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Niagara faces Canisius Friday in MAAC Semifinal showdown


Last Saturday, the Niagara Purple Eagles women's lacrosse team picked up its first playoff victory since the 2003 season, dominating the Monmouth Hawks in a first-round matchup at Niagara Field and securing a 16-4 victory. The fourth-seeded Purple Eagles now look to a semifinal matchup against the MAAC's top seed and crosstown rival Canisius on Friday night, with the winner advancing to the MAAC championship game on Sunday, May 7.

Opening draw between Niagara and Canisius on Friday, May 5 is set for 8 p.m. Tickets are on sale online and at the door for $10, while children, seniors, and students with valid school ID can purchase tickets for $5. The semifinal game at the Demske Sports Complex in Buffalo will also be aired on ESPN3.

To advance to the semifinal round, Niagara put on one of its best performances of the year in the first round of the 2017 MAAC Women's Lacrosse Championship. The fourth-seeded Purple Eagles used an 11-0 run in the first half to pave the way to a commanding 16-4 victory over the fifth-seeded Monmouth Hawks at Niagara Field on Apr. 29. Monmouth took a 2-1 lead early in the game, but Hailey D'Hont's tying goal 8:16 into the game started an 11-0 run by the Purple Eagles as Monmouth was held off the scoreboard for 19 minutes. Rachel MacCheyne scored four times in the 11-goal run while Caroline Crump scored twice and assisted on three other tallies. Goalkeeper Andrea Francisco made two early second-half saves for Niagara, but the Hawks would pick up the first goal of the second 4:47 past halftime to make it a 12-4 Niagara lead. Over the final 25 minutes, Niagara shut out Monmouth while tacking on four more goals courtesy of MacCheyne, D'Hont, Audrey Fithall, and Alexis Morales for the 16-4 victory. Francisco made four saves in that time to finish the game with seven saves on 11 shots on goal. MacCheyne finished the game with a career-high six goals, adding one assist for seven points. Crump finished the game with a season-high six points on two goals and four assists, and D'Hont had a season-high three goals. Defensively, Alexandra Higgins had a game-high nine draw controls as Niagara held a 15-6 advantage in that category. Higgins also added two ground balls and one caused turnover. Isabella Leon had a career-high three caused turnovers to lead Niagara in that category, and Kara Martin led the team with four ground balls. The 12-goal margin of victory was the second-biggest by Niagara this season. The Purple Eagles defeated the St. Bonaventure Bonnies 18-5 in the team's home opener on Feb. 20.

The Purple Eagles look ahead to their fourth appearance in the MAAC semifinals on Friday. Niagara is 2-1 in its previous three trips to the conference semifinal round. Niagara finished third in the MAAC in 2003 (10-6, 4-2 MAAC), with the ten wins still standing as the program record for the most wins in a single season. The Purple Eagles were defeated 15-7 in the conference semifinals by second-seeded Le Moyne. The Purple Eagles last advanced to the conference championship game in 2001, when the team earned its best-ever finish in the MAAC standings, entering the playoffs seeded second. After taking down third-seeded Marist 14-7 in the semifinals, Niagara fell 8-5 to first-seeded Fairfield in the championship. Niagara's first conference championships appearance came in 2000, when the fourth-seeded Purple Eagles upset the top-seeded Marist Red Foxes 13-8 in the semifinals. Niagara lost in the championship game to the Manhattan Jaspers by a score of 11-8.

Niagara stayed close with Canisius for most of the game in the regular-season finale on Apr. 26. The Purple Eagles trailed just 9-8 early in the second half, but a seven-goal run by the Golden Griffins eventually led to an 18-9 Canisius win. Rachel MacCheyne scored the first goal of the second half, her fourth of the game. MacCheyne's tally gave her the single-season program records in both goals (53) and points (67). MacCheyne's four goals led the Purple Eagles offensively. Fellow sophomore Mackenzie Molodetz tallied her first two-goal game as a Purple Eagle. Alexandra Higgins tallied a game-high seven draw controls, adding two ground balls and two caused turnovers. Kara Martin turned in a strong all-around defensive game with two ground balls, two draw controls, and three caused turnovers, and Shea Swartwout added two ground balls. Andrea Francisco faced 26 shots on goal and made 11 saves, playing the first 48:30 in the cage. Olivia Schroeder made her collegiate debut over the last 11:30 of the game, allowing three goals and making two saves. Canisius holds a 12-10 lead in the all-time series against Niagara.