BUFFALO -- Niagara junior defender Alexandra Higgins was named the Women's Lacrosse Defender of the Year by the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) during the conference's annual awards banquet, held on Thursday evening. Higgins is the first Niagara player to win a major women's lacrosse award since Miko Dalusio was named MAAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2005.
In addition to winning Defender of the Year, Higgins was a unanimous selection to the All-MAAC First Team at defense. Sophomore attack Rachel MacCheyne joined Higgins on the All-MAAC First Team. Niagara placed two players on the All-MAAC First Team for the first time since 2004, when Ashley Baker and Rachel Jones earned the top all-conference honors.
Midfielder Jillian Ford was named to the All-MAAC Second Team, and midfielder Audrey Fithall and defender Lauren Paul earned spots on the MAAC All-Rookie Team.
"I am very pleased that Lexi, Rachel, Jill, Lauren, and Audrey were recognized by the MAAC Coaches for their performance this season," Stone added. "These honors are not only a testament to both their and the team's success this season, but also their willingness to step up and make plays on the field. As a team we have recognized them for their efforts, and achievements, but it is always nice for those efforts to be acknowledged by fellow coaches. These honors are well-deserved – congratulations all around!"
In her junior campaign, Alexandra Higgins set the Niagara single-season record in all three defensive categories this season, totaling 55 ground balls, 111 draw controls, and 35 caused turnovers to date. She is the only player in the MAAC this season to rank in the conference's top three of all three categories. In eight games against MAAC competition, Higgins tallied 27 ground balls, 48 draw controls, and 17 caused turnovers. Higgins recorded a career-high five ground balls in four consecutive games from Apr. 4 to 15, and she also had career-highs with 14 draw controls at Quinnipiac (Apr. 26) and five caused turnovers versus Monmouth (Apr. 15).
A native of Hamburg, N.Y., Higgins earns All-MAAC honors for a second consecutive season after being named All-MAAC Second Team in 2016. She was also a 2017 Preseason All-MAAC Team member.
Rachel MacCheyne was named to the All-MAAC First Team after a record-setting season at attack for the Purple Eagles. The sophomore from Webster, N.Y. is second in the MAAC and first among attackers in both goals (59) and points (74), both of which rank as the highest single-season totals in Niagara history. MacCheyne, who was named the MAAC Offensive Player of the Week on March 6, has scored four or more goals in 10 of Niagara's 18 games this season, including a career-high six in Niagara's 16-4 win over Monmouth in the first round of the 2017 MAAC Championships on Apr. 29. MacCheyne is currently tied for the NCAA lead with 6.06 shots on goal per game, ranking third with 8.17 shots per game overall.
Junior midfielder Jillian Ford set career-highs in all three major defensive statistics this season, ranking second on Niagara and ninth in the MAAC with 43 draw controls and 21 caused turnovers, adding 27 ground balls. Ford was also a leading option at the offensive end for the Purple Eagles, ranking fifth on the team and setting career-highs with 21 goals, seven assists, and 28 points. A native of Hamburg, N.Y., Ford earned the second conference honor of her Niagara career after being named to the MAAC All-Rookie Team in 2015.
For a fourth consecutive season, Niagara has placed multiple players on the MAAC All-Rookie Team. Rookie midfielder Audrey Fithall made 13 starts in 18 games for the Purple Eagles, scoring 15 points (12+3) and adding 16 ground balls, 13 draw controls, and eight caused turnovers. Fithall scored a season-high three points at Siena on Apr. 12, scoring twice and adding one assist. Defensively, Fithall had a season-high three ground balls in three games this season, had multiple draw controls in four games, and recorded two caused turnovers March 22 versus Binghamton. A native of Melbourne, Australia, Fithall played for Team Australia at the FIL Rathbones Under-19 World Championship in 2015.
Freshman Lauren Paul has started all 18 games on defense for Niagara, finishing fourth on the Purple Eagles with 22 ground balls and tied for third on the team with 20 caused turnovers en route to MAAC All-Rookie Team accolades. Paul set a season-high with four ground balls versus Binghamton on March 22 and matched that total at Michigan on Apr. 4. She also recorded five caused turnovers versus Marist on Apr. 19, a total that was tied for the most in a game by a Purple Eagle this season.
The MAAC also announced the 2017 MAAC Women's Lacrosse All-Academic Team Thursday night, with nine Purple Eagles earning academic accolades. Senior captains Andrea Francisco and Kara Martin earned All-Academic honors for the third straight season, while senior Isabella Leon and junior Samantha Brill each were named to the All-Academic Team for the second time in their Niagara careers. Senior Hannah Vause and sophomores Bailey Collins, Hailey D'Hont, Rachel MacCheyne, and Mackenzie Molodetz were also named to the MAAC All-Academic Team.
Niagara women's lacrosse advanced to the MAAC semifinals for the first time since 2003 with a commanding 16-4 victory over the Monmouth Hawks on Apr. 29 in the first round of the MAAC Championships. The fourth-seeded Purple Eagles take on the first-seeded Canisius Golden Griffins at the Demske Sports Complex in Buffalo on Friday, May 5 at 8 p.m. and the game can be seen live on ESPN3.