Towson earns NCAA berth
Towson (16-3, 7-0 CAA) officially punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament Saturday night, edging Northeast Conference champion Monmouth (9-11, 6-3 NEC) 15-5 at Johnny Unitas Stadium. The Colonial Athletic Association champion Tigers received strong efforts from Andi Raymond, Ashleigh Rohrback and Olivia Turner, who combined for eight goals and six assists.
“We’re excited to be going to the dance,” two-time CAA Coach of the Year Sonia LaMonica said. “Obviously, you can see the smiles on the players’ faces. It’s an exciting time of the year, and we’re just thrilled to be here and the hard work has paid off for these players. We’ve gotten through some tight squeezes and tight games, but that’s served us well and it’ll help us as we move forward.”
The Tigers entered the second half with their largest lead of the season at 12-3. It was also their highest scoring first half of the year. In the first 30 minutes of play, Towson shot 12-19 and controlled 11 of the 16 draws. The Tigers cleared the ball out of their own end successfully 8-9 times and scored twice out of three chances from the free-position line.
Raymond and Rohrback, the two players who have led the Towson offense all season, helped orchestrate a 6-0 run late in the half that put the game out of reach. Raymond had two goals and an assist in that stretch and Rohrback scored to cap the run with 2:30 to play in the opening 30 minutes.
Raymond, a sophomore, came into the year with no goals to her name, has netted a team-high 33 in 2012. Rohrback, a redshirt sophomore, entered the 2012 season with just one goal, and now has 26. The pair helped generate offense all season from behind the opponent’s net, and their head coach has leaned on them to make the right decisions when it matters most.
“I think our players, coming into this game, felt that if we were active off-ball, with our cutting, we could find some openings,” LaMonica said. “I think our players did a good job of that, especially Ashleigh and Andi, our quarterbacks behind the net, finding open cutters and being ready to back-door their players.”
Towson shot 15-32 in the contest and found a lot of open chances. But the Hawks’ freshman goalie Katie Donohoe played a strong game, which LaMonica said impressed her immensely.
“Their goalie had some awesome saves, a couple point-blank ones, and I thought she was very impressive and I don’t think the score reflects the type of game that she had,” LaMonica said.
Monmouth simply couldn’t figure out Towson’s two-headed monster between the pipes to cut into the lead and make a serious threat. Mary Teeters made five saves in the first half. With Towson up by nine at the half, LaMonica went to freshman Kelsea Donnelly, who’s only played 51 minutes this season. Donnelly made eight saves in the second half and came up with four ground balls.
“Kelsea faced a lot of shots in that second half. Monmouth really came out strong and she came up huge,” LaMonica said. “She really played beyond her years, which is great to see, and I was really excited for her and I know the team was as well. She was awesome, just awesome.”
The Tigers will play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010, when they faced an emotionally charged opponent in the Virginia Cavaliers. The murder of Virginia player Yeardley Love was a backdrop for the contest that Virginia won 14-12. Rohrback was a member of that Towson team and said she is excited to get back to the big dance and share the experience with her teammates.
“We went my freshman year, but this is a great feeling and it’s awesome for the team and everyone else to experience it, too,” Rohrback said.
Raymond has never played in the tournament and said she can’t wait for next weekend for her first chance to shine.
“I haven’t been there yet, and so it’s a new opportunity, and it’s awesome for the program,” she said.
Towson will host Penn St. in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, May 12 at 3 p.m.