Tufts bounces back from tough NESCAC loss with stunning upset

Junior midfielder Caroline Nowak defends during Tufts' 16-8 win against Claremont-M-S on March 15. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily

Though still struggling within the conference, the Jumbos (7-4 overall, 2-4 NESCAC) capped off an undefeated 5-0 record in non-conference play this season with an impressive pair of wins this week.

Quickly rebounding from a tough loss on the road to then-No. 15 Hamilton on Saturday, the Jumbos upset ninth-ranked SUNY Cortland in another away game on Sunday and then dominated visiting Keene State on Wednesday. The win over the Red Dragons on Sunday also snapped the hosts’ 82-game home winning streak at the Stadium Complex in Cortland, N.Y.

First-year Emily Games noted that the Jumbos were able to learn from the weaknesses in their play on Saturday to bounce back the next day.

“There are usually some specific goals after [each] game that we will try to work on,” Games said. “Sometimes it will be draw control, sometimes it will be ground balls, the transition or just our shooting. It really is different each game.”

In their final non-conference game of the regular season on Wednesday, Tufts handily defeated Keene State 16-3. The Jumbos played some of their best lacrosse of the spring against the Owls, particularly in a lopsided first half that saw seven different Jumbos score to jump out to a 12-0 lead. Tufts’ defense also completely shut down Keene State’s offense for most of the game, refusing to concede a single shot until almost 10 minutes had elapsed in the second half.

Coach Courtney Shute brought some of the younger players off the bench in the second half. First-year goalie Kelly Melin saw her first action of the season, making three saves against six shots in 30 minutes of play, while first-years Alison Moky and Dana Gill were among the three new Jumbos to tally goals in the half. The Jumbos again outscored the Owls 4-3 in the second period and coasted to an expected victory.

Sunday’s victory against SUNY Cortland was similarly due to a hot start, as Tufts scored the first six goals of the game and didn’t concede a goal until 1:36 remained in the first half. The Red Dragons had not lost at home since March 23, 2010 — ironically in a loss to Hamilton — going into the match-up.

But senior quad-captain Kate Mackin helped power the Jumbos from the starting whistle, scoring four of the team’s first five goals. Cortland’s first score late in the half, however, kicked off a quick three-goal spurt that cut Tufts’ lead to three heading into the break.

The Red Dragons’ furious comeback continued into the second half as they knotted the score at 7-7 by outscoring the Jumbos 4-1 in the first 10 minutes of the period.

According to sophomore attacker Dakota Adamec, the team tried to make sure that giving up the lead wouldn’t affect the players’ mentality by focusing on the situation at hand.

“Yes, we were tired, but everyone had their focus on getting the next draw control,” Adamec said. “Once the ball was in our attackers’ hands, all we needed was a little patience and composure. After working the ball for a bit, we put one in the back of the net to bring us ahead 8-7.”

After retaking the lead, sophomore Annie Sullivan netted two more goals in as many minutes to counter a Red Dragons score and keep her team up 10-8 with 13 minutes remaining.

Cortland and Tufts traded goals for the rest of the game, but Tufts never lost its lead and held on for a 13-11 victory. The Red Dragons cut the lead to one as the game sat at 12-11 with 7:21 remaining, but junior Taylor Meek iced the game on an unassisted goal with 4:42 left to secure one of her teams’ most impressive wins of the season so far.

Overall, Mackin led Tufts with five goals and Games continued a strong breakout in her debut season with two goals and two assists. The Jumbos had a 35-23 advantage in shots and an 18-9 advantage in ground balls. Tufts also took full advantage of its free position shots against Cortland and converted four of seven after being the victim of Williams’ strong free-position shooting last week.

Adamec said the Jumbos were not expecting an easy game.

“Coming off of a loss, we had a mission to beat Cortland by fixing our problems that we had against Hamilton,” she said. “We focused on our play and pushing the fast break in transition, which really helped get our confidence back. I feel like we have found the connection between the offense and the defense, which will definitely translate in our future games.”

Playing against the Hamilton Continentals the day before, the Jumbos weren’t nearly as productive on offense. They were held to just six goals, tying their season low and well below their season average, by a smothering Hamilton defense that has allowed fewer than seven goals per game this season.

Mackin again was the catalyst for most of the Jumbos’ limited offensive production, recording two goals and an assist. Both of Mackin’s goals came during the first half and they were all Tufts was able to produce as the team fell behind 5-2 going into the break, despite a 10-6 advantage in shots.

The second half did not fare much better for the Jumbos, as they were only able to get off six shots, while the Continentals had 14. Tufts cut the lead to two with a goal by Adamec just five minutes into the second half. The Continentals responded with three consecutive goals, and the game was never within reach again.

Hamilton’s defense was credited with 17 caused turnovers in the game, disrupting Tufts’ offensive flow and its ability to get quick shots. This translated into the Jumbos putting relatively little pressure on the Continental goalie, who faced just 16 shots the whole game.

Though Tufts sits in seventh place in the NESCAC, the team will have the chance to climb in the conference and improve its potential postseason seed on Saturday against Amherst. Three of the Jumbos’ next four games are at home and all four are against conference opponents, so they will be looking to make a late season push heading towards the NESCAC tournament.