Wild Finish Helps Water Polo to First-Ever MAAC Win
Courtesy: SportsPhotoGuy.com for VMI

Video Interview with VMI Head Coach Anna Phelps

LEXINGTON, Va. -- In what was one of the wildest games of the first-ever Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference weekend at Clark King Pool, the Virginia Military Institute women’s water polo logged a historic 10-9 win over St. Francis College Brooklyn, the Keydets’ first conference win.

The win helped VMI split its final day as the host of the MAAC weekend after the Keydets fell to Siena College 14-9 earlier in the day.

With 1:32 left in the fourth quarter, St. Francis’ Palmer Hardy was whistled for her third exclusion, giving the Keydets a man-up opportunity. Jackson cashed in 10 seconds later to give VMI a 10-9 advantage and what proved to be the game-winner.

The Terriers charged down the length of the pool for one last chance on offense, but there they met VMI’s Molly Watkins, who made one of her 11 saves to ice the game and give the program its first-ever conference victory.

“It feels amazing,” said head coach Anna Phelps of the historic victory. “It was certainly a battle; the game was back and forth with goals being scored on both ends of the field. Both teams had a lot of exclusions and we lost a few key players early on in the game and I could not be more proud of the girls who stepped up.”

The Keydets (10-12, 1-3 MAAC) lost stalwart scorer Celine Lazzaro midway through the third quarter after she was called for a misconduct. Lazzaro was not alone in being kicked out of the game however, as eventually seven players and two coaches were removed from the game, including three on misconducts.

VMI found itself down 3-1 at the end of the first quarter, which included two of the game’s three misconducts. Lazzaro accounted for the lone Keydet goal. The Terriers maintained a buffer throughout the second stanza, holding a 7-4 advantage at halftime. In addition to another Lazzaro goal, Joyce Zabala and Emily Cait Farsakian each scored once in the third to keep the Keydets’ hopes alive.

Making adjustments at halftime, Phelps’ squad exploded on offense, tagging the Terriers for five goals in the third quarter from just two players. Mackenzie Perkins registered her fourth hat trick of the season, scoring all three of her goals in the third. Amanda Berrios struck twice, with her second tying the game at 8-8.

The fourth quarter was another wild eight minutes that including five exclusions and the red cards. But it was the fifth and final exclusion that made the difference to give VMI the extra attacker and gave Jackson the chance at the game-winner, her second of the year and first since March 2 against Washington & Jefferson.

Perkins finished as VMI’s leader with three goals while Berrios and Lazzaro were second in scoring with two each. Zabala, Jackson and Farsakian each potted one goal. Sophomore Justina Dunne was dominant at the start of each quarter, winning all four sprints.

Watkins finished with 11 saves in the game, including eight in the second half to help rally her squad. Even more impressive were her five saves in the fourth quarter when the Keydets were defending the deep end of Clark King Pool.

“Molly Watkins is a huge strength for us,” said Phelps of her 6-1 keeper. “She communicates well in the pool, she has a great wingspan so she takes up the space in the cage. But not only that, but she’s very comfortable coming out of the cage on passes that are coming from the opposite goalie on the counter attack, she’s extremely comfortable coming out to take away that advantage … I’m very pleased with Molly Watkins’ play.”

Paige Hardy was the Terriers’ leading goal-getter with a trio while Regina Toth and Bernadett Laszlo each chipped in a pair. Kristina Rudko and Palmer Hardy scored once. In goal for St. Francis, Kacie Davis made 12 stops, with four in second and another four in the third.

In the Keydets’ first game of the day, things were close early, featuring a 4-4 tie midway through the second quarter, but the Saints poured on the offense after that, scoring another 10 goals from the 4:21 mark of the second through the final horn.

Lazzaro led VMI against the Saints, striking four times while Jackson accounted for a trio of markers. Zabala and Dunne scored one apiece. Dunne collected two sprint wins, book ending the game with victories in first and fourth.

VMI’s offense was clicking, taking 28 shots on goal in the game, but Siena’s netminder Madeline Hurley made 19 saves, with six coming in the first and fourth quarters. Watkins stopped five Saint attempts.

In the other games, two-time defending MAAC champion Iona continued to dominate, taking down Villanova 18-9 and Siena 20-11. The Gaels went 4-0 on the weekend with their two victories in yesterday’s games as well. Wagner went 2-0 on the day, taking down Villanova 10-5 in the first game of the day and later defeated St. Francis 19-5.

The Keydets will continue their homestand on Tuesday when they host Grove City College, another new comer to Clark King Pool. VMI and the Wolverines clash at 4:30 p.m.

“They’re a counter attack team, a lot like Marist (College), so we’re really going to have to have our head on a swivel and pay attention once the (VMI) shot has been taken. I think we stand a great chance of taking them down,” said Phelps of Tuesday’s foe.