LOUDONVILLE — A couple years ago, the Siena women’s lacrosse program could see the “finish line,” but was unable to reach it.
“Right now,” Siena women’s head coach Abby Rehfuss said Thursday after her team’s semifinal win, “everyone’s just determined to cross it.”
Siena lost 10-9 in overtime in that 2019 MAAC final at Fairfield, and the Saints’ wait for another chance at claiming their first-ever MAAC tournament championship was delayed a season when the 2020 MAAC season and tournament was canceled because of concerns related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The opportunity, though, is finally here for the Saints when they play at Fairfield in Sunday’s 1 p.m. championship game to win the game that “means everything,” as senior Nicole McNeely put it, to the Saints.
Siena (No. 2 seed, 11-2 overall) was a relatively youthful team when it played that 2019 championship game at Fairfield (No. 1, 12-1), and the Saints’ program was in a much different spot. That season’s dozen wins set a program record for a team that had produced three times as many seasons with three or fewer losses than it did .500-or-better seasons in its first 22 years of action. Even without winning the 2019 MAAC final, that year’s Saints’ two playoff wins exceeded the program’s previous total of one playoff win, earned back in 2005 before the program lost its next six playoff games.
This year? The Saints’ veteran-laden cast is made up of experienced stars who expect to win. The Saints bring an eight-game winning streak into the MAAC final, which will be played against a Fairfield team that was unbeaten this year, except for when Siena won 15-11 on Conway Field at Rafferty Stadium in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Fairfield has won six consecutive games since its loss against Siena. Fairfield, though, needed overtime to claim its quarterfinal win and to come back from a 5-1 deficit in its semifinal, while Siena cruised into the championship game. Siena scored a MAAC tournament single-game record 21 goals in its quarterfinal, then scored 20 in its semifinal.
“Very confident,” is how Siena redshirt junior Kaitlyn Dowsett described the Saints’ mindset after their semifinal win Thursday. “I feel like this is the most confident we’ve been all season.”
“I think we have way more confidence going into this [year’s championship] game because we’ve been here before and we know what to do,” Siena senior Kerry Gerety said.
All five of Siena’s players that registered at least one point in the 2019 MAAC final are still on Rehfuss’ roster, and that total doesn’t include junior Mary Soures — the Saints’ 2021 leader in goals with 44 — who also played in that game.
Siena, too, has five players on its active roster with at least 100 career points, and is one of two programs in the country this season with that distinction. But Rehfuss, the program’s fourth-year head coach, said the Saints possess more than a quintet of top scorers.
“In my time here,” Rehfuss said, “this is the most depth that we’ve had so far.”
It’s a well-tested group, too. Besides its postseason experience from 2019, Siena was 4-1 in one-goal games during this year’s regular season before winning its quarterfinal by 10 goals and its semifinal by nine.
“Having the experience of being in the tournament from 2019 [is helpful], but I think also the experience of these past two games really just builds a lot of confidence,” Rehfuss said.