York College women's lacrosse advances past Stevens in NCAA Tournament

Ryan Vandersloot
For The York Dispatch

When the York College women’s lacrosse team squared off against Stevens back in March, the outcome was decisive and one-sided.

Spartans head coach Jen Muston figured it wouldn’t be that way when the two Middle Atlantic Conference champions battled once more, this time in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament Sunday afternoon at Kinsley Field.

Muston was right.

The memories of an easy triumph over the Ducks nearly two months ago were just that. A more experienced and gathered Stevens side made the trip from just outside New York City and gave the York women a game befitting the champs of the MAC Commonwealth (York) and MAC Freedom (Stevens) divisions.

It took until the fourth quarter for the Spartans to finally gain separation. A free-position goal by senior Kiersten Blanchard put the home team ahead by two before Gianna Huet made it a three-goal difference just about 90 seconds later.

The York defense did its job over the final 11 minutes, allowing just one goal as the home team survived and advanced to the third round next week with an 8-6 victory.

York College's Kiersten Blanchard (16) against Messiah's Regan Gillisse (9) during the Commonwealth Women's Lacrosse Final in York on Saturday, May 6, 2023.

“It’s amazing,” senior defender Emmy Bryden said. “We’re super excited. No one on our team has been to the Sweet 16, and (Blanchard and I) are seniors, so that’s super exciting.”

It definitely wasn’t with the same ease that the York women had in their 20-8 victory in the previous meeting. On that day in mid-March, the Spartans grabbed control early and dominated throughout.

“It’s really hard to play a team early in the season and have such a gap,” Muston said. “I just knew that this was going to be a tougher and harder game, because they’ve made some changes and came back with a vengeance.”

The visitors had a response every time the Spartans took the lead. It wasn’t until the third period that the York women were able to finally string together a two-goal run as Teresa Matthias and Madison Kurland struck about two minutes apart to put York up 6-4.

Part of York’s struggles had to do with the play of Stevens goalie Lauren Cunniff. The 5-foot-8 netminder snuffed out 11 Spartan attempts on 19 shots while allowing just one goal — Blanchard’s in the fourth quarter — on the free position.

“She’s pretty tall and pretty fast,” Bryden said of Cunniff. “Once we started to move it and get good looks inside we were able to finish it.”

York College's Gianna Huet (1) against Messiah's AbbyEllen Wood (1) during the Commonwealth Women's Lacrosse Final in York on Saturday, May 6, 2023.

While the Spartans were able to gain some modest separation and put the game away late, it wasn’t all great news for the home team Sunday. Mattias, who recorded her 33rd goal of the season in the victory, suffered a leg injury in the third quarter.

“I feel like (Mattias’ injury) inspired us to play for her,” Blanchard said. “We really picked it up. I think everyone joined in the huddle and said, ‘Let’s do this for Teresa.’ We wanted to win this game for her because it’s her last year (as well). She’s a total threat on the field as a cutter, so losing a player like that was tough.”

York will be in the same shoes as Stevens was this Sunday next week when they get a much-anticipated rematch with rival Salisbury in the round of 16. The Sea Gulls were the last team to beat York, winning an 11-5 showdown in early April.

“Saturday will be a huge one,” Muston said. “Some of the little mistakes we made today, we can’t do those Saturday so we’ll have a week to kind of sort those out.”