Defense Gets Offensive as Bulldogs Win 12-6 at Columbia

April 8, 2009

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NEW YORK - Junior Michele Fiorentino and sophomore Augusta Hixon have been key parts of Yale's defense all season long. On Wednesday at Columbia they got involved in the offense too, as Fiorentino scored her first career goal and Hixon got her first career assist. That, combined with four goals from junior attacker Jessica Sturgill and three each from sophomore midfielder Ariana Papier and senior midfielder Jenn Warden, lifted the Bulldogs to a 12-6 win.

"It was great to see, because most of the time the defense doesn't get into the stats," said Anne Phillips, Yale's Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Women's Lacrosse. "But often it's that first pass out from the goalkeeper that creates the offensive opportunities. It was nice to see Michele and Augusta show up in the offensive stats, because they have been so solid defensively all along."

Hixon's assist came on the first goal of the day, as she fed Papier at 23:32. The Bulldogs extended the lead to 2-0 when senior midfielder Taylor Fragapane drew a free position attempt and passed to Sturgill for a goal at 20:57.

Attacker Brittany Shannon's free position goal ended a stretch of nearly 12 scoreless minutes for the Lions at the start of the game. The first of four yellow cards on Yale then gave Columbia a chance to draw even, but freshman goalkeeper Whitney Quackenbush came up with a save on attacker Lauren Olsen. Olsen then got a yellow card of her own, accidentally hitting junior midfielder/defender Natalie Reid in the face with her stick and sending Reid to the sideline with a cut near her eye. Freshman midfielder Erin Velez came on for Reid, who was able to return later in the game.

After another yellow card on the Bulldogs Columbia evened the game with a goal from Shannon at 11:52, prompting a Yale timeout. Papier got the draw control that followed, but Columbia keeper Emma Mintz made a save on a free position shot by Sturgill. The Lions then had two big chances to take the lead. Quackenbush stopped a free position shot from attacker Holly Glynn, popping the ball to a teammate near the cage. After the Bulldogs turned it over right in front of the cage after that, Quackenbush reacted quickly to deny a follow-up shot by midfielder Taylor Gattinella.

Papier put the Bulldogs up 3-2 with an unassisted goal at 6:53, but a free position goal by midfielder Rachael Ryan tied the game two minutes later. Warden got Yale back on top by winning the draw control to herself and earning a free position attempt that she buried high on Mintz.

Mintz made a save on a low shot by Sturgill right before halftime, but the Bulldogs seized momentum early in the second half. An interception by sophomore defender/midfielder Kaitlyn Flatley after Columbia got the opening draw enabled junior attacker Jenna Block to set up Sturgill for another goal. Flatley would finish with three caused turnovers for the game, giving her eight in her last two games.

"She's playing really well," said Phillips. "She's playing with confidence, anticipating the passing lanes and checking the ball cleanly. She's also helping in transition."

After a goal by Glynn cut the lead to 5-4 at 26:30, the Bulldogs went on a run. Quackenbush made a save on a free position shot by Shannon and Fiorentino cleared the ball into the Lions' end of the field. As she was headed in, a shooting space call against Columbia gave Fiorentino the rare opportunity to line up for a free position shot. She took full advantage of it to score, and was promptly mobbed by her teammates.

"Michele's first career goal came at a very good time," Phillips said. "It provided a spark. We needed a goal, and Michele went in and got it done."

Just 20 seconds later the Bulldogs got another goal from a more conventional source, as Warden got the draw control and drove in for her 31st goal of the year. Columbia called time, but Papier got the next draw control and Sturgill delivered an unassisted goal, coming around from the side of the cage and sidearming the ball past Mintz. Sturgill's four goals tied her career high, set in the first game of the season against Fairfield.

"Her four goals were huge," Phillips said. "We need that scoring power, especially because Jenn [Warden] was face-guarded. Jenn drew attention so other players could drive, and the goals Jess scored gave us the cushion we needed."

Shortly after Mintz made a nice save on a shot by junior midfielder Sarah David after a pass from Papier, the Bulldogs found themselves at another turning point. Fiorentino was hit with a yellow card, putting one of the team's top defenders on the sideline with the team clinging to a lead. But after a Columbia turnover, Reid chased down a long clearing pass from Quackenbush, and another goal from Sturgill increased Yale's cushion to 9-4 with 13:35 to play.

The work Yale did with Fiorentino sidelined was typical for a day that saw many Bulldogs take on a variety of roles.

"We had a lot of people step up in roles that they don't normally play," Phillips said. "Not only did we have to kill a penalty with one of our top defenders out, we also had two other starters miss time because of injury and illness during the game. It was frantic for a little while there, but we were eventually able to settle things down. There were times when our attackers had to go on defense, and our defenders had to go on attack."

After Columbia cut the lead to 9-6, a goal by Warden with 9:56 to play halted the Lions' run. Shortly after Quackenbush made a save on Shannon, Warden knocked the ball loose from a Lion's crosse. Papier got the ground ball and finished the possession off with a goal to make it 11-6 with 4:23 to play. A caused turnover by Warden then enabled Yale to run out the clock for the final four minutes, capping things off with a goal by David assisted by Block.

Sophomore midfielder Myra Trivellas nabbed the final draw control to give Yale an 11-9 edge in draws. That is the third straight game Yale has won the draw control battle, something the Bulldogs did only twice in the first nine games.

"If you have to look at a stat that helped us win the game, it was draw controls," Phillips said. "That is something we work on every day, because it gives you the opportunity to get right back on attack. That practice is starting to pay off."

Mintz and Quackenbush each finished with 10 saves. This marked just the second time all season that Columbia (5-6, 0-5 Ivy League) has been held to fewer than eight goals in a game, and just 12 days earlier the Lions had put up 11 goals against No. 2 Penn.

"Columbia is relentless driving 1v1," Phillips said. "They either beat you or get fouled. We worked with our defenders on shutting down those 1v1 drives and not fouling. We were able to keep them from getting good shots."

Fiorentino and Hixon's points were just part of the reward for the Yale defense, as the Bulldogs continue to look to those two along with players like Flatley, Reid, junior Claire Eliasberg and sophomore Fielding Kidd as building blocks in front of Quackenbush in the first year under a new coaching staff.

"We decided when we came here that we were going to build this team from the back -- from the goalkeeper out," said Phillips. "We've done a good job with our settled defense, but we had struggled to get the transition game going. Our defense took control of that situation and decided to take it in for themselves."

Yale (4-8, 1-4 Ivy League) hosts Wagner next Tuesday at 4:00 p.m.

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity