FAIRFAX, Va. – Led by a combined 16 points from 2019 Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year Francesca Donato and sophomore attacker Stephanie Kelly, the Saint Joseph's women's lacrosse squad downed VCU, 18-15, in the 2019 Atlantic 10 Championship quarterfinals at George Mason Stadium on Thursday afternoon. With the win, the Hawks improve to 11-7 overall while the Rams close their season at 7-10.
Saint Joseph's will now advance to face top-seeded UMass (14-3, 9-0 A-10) in the A-10 Championship semifinals tomorrow, April 26, at 1:00 p.m.
"Our goal is to play St. Joe's lacrosse when we step out here," said fifth-year head coach Alex Kahoe following the win. "A-10s are always a special time of year. Late in the first half, we really stepped up and played St. Joe's lacrosse."
Donato factored into SJU's first four scoring plays of the day (2g, 2a) en route to a 3g/3a first half and an eventual nine-point (5g, 4a) performance, scoring her five goals on just six shots in a dominating offensive display. Linemate Kelly chipped in seven points (5g, 2a).
"All of us are on the same page... more than we ever have been," said Donato of the team's offensive efforts. "We've been working on getting our flow a little bit more tight and seeing where each defense breaks down. We're doing a really good job of taking care of the little things and putting the ball in the back of the net."
On the other end of the field, it was a rookie who stepped up big. Freshman goalkeeper Amber Weedon (5-3) earned the starting nod between the pipes and made a career-high 11 saves in the full 60:00.
"I didn't have any nerves," said Weedon of her confidence entering her first collegiate postseason match-up. "Today I wanted to play for my mom, and I knew I had to come out strong and just help out the team. I trusted them to have me and I feel like they trusted me to have their backs. We had good slides to the ball and our defense was really solid today."
"Amber had some huge stops for us in the second half," added Kahoe. "Amber and our defense made some really big plays to get the ball into our offensive end."
With the Rams leading 7-6 entering the final 8:55 of the first half, the Hawks tore off for six unanswered goals to take a 12-7 advantage into the halftime break; Kelly opened and closed that run (8:55, 1:05) while A-10 All-Rookie Team attacker Lauren Figura put away a pair late (2:20, 1:55).
SJU worked its way up to a six-goal lead, 16-10, entering the final 11:33 of regulation, and held off a late VCU push for the 18-15 final.
For the game, Saint Joseph's earned advantages in shots, 39-32, propelled by a 23-13 first half, and draw controls, 19-15, and won the ground-ball game, 28-27.
Atlantic 10 First Team midfielder Bridget Cerciello had a strong showing as the junior scored twice and added a game-high seven draw controls alongside four ground balls while junior defender Julia Pash forced a game-high three caused turnovers.
Playing in front of her home crowd, sophomore midfielder Taylor Newman-Farr was dominant for the Hawks with three points (1g, 2a), two ground balls, and four draw controls in a scrappy display from the sound of the opening whistle.
"It was definitely a lot of fun," said the Reston, Va. native. "I had a lot of family here, so it was fun to get out there, get a great team win, and show them what SJU is made of."
Of her strong, aggressive style of play on Thursday afternoon, Newman-Farr had just one statement to make.
"I'm planning to stay here until Sunday."
"We really are planning to stay here until Sunday," added Donato with a smile.
A win tomorrow against the Minutewomen would send the Hawks to Sunday's title game, set for noon.
GAME NOTES: Senior defenders Ally Beck and Hayley Sabol extend their shared SJU career games played record to 73... Senior attacker Francesca Donato now ranks third in career assists (69), sixth in career points (166), and ninth in career goals (99) at SJU, extends her single-season records in points to 87 and assists to 42, and breaks into the single-season top ten in goals (45), tying for seventh... Sophomore attacker Stephanie Kelly now ties for sixth in career assists (56) at SJU, sits second in single-season assists (36) behind Donato, and ranks third in single-season points (73)... Junior defender Julia Pash sits sixth in career caused turnovers on Hawk Hill (64) and ties for fourth in single-season caused turnovers with 30 this season... Senior defender Sinead Brierley remains third in single-season ground balls (52) and caused turnovers (32).