Coast Guard advances to NEWMAC women's lacrosse semis

Apr. 27—NEW LONDON — The Coast Guard Academy women's lacrosse team is enjoying a program record setting season.

The Bears have set several new team and individual marks.

But what they'll fondly remember the most about their special season is the tight bond that they share on and off the field.

"They just get along so well," coach Sue Behme said. "They take care of each other. They do the little things together, whether it's eating meals, or helping each other when they're having a bad day, here and there.

"That's part of the whole experience here. They want to come to the field and they want to have fun. They want to be competitive, but it's a break from the grind for them. And their grind is different."

Their team camaraderie was on display in Saturday's New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal against fifth-seeded Smith College.

Locked in a tight one-goal game early on, the fourth-seeded Bears pulled together and gradually pulled away, scoring four straight goals in the third quarter on the way to an 11-6 victory. It was their season-best sixth straight win.

"We really came together as a team," junior Kira Howard said. "For the seniors, this could have been their last game. As a team, we were like, we've got to keep pushing and we can't give up. After that, we just flipped the switch."

Howard, a midfielder, did her part to help the Bears advance to a tournament semifinal matchup Wednesday at top-seeded Babson. She contributed a team-high four goals and two assists. Sophomore Abby McAllister, the program single season record holder for assists and points, chipped in two goals and three assists while senior Sarah Skurat and junior Caitlyn Coates each had a goal and an assist.

Junior goalie Maici Mintchwarner made several huge saves before and after the Bears hit their stride offensively. She had 10 stops overall.

With the score deadlocked at 3-3 early in the second quarter, Mintchwarner thwarted a close range shot and then another attempt from finding the back of the net.

After CGA junior Laine Weber scored the go-ahead goal from a free position at the 3:41 mark, Mintchwarner and her defenders helped prevent Smith from capitalizing after the Bears went down two players due to penalties for a span of 54 seconds.

"Unbelievable...," Behme said. "You couldn't ask any more out of your team defense. That's why we're one of the top 10 teams in Division III in scoring defense. Same thing with clearing percentage. I think we're ranked fifth in the country.

"Maici stood on her head. She played a great game."

The Bears started to find their groove, as sophomore Aislinn Murray finished off a strong move with an unassisted goal for a 5-3 lead at the break.

Their work was far from finished, as Smith cut the gap to one in the third quarter. Then Howard scored her third goal off an assist from McAllister. Skurat, McAllister and Coates all delivered goals to push the lead to 9-4.

They closed it out from there.

"I just couldn't be more proud of this team," said Behme, who credited former women's lacrosse players for building the program's firm foundation. "They've really just done an amazing job."

For the third straight year, Coast Guard (13-4) will play in the NEWMAC semifinals. Babson (14-2) won the regular season meeting 13-10 on March 16.

"We have everything to gain and they have everything to lose," Behme said. "From a mental standpoint, that can be a really big advantage. And it's hard to beat the same team twice."

The Bears, who set a program record for wins in a season, have never won the conference tournament title.

Then again, they hadn't done a lot of things before this record-setting season.

"We really want that ring," Howard said. "We think we can get it this year with this team. We have great team camaraderie. We have great speed, great talent, great athleticism. I think, honestly, this could be our year if we just keep focused and stay connected together for four consecutive quarters."