Currently riding a three-game winning streak, the Purple Eagles women's lacrosse team hosts the Marist Red Foxes in the team's regular-season home finale at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Niagara clinched a spot in the 2017 MAAC Women's Lacrosse Championships for a third consecutive season. The conference postseason tournament begins with first-round games on Saturday, April 29.
Niagara extended its current winning streak to three games with a 13-8 win over the Monmouth Hawks last Saturday at Niagara Field. Rachel MacCheyne set a career-high with seven points (5+2) to pace the Niagara attack. The Niagara defense held Monmouth's two leading scorers, Nicole Ceraso and Olivia Higson, to a combined two points, and the Hawks scored the second-least goals of any Niagara opponent this season. Alexandra Higgins keyed the defensive effort and collected five ground balls, five caused turnovers, and five draw controls, while Andrea Francisco made nine saves on 17 shots on goal. Caroline Crump and MacCheyne gave Niagara an early 2-0 lead. The Purple Eagles' defense held Monmouth in check for more than 17 minutes until the Hawks' Kate Ryan found the back of the net with 12:46 left until halftime. Niagara closed the first half on a 5-1 run, with MacCheyne and Jillian Ford scoring twice in that time, to take a 7-2 lead after 30 minutes of play.
The Purple Eagles and Hawks both scored six times after the half, including four free-position goals for each side, as Niagara took the 13-8 win.
At 4-1 in conference play, Niagara has clinched a third straight berth in the MAAC Championships, the sixth postseason appearance in program history. A win over Marist in Wednesday's contest would guarantee the Purple Eagles home-field advantage in the first round of the tournament. The Niagara offense is led by sophomore Rachel MacCheyne, who ranks third in the MAAC with 42 goals and fourth with 53 points on the season. Grace Hunt ranks second in the MAAC with 31 assists and is the conference's ninth-leading overall scorer, adding 12 goals for 43 points. During the team's recent three-game winning streak, MacCheyne leads the offense with 15 points (11+4) followed by Hunt with 10 points (3+7). Junior Alexandra Higgins is the only player to rank in the top three of the MAAC in ground balls (second, 48), draw controls (second, 76), and caused turnovers (third, 30). Higgins has four consecutive games with five ground balls, and during the current Niagara win streak she has totaled 15 ground balls, 16 draw controls, and nine caused turnovers. Midfielder Jillian Ford has 23 ground balls, 38 draw controls, and 19 caused turnovers this season and is also fifth on the Purple Eagles with 25 points (19+6) at the offensive end. Led by Higgins and Ford, Niagara ranks first in the MAAC with 13.79 draw controls per game. In goal, Andrea Francisco is 7-7 and has a career-high 130 saves and a .474 save percentage. During the current winning streak, Francisco has a 9.00 goals-against average and a .565 save percentage.
Marist comes to Niagara Field after a hard-fought 10-9 overtime loss to Fairfield on April 15.
Niagara is 8-14 all-time against Marist. In last season's matchup in Poughkeepsie, Andrea Francisco made a career-high 17 saves as the Purple Eagles were victorious by a final score of 10-9.
Marist is currently one spot behind Niagara in the MAAC standings, sitting fourth with a 2-3 conference record. The Red Foxes' senior goalkeeper, Abigail Witczak, ranks third in the NCAA and leads the MAAC with 159 saves this year. On the season, she is 6-8 with a goals-against average of 11.75 and a save percentage of .491. Senior Olivia Pitonzo paces the Marist offense with 54 points, scoring 24 goals and adding 30 assists in 14 games. Freshman Samantha Mehalick has a team-high 31 goals. Hailey Wagner leads the MAAC with 79 draw controls and is tied for third on Marist with 30 points at the offensive end.