The women’s lacrosse team found itself in a familiar position after its April 29 playoff semifinal victory over Occidental College. The 17-10 win means that the Panthers will face rivals Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on May 6 for the conference championship title – the Panthers’ second playoff finals appearance in a row.
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps is certainly the favorite. The Panthers have been in a position this season where they have mostly dominated every other team in the conference, but have not been able to replicate those results against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. The Panthers lost their first away game of the season 15-9 to the Athenas March 4, but things actually got much worse in the teams’ second meeting this season. A 20-1 smackdown at Wilson Field April 19 stunned the Panthers – who had won five games in a row leading up to the game – and showed how few mistakes they can afford to make against a team with that kind of momentum and confidence.
The Athenas are riding an 11-game winning streak, haven’t lost a conference game all year and just routed No. 4 seed University of Redlands 17-6 in the other semifinal. They led the league in both most goals scored and fewest goals allowed. No one has been able to keep pace with them in the conference this year.
But while the odds may favor Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the Panthers have the ideal type of experience to prepare for the matchup. Last season, the Panthers finished second in the regular season to Pomona-Pitzer – a team that made relatively quick work of every other team in the conference – and ended up facing the Sagehens in the conference finals. The Panthers lost 10-9 in a tightly contested game, but got an NCAA at-large bid. The Sagehens then met them again the next week and defeated the Panthers 12-7 in Chapman’s first NCAA tournament appearance.
While that might not sound like the most compelling evidence at face value, the Panthers thrive on surprising people. The team has had very young rosters the past two seasons – including this one – that have surpassed expectations. The Panthers also have some team members playing their individual best lacrosse over the past couple weeks. Last week, junior midfielder Becka Wachtel was the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) women’s lacrosse Athlete of the Week. Wachtel has 20 goals in her last five appearances for the Panthers. Eleven of those came in the last two games, and Wachtel is now the Panthers’ top-scorer.
But with Claremont-Mudd-Scripps certainly aware of the offensive threat Wachtel poses, the Panthers may have to rely on the element of surprise to best the Athenas. Wachtel and senior midfielder Kelsey Mackin – the Panthers’ most consistent offensive force this season – can’t beat Claremont-Mudd-Scripps with their goals alone. The Panthers know that a complete performance will be required from their entire lineup to beat a team that recently beat them by 19 goals at home.
The Panthers have the chance to be the first Chapman team to win a SCIAC title this season, with women’s basketball being the only other team to reach the playoff finals in the 2016-17 season so far (only to be beaten by Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 65-54).
Simply put, the Panthers have to play their best lacrosse of the season on Saturday in order to pull off what would be a seriously impressive victory. I can’t be the only sports editor of a SCIAC school newspaper who’s sick of reporting on Claremont-Mudd-Scripps winning championship after championship this season.