foundation: The Mount is 51-25 the last four years, including a 25-1 conference mark, three NEC championship game appearances and two titles.

“The backbone of our team has always been our defense,” the coach said. “If we can keep teams to under 10, which we typically do, we have a really good opportunity to win the game.”

Plus, in recent years, the Mountaineers have scheduled tougher, and their aspirations have grown larger.

“The tide has had to shift the last few years, putting a greater emphasis on scoring more, playing a faster offense, having threats from all over offensively,” Skellchock said.

“Lo” and behold, the Mountaineers climbed the standings and rankings (No. 45 in final regular-season RPI) as talented players like Hurlburt, Colson and Pagnotta were joined by Donoghue and Anderson, and now Haspert, among others.

“We’re a tough team to scout because we’ve got a lot of players that can do a lot of different things,” Skellchock said.

Skellchock added that the midfield is the “motor” for the team. Middies are expected to play great defense, win draws and take charge on offense. Hurlburt excelled this year in that role, thriving in the high-pressure Mount midfield.

And Hurlburt wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It motivates me when someone has confidence in me,” she said of her coaches and teammates. “That gives me the extra boost to make that play, to get that goal. It gives me confidence I can do it.”

Hurlburt tallied at least a point in 17 of 19 games, racked up three or more points 16 times and twice tallied seven points in a game. That offensive output was in addition to the hard-charging defense and ball-hawking on draws and ground balls.

“Zoe just has an ability to get it done,” said Bradley, who fends off Hurlburt shots in practice and has a great view of her play during games. “We can be down a couple of goals and somehow she gets it in the back of the net, and then comes down and plays a great defensive set. She’s willing to take charge, put us on her back and sometimes get it done by herself.”

Speaking of taking charge, Hurlburt’s career plans changed when her teammates talked her into coming back. She enrolled in grad school last year in sports management. Immediately following this season, Hurlburt began an internship with Ripken Baseball at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Md. She works in operations there, for baseball tournaments and — stop us if you’ve heard this before — does a little bit of everything in and around the games.

“I’m really enjoying my internship now,” she said. “I’m not sure if I want to coach, maybe someday, or work in the front office somewhere. Right now, I’m just really enjoying what I’m doing. I’ll build from here.”

Hurlburt will earn her master’s this August and is now looking for something in the sports management field. Elementary education’s loss is pro sports’ gain, particularly her preferred Baltimore Ravens if they want to hire someone who can do a little bit of everything and loves to contribute to winning.

That would be another story with a happy ending.

Photo Credit: Tyler Kraft/Mount St. Mary’s

Issue 275: June/July 2022

Originally published June 15, 2022

Mike Ashley

See all posts by Mike Ashley. Follow Mike Ashley on Twitter at @lrgsptswrtr