Women’s lacrosse falls to Athenas in conference playoff finals

Senior defender Dillan Watts runs down the right side against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps April 19. The Panthers lost to the Athenas 18-9 in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference finals May 6.

For the second year in a row, the women’s lacrosse team lost in the conference championship game to the tournament’s No. 1 seed.

The team fell 18-9 to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Tournament finals Saturday in Claremont, marking the third time the Panthers have lost to the Athenas this season.

“There were definitely some shared tears with my teammates,” said senior defender Dillan Watts.

The Panthers finished the season second in the SCIAC with a record of 7-3 in the conference and 11-7 overall.

“The end of the season is bittersweet. I grew extremely close to my teammates and loved this season,” Watts said.

Sophomore midfielder Danielle Zahn scored a team-high three goals for the Panthers, while junior midfielder Stacey Zuppa scored two and had two assists.

“They are a really athletic team and can run the field,” Zuppa said. “They have a lot of good players and know how to utilize their strengths. We threw a new defense at them and, especially during the second half, they adjusted and started using an offense that worked really well against our defense.”

The Panthers implemented a new defense specifically for the championship game after their 20-1 loss against the Athenas earlier in the season.

The Panthers ran a “man defense” throughout the season, in which each player sticks with another from the other team. For the championship game, the Panthers implemented their new “backer defense.”

In a backer defense, each player is designated a certain zone and they stay there. The defensive player presses the opponent and a backer is behind them in case they get beat.

“I don’t think they were expecting us to run a new defense,” said freshman defender Ally Kroeckel said. “The backer zone makes it difficult to run certain plays so they had to come up with a new game plan once they saw ours.”

The game started off with the Panthers trading goals with the Athenas until midway through the first half. The Athenas then scored back-to-back goals to make it 4-2, and they led the rest of the way. Chapman never took the lead during the game as the Athenas closed out the 18-9 victory to claim their second-ever SCIAC women’s lacrosse title.

“At halftime, we were only down by three, and it wasn’t until the last part of the game we really started slipping by,” Kroeckel said. “I think we were nervous, but we were prepared. We knew we had to leave it all on the field.”

The Panthers will be graduating six seniors – defenders Watts, Julia Farino and Katie Swinnerton, goalkeeper Tara Sonnemaker, attacker Tessa Oliaro and midfielder Kelsey Mackin.

“We definitely struggled a bit at times (this season) to win games or click as a team, but I think these past few games really showed us coming together as a team and working well together,” Zuppa said.

Unlike last season, the Panthers did not receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. With only two tournament spots reserved for the NCAA’s West Division, top-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and second-ranked Colorado College received the only available bids. Last season, the Panthers received an at-large bid to the tournament despite losing in the SCIAC playoff finals to the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens 10-9. The Panthers went on to be defeated by the Sagehens 12-7 in the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance.

Doug Close contributed to this report.

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