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The way York College women’s lacrosse coach Jen Muston built her team’s schedule, there’s little room for a slow start.

A slew of top talent stands in the Spartans (2-1) path back to the NCAA tournament, with York having to tackle most of it while the weather is still shifting to spring.

“We’ve got to be on our game every single day, we cannot slack off at all,” Muston said. “Our second and third games of the season were against two top teams. So you can’t sit around and just think you’re going to hit your stride in the middle of the season. We need to hit our stride by the first game because our schedule is so hard. But that’s what we want.”

That mantra was evident on Wednesday. The Spartans shook off an early goal against and got things going quickly on offense during their 8-5 home victory against No. 14 Messiah (1-2).

Trailing 1-0 after seeing Messiah score on the game’s opening possession, York rushed its first chance with the ball and turned it over. However, the Spartans would settle into their game plan on their next possession.

York patiently worked the ball around the half circle and killed over three minutes before Rachel Saks scored her sixth goal of the year to knot the count at 1-1.

“We really like to have a long time of possession,” Muston said. “It means the ball is on our stick, we are in control of the game and it’s giving our defense a rest. “I always love when you have a long time of possession and then you end in a goal. That’s pretty much going to be our game plan with every game.”

A stretch of three unanswered goals in three possessions midway through the first half gave York a 4-1 lead. Each of those possessions saw the Spartans erase over a minute of play in the process.

After the teams twice traded goals, Saks set up a cutting Kayleigh Phillips from behind the net to give York the 7-3 lead it took into halftime.

York found balance in its scoring, with Melissa Meehling, Katelyn Cattrano and Phillips each scoring a pair of goals for the Spartans. Saks recorded York’s lone assist for a two-point effort.

“I think it’s really important for our success that you can’t just pick on player to shut out,” Muston said. “That makes us really dangerous that we don’t have one or two top guns, everyone is capable of scoring goals and helping us win.”

Megan Strauch also scored a goal for York.

Charlotte Wright made six saves in net to earn the win for the Spartans. Her Messiah counterpart, Alexa Dipeso, recorded four saves.

Stephanie Athens scored a pair of goals for Messiah.

York’s schedule is rife with top-20 competition. Muston admits the early gauntlet is intentional, meant to help the Spartans establish themselves as a top program nationally. The team is looking to build off a 15-6 season last year that saw it reach the NCAA Division III tournament Elite Eight round.

The Spartans previously fell, 9-8, to No. 4 Franklin & Marshall on Feb. 25.

“We’re playing the top teams for a reason,” Muston said. “We want to be one of the top programs in Division III and we want to work towards a championship. You need to book the best teams on your schedule to know what it’s like to play at that level and succeed.”

Next up for the Spartans is a trip to Haverford on Saturday before a trip to Dickinson on Wednesday.

York will then play host to No. 7 Salisbury on Mar. 12 before seeing No. 16 SUNY Geneseo come to town on Mar. 18. Another home game the next day on Mar. 19 vs. Wesley comes right before a Mar. 23 trip to No. 6 Gettysburg.

Their month of top competition concludes with a Mar. 30 trip to St. Mary’s (Md.), which could be in the top-20 by then as well.

— You can reach Elijah Armold at earmold@yorkdispatch.com.

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