BLOOMSBURG, Pa. — Amid the blue and white confetti, photographers and loose gear strewn about the field, three interlocking sticks perfectly formed the shape of an “A” over the NCAA’s blue logo.
On Sunday afternoon, for the third time in four years, the Adelphi women’s lacrosse team was crowned the Division II national champion. Stifling defense from Ryley Weber and four goals from Kate Beier were the difference as the Panthers beat Florida Southern, 6-4, at Bloomsburg University’s Steph Pettit Stadium.
Florida Southern defeated Adelphi in last season’s championship game, 8-7.
The Panthers found themselves in an early hole, falling behind 3-1 with 6:47 left in the first half when Shannon Gilfedder scored her second goal of the game. That’s when the defense shifted to another level. Florida Southern ripped a shot wide with 6:21 left before halftime, but that was its last shot attempt until 7:29 remained in the game, a span of nearly 29 minutes.
“I was never on a defense like this, I’ll tell you that much,” said Adelphi coach Pat McCabe, a national Hall of Fame defenseman who played at Elmont and Syracuse. “I marvel at how they play, I really do.”
McCabe credited first-year associate head coach Frankie Caridi for her work with the unit, saying jokingly that he had no part in its nation-leading 3.45 goals-against average.
The play of Weber (four ground balls), her sister Shea (two) and Jen Graham (two) set the tone for Adelphi (21-1), keeping the pressure off goalie Hailey Peterson. Whenever Florida Southern crossed into offensive territory — a rarity in the second half — the defense quickly denied its attempt.
“I really couldn’t do it without anyone I’m playing with down low,” Ryley Weber said. “I owe everything I’ve done the past four years to everybody that’s been on the field with me.”
While the defense suffocated Florida Southern, Adelphi’s offense went to work.
Beier began a 5-0 run with 1:47 left in the first half when she fired into the back of the net, cutting Adelphi’s deficit to 3-2.
She scored the tying goal off an assist from Alison Johnson 1:32 into the second half. Beth Ann Pierce’s free position gave Adelphi a 4-3 lead just over a minute later and tournament MVP Jacqueline Jahelka and Beier put the finishing touches on the spurt for a 6-3 lead.
“I’ve been playing since I was a little girl, and this is it,” said Beier, her eyes glazed with a few tears. “You just have to play with everything you have. Our seniors, I do it for them.”
Beier, Graham, Jahelka, Jill Graziano, Casey Zalewski and Ryley Weber achieved historic levels of success in their four years as Panthers, but now they leave the program in the capable hands of those such as freshman Johnson. “It’s important that I learn to keep moving and move on to the next play,’’ she said, “and that’s something they definitely taught me.”