All season long, Boston College lacrosse claimed the second half as its time. Facing powerhouse after powerhouse, against some of the best programs the nation had to offer, the Eagles always seemed to use the second half as their time to shine. But trailing by three to Navy at halftime of the NCAA Semimfinal, that didn’t change the discontent in the Eagle huddle. Something had to change.
“Basically, (head coach) Acacia (Walker) was not happy with our performance, and neither were we,” senior Kate Weeks said. “Our team has been good at handling adversity of the first half, so we broke up into our sections of offense and defense and went over our three strengths – what got us here. We got back to that, what made us good shooters, good ball movement. We focused on our unit; it wasn’t inspirational moreso than it was technical.”
“We just made a slight adjustment,” head coach Acacia Walker said. “Navy was doing a really good job of covering the center. So we’ve been practicing sort of an inverted version of our motion where we put Kenzie (Kent) or Sam (Apuzzo) inside to sort of separate the gaps of the zone, and then we just put Kate in a position to be able to feed. They’re multidimensional, and that allows us to make an adjustment like that. It wound up working.”
Fixing the technical aspect worked like a charm. Rallying from a halftime deficit down 9-6, the Eagles scored the first five goals of the second, part of a string of six in a row, to defeat Navy in a thrilling 16-15 game at Gillette Stadium. With the win, BC advances to the season’s final game on Sunday morning, where they’ll meet undefeated, top-ranked Maryland for the national championship.
It was a first half punctuated by Navy’s ability to hold the ball in the Boston College defensive zone. As expected, the Midshipmen peppered the Eagles cage, launching 26 shots at goalkeeper Zoe Ochoa. Defensively, they remained stout, limiting BC’s opportunities and calling upon their own keeper, Ingrid Boyum, for five saves from inside, point-blank range. Still, the Eagles hung tough.
“Something we like to do is take things five minutes at a time,” Navy goalkeeper Ingrid Boyum said. “I think we did a really good job of bringing it back in, staying focused and going for the next five versus tackling the whole half, which allowed us to play our game.”
“The biggest thing was taking it one play at a time,” BC goalkeeper Zoe Ochoa said. “Every time the ball comes down, regroup. It’s a new 90 seconds on the shot clock, and we all have to do our jobs and hope that everyone trusts each other. If not, it’s a goal, shake it off, figure out what we did wrong, and move onto the next one.”
All of that changed in the second half. The Boston College attack opened up almost immediately, eradicating the Navy lead, tying things up, then taking a lead of its own. Kenzie Kent more than doubled her goal total, scoring to finish with five goals. The breakout came thanks to a change in game pace where BC took control and began imposing its will on a shocked Midshipmen squad.
“We understand it happens to us a lot,” Weeks said of the team’s change at halftime. “You can either crumble for it or you can own it and do everything you can to fix it. If we’re having a first half like that, we’re just going to own it and get fired up from it, and come out in the first five minutes and just kind of destroy the draw to get as many goals as we can.”
The win is an achievement that came despite history standing clearly in Navy’s corner. It was just the second time this season and 11th time in program history the Midshipmen lost when outshooting an opponent. Despite giving up 15 or more goals to BC for the second time this year, it was just the 21st time Navy allowed ever that many. After winning their last 19 games, including all 13 instances this season, the Midshipmen lost a game they led at halftime; it was just the seventh time in 135 games in program history that had happened.
“I think the reason they’re able to stay grounded is that they’re smart kids,” Walker said of her Eagles. “They’re very smart people. So I think they almost know better than to get caught up with the bright lights and the noises and the distractions. We visualize and meditate all the time. We practice this moment and being in this moment.”
As the first unseeded team to advance to a national championship game since 2003, the Eagles now look to become the ultimate David against women’s lacrosse’s resident Goliath. The to-ranked and undefeated Maryland Terrapins dispatched the Penn State Nittany Lions easily in the first semifinal, riding a 10-goal second half lead to a 20-10 victory.
The Terps are a team needing no introduction. They defeated Boston College once this year already, and they have 12 wins against nationally-ranked opponents, including their most recent 20-10 win over Penn State. They’re 22-0 on the season, and Sunday marks their fifth straight NCAA Championship Game appearance.
“We have to have a strong start (against the Terrapins),” Walker said. “What I know best about Maryland is they’ll eat you alive if you have five minutes off, and you can’t, so we’re going to have to figure out how to recover our bodies and prepare our minds and get strapped on because we can’t take time off.”
For Walker, it’s also completes something of a personal journey this weekend. An Annapolis native, she watched her team dispatch Navy in the national semifinal. Now she’ll meet her home state’s flagship program, the same program for which she starred. A captain of the 2005 Terrapins, she was a Tewaaraton Award Candidate in both her junior and senior year. But while this game might have a personal meaning, she also knows what it means to her girls.
“It means everything (to play in this game),” she said. “I’m just excited for the girls. I don’t really think about it having anything to do with me, really. I’m grateful to be there and to be coaching against (Maryland), but these girls, they’ve earned it. It’s their opportunity.”
As much as she grew up a Marylander, Walker is now an adopted Bostonian. And with her roots planted in Massachusetts, like her team, she’ll benefit from another “home game” at Gillette Stadium.
Playing under the Super Bowl championship banners of the New England Patriots, “Boston’s College” will hope to end the season as the only team with a postseason victory. Now 11-1 in games played in Massachusetts, they once again hope for – as the Patriots would say – “one more” before many of the almost-8,000 strong who wore the neon green shirts bearing the Eagles logo on Friday night.
“I knew that the crowd would be louder than anything they’ve ever heard,” Walker said. “I knew if they were able to look up in the stands and see their families, that would help them keep two feet on the ground. That was the point of (asking fans to wear neon green shirts). It wasn’t to be obnoxious; it was so the girls could look up and see their families, which, this group of girls, they play for their parents and siblings. I wanted that to inspire them throughout the game.”
The Eagles and Terrapins will battle on Sunday at 11 a.m. Tickets are available at the Gillette Stadium box office or online at Ticketmaster, and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU and WatchESPN.