Underclassmen lead surging Knights toward PSAC playoffs

Call them the next generation. Or say they’re this year’s class’ successors.

But after the Gannon University lacrosse team blew past No. 14 Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the second half of Saturday’s 19-13 win, coach Lindsey Lowman can confidently say next year’s Knights will need minimal rebuilding.

“We’re definitely going to lose some strong seniors, who are going to be hard to replace,” Lowman said. “But with the group we have coming back with every player on the attack a double-digit scorer, we’re pretty confident we’ll be competitive for a while.”

On a night in which the Gannon honored five seniors before the start of the game, it was a trio of underclassmen who stole the show Saturday, as sophomore Kimberly Neagle and juniors Natalie Bonnepart and Caitlyn Fisher each tallied five goals.

“Their defense really slid early so we were able to beat them with a lot of off-ball movement and just driving and passing the ball quickly to find the open girl,” said Fisher, whose goals combined with three assists set a career-high with eight points Saturday.

Gannon improved to 8-5 overall and the Knights’ 6-2 mark in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference is good enough for third place, behind only No. 9 West Chester and tenth-ranked Lock Haven. The Rams and Bald Eagles represent the Knights’ only defeats in the conference. Gannon dropped its only other game last week to Lock Haven Wednesday, 14-11, when the Bald Eagles ripped off three unanswered goals to break an 8-8 tie midway through the second half.

It appeared the Knights were in jeopardy of dropping their second straight game Saturday when IUP (8-4 overall, 5-3 PSAC) ran out to a 5-1 lead to begin the game.

However, the Knights methodically cut the Crimson Hawks’ lead and eventually tied the game at five and again at six, before Fisher gave Gannon the lead for the first time with less than a minute remaining. Bonnepart tacked on another goal seconds later to give the Knights an 8-6 halftime lead.

This proved to be IUP’s Waterloo, as Gannon scored eight of the second half’s first 11 goals to extend its lead to as much as seven on a pair of occasions.

Lowman said the Knights woke up in the second part of the first half.

“I think coming out we were pretty flat, and it really took until the last 15 minutes before we got it together,” she said. “Natalie and Fish had great games and we really had balanced scoring throughout the lineup.”

With three games remaining on the regular season schedule, the Knights will have a chance to make the PSAC tournament for the third straight year.

Seniors Rachel Dercola, Susie Taylor, Amanda Sharbaugh, Sarah Grzybinski and Maggie Brinkman are among those who have helped the Knights reach the postseason the past two years and hope to finish off with another playoff run.

“Finishing strong is crucial because you want to be one of the teams that goes to the PSAC tournament,” Dercola said. “We need to continue working hard in practice and stay focused and ready for our upcoming games.”

The Knights will continue their crucial stretch when they travel to Millersville University (5-8, 2-6) 4 p.m. Friday.

 

JOE CUNEO

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