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Saturday, April 22, 2017

NU women's lacrosse starts final road trip at Quinnipiac

All WNY News     Saturday, April 22, 2017    

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Entering the final week of the regular season, the Purple Eagles women's lacrosse team has already locked up a spot in the 2017 MAAC Women's Lacrosse Championship. After a narrow defeat against the Marist Red Foxes on Wednesday that snapped a three-game winning streak, Niagara looks to return to the win column against the Quinnipiac Bobcats. Opening draw between Niagara and Quinnipiac is set for noon on Sunday.

With a win over the Monmouth Hawks on April 15, Niagara clinched its third straight appearance in the MAAC Women's Lacrosse Championship, the sixth postseason berth in program history. The Purple Eagles currently sit third in the MAAC standings at 7-8 (4-2 MAAC). With a 15-10 win over the Fairfield Stags on Saturday morning, Canisius has secured the top seed in the MAAC and will host the conference semifinals on May 5 and the conference final on May 7. Canisius (12-4, 7-0 MAAC) and Fairfield (10-5, 6-1 MAAC) have clinched the two first-round byes. In the first round of the MAAC Championship on Saturday, April 29, the third seed will host the sixth seed while the fourth seed will host the fifth seed. A win at Quinnipiac on Sunday or at Canisius in Wednesday's regular-season finale would guarantee Niagara a home first-round game and no lower than a fourth-place finish in the conference.

Niagara battled through a low-scoring first 30 minutes to rally late against the Marist Red Foxes in Wednesday's regular-season home finale, but could not come all the way back in a 9-7 loss. The Purple Eagles put nine shots on goal in the first half, but only a free-position shot from Alexis Morales 2:38 into the contest found the back of the net. Andrea Francisco made seven saves in the opening stanza as Niagara trailed 4-1 going into the half. After two quick goals by Marist to start the second half, Niagara picked up three consecutive tallies to cut the lead to 6-4, including two goals from Caroline Crump. The Red Foxes pushed their lead to 8-4 before Niagara scored twice in a 16-second span to half the lead. Grace Hunt set up Jillian Ford for a goal, and Niagara won the ensuing draw before Rachel MacCheyne found Hailey D'Hont in transition to make it an 8-6 game. Marist scored off a deflection in front of Francisco to push the lead to 9-6, but the Purple Eagles would only find one more goal, with MacCheyne capping the goal scoring in a 9-7 defeat. Francisco tied her season-high with 14 saves, and the 16 combined goals were the least in any game that Niagara has played this season.

Niagara boasts the third-best offense in the MAAC, which is averaging 11.20 goals per game. The Purple Eagles' leading scorer, Rachel MacCheyne entered the weekend third in the conference with 44 goals and 56 points. MacCheyne currently has the fourth-most goals and the fifth-most points in a season in Niagara program history. She needs nine goals to break Mary Cutia's single-season program record of 52 (2000) and 11 points to break Sandra Gallegos' single-season record of 66 (2003). Junior attack Grace Hunt has also had a breakout year, ranking second on the team with 44 points. Her team-high 32 assists ranked second in the MAAC entering this weekend. She needs seven more assists to break Gallegos' program record of 38 set in 2002. Sophomore Alexis Morales has 36 goals this season, tied for the eighth-most in program history, adding four assists to rank third on the team with 40 points. Caroline Crump (35 points) and Jillian Ford (26 points) round out the top five of the Niagara offense. Niagara's defense has excelled in conference play. In their six MAAC games, the Purple Eagles are allowing just 9.83 goals per game, and they have not allowed an opponent to score more than 10 in the last four games. Senior goalkeeper Andrea Francisco leads Niagara in goal with an 11.33 goals-against average and .485 save percentage. Francisco's .555 save percentage in MAAC games is the best of any goalkeeper in the conference. Francisco's 65 games played are the most of any goalkeeper in Niagara history, and she is third all-time at Niagara with 451 career saves. Junior Alexandra Higgins has put up record-setting numbers leading the Purple Eagles defense with 51 ground balls, 81 draw controls, and 32 caused turnovers. She is the only player in the MAAC to rank in the conference's top three in all three categories. Senior defender Kara Martin, the program's all-time leader in ground balls and caused turnovers, has 30 ground balls and 15 caused turnovers this season, while freshman Lauren Paul has amassed 20 ground balls and 16 caused turnovers. In addition to her offensive output, Jillian Ford ranks in the MAAC's top 10 with 39 draw controls and 19 caused turnovers, adding 24 ground balls.

Quinnipiac concludes its regular-season schedule on Sunday against the Purple Eagles having clinched a spot in the 2017 MAAC Women's Lacrosse Championship with an 11-10 win over Siena on April 19. Niagara is 3-2 all-time against the Bobcats, including an 11-6 win at Niagara Field in last season's matchup on March 26, 2016. At the offensive end, Quinnipiac is led by Allison Kuhn who has 33 points (22+11) in 15 games, while Alex Hlesciak has a team-high 25 goals. Kuhn also leads Quinnipiac with 30 draw controls. Ashley Bobinski (17+9) and Ellie Swenson (10+3) also have double-digit goal totals for Quinnipiac. Quinnipiac junior defender Kiera Kelly leads her team and ranks among the MAAC's leaders with 50 ground balls and 36 caused turnovers, adding 13 draw controls to her defensive totals. In goal, Kyle Larkin has 166 saves, a .485 save percentage, and a 12.59 goals-against average for the Bobcats.

Niagara concludes the 2017 regular season with the annual Battle of the Bridge matchup against the Canisius Golden Griffins. Opening draw between Niagara and Canisius is 7:30 p.m. at the Demske Sports Complex in Buffalo.

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