It had been 18 days since the Grand Canyon University women’s lacrosse team played and even longer since the undefeated team had been pushed.
The Lopes reached the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Associates Division II tournament with an average victory margin of 10.5 goals but needed clutch crunch-time play Thursday to advance to Friday’s semifinals.
Second-seeded GCU (14-0) clinched its pool and a semifinal spot by beating seventh-seeded Providence, 11-10, on a sudden-death overtime goal by sophomore midfielder Lexi Ortt and pulled away late against 11th-seeded Utah State for an 11-9 victory.
“I really like the fact that they kept fighting and could put it off,” GCU coach Tracy Gallihugh said. “They’ve never been in such a high-pressure game. It’s hard to train for that. It was such a shock to them but the fact that they could finish through all that adversity will help them tomorrow.”
The Lopes will play Loyola (11-2) in Friday’s 3 p.m. game in Salt Lake City with the winner advancing to Saturday’s championship game at noon. GCU lost, 9-8, to Loyola (Maryland) in last year’s WCLA third-place game. Loyola advanced with two blowout wins Thursday.
GCU opened tournament play at Regional Athletic Complex with the Providence game that stayed within two goals for the duration. Sophomore midfielder Bri Healy scored a team-high three goals against the Friars but it was Ortt’s second goal that gave GCU an overtime win.
GCU won the draw in overtime and ran a patient offense before drawing a Providence illegal check. That set up Ortt’s free position shot from the 8-meter line.
“She shot it high and hard,” Gallihugh said. “It was such a hard shot that the goalie saved it but it twisted her stick and the ball came out and went in the net. It was her power that put it in the net.”
GCU freshman midfielder Casey Friel and junior attacker Kelsey Wood also each scored two goals against Providence.
By afternoon, the Lopes were in another battle with Utah State despite Ortt, Wood and Healy scoring early to jump out to a 3-0 lead. With Friel scoring three goals, the Lopes opened up a 10-4 lead in the second half before the Aggies rallied. GCU was holding on to a 10-9 lead late in the game before Wood set up Ortt’s game-clinching goal.
“Caitlin Paine had some amazing saves when we needed it most,” Gallihugh said. “Maddie Magoon made big plays in the midfield. She was fighting for every ball, hustling back on defense and stopping fastbreaks.”