ALBANY — The piece of lacrosse net at the back of Kerry Gerety’s head, hanging nicely underneath her America East Champions cap, looked like it belonged.
It was the perfect fashion accessory for the fifth-year senior from Guilderland who transferred from Siena College to the University of Vermont for this year. After twice coming up just short of qualifying for the NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Tournament with Siena, Gerety gets to experience it with the Catamounts.
Vermont overcame a 5-0 first-quarter deficit to defeat top-seeded UAlbany 12-11 Saturday at John Fallon Field. It is the first America East title for Vermont in a league usually dominated by Stony Brook and UAlbany.
For the Great Danes, it was a bitter pill to swallow. They entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed, with nationally ranked Stony Brook ineligible for it because it is leaving the conference.
“It’s just an absolute unreal feeling,” a smiling Gerety said. “I’m just extremely happy with my decision to come back and be on the other side of winning the championship, because I know how UAlbany feels. I’ve been in that spot twice before.”
Though she smiled throughout the press conference, it was more difficult for UAlbany’s Kadi Futia, a former teammate of Gerety’s at Guilderland High School and who put in a fantastic all-around effort Saturday with two goals, strong defense and several hard bumps and collisions that only once forced her to leave the field briefly.
“We’re best friends on and off the field,” Futia said of Gerety. “On the field today, it was a little quieter than normal. I’m super happy for her, and if it were the other way around, she’d be happy for me.”
“I just saw her after her interview and gave her a hug,” Gerety said of Futia. “She played her heart out. … I know how much she wanted this, how much her team means to her. I really feel for her.”
Sarah Falk scored three of UAlbany’s first four goals before getting face-guarded and sometimes double-teamed — joining UAlbany leading scorer Katie Pascale in that regard. Camille Argentieri drew the assignment of sticking to Pascale like glue, and rose to the occasion. She and Vermont held Pascale — who had 43 goals and 38 assists before Saturday — to just one assist.
Gerety finally got Vermont (14-4) on the board with 4:51 left in the first.
“Every time we had possession, we knew we had to convert on it,” Gerety said of the 5-0 deficit. “So, yeah, [the first goal] was big for us, and then we kind of got the ball rolling from there.”
UAlbany held on to a 6-4 lead at halftime and even expanded its lead to 9-6 on a goal from Bryar Hogg with 1:39 left in the third. Vermont made it 9-7 and had a good chance to add to it, but Futia — just back from her brief stay on the bench — ran down Vermont’s Taylor Mullen on a breakaway, turning a sure one-on-one into a contested shot that UAlbany goalie Katherine Chiarella saved just before the buzzer.
Vermont’s defense on Pascale and Falk, after her first-quarter flurry, was a big factor.
“We were trying different ways, having other players initiate with the offense and the dodges, and Kadi Futia really stepped up,” UAlbany coach Katie Thompson said. “The past few games she’s been doing a really great job. Their plan to slow down Katie and Sarah provided other opportunities. We got some shots and opportunities, but it just wasn’t enough at the end of the day.”
UAlbany made it 10-7 on Ava Poupard’s goal, but Vermont kept chipping away, tying it at 11 on the second of three goals from Grace Giancola with 7:41 left.
Giancola scored the eventual game-winner with 2:12 left on a midfield isolation.
“Our plan was to work it around, be patient, and if all else fails, it was my drive to take,” said Giancola, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. “Kind of worked it around, and just in that moment, we needed a goal. Kind of saw the space on the double-team, worked around, got my hands free and just shot. It’s crunch time, got to take the shot.”
UAlbany had its chances to tie the game. It had a free position with one minute left, but couldn’t get a shot. It then had two shots go wide of the goal.
And against nearly all odds, it almost sent the game into overtime. Down two players to a yellow card and green card, it came up with the ball in the final few seconds, and fired a shot just after the final horn that went into the net, but the officials immediately ruled the shot came too late.
Ally Alliegro, Futia and Pascale were selected to the All-Championship Team for UAlbany.
UAlbany finished the year with an 8-9 overall record. Thompson said she hurt for the seniors and graduate students on her team, but knows this won’t be an epitaph.
“This will fuel us for the future,” Thompson said, “and we can’t wait to get back to work and build for the future of our program.
Vermont 1 3 3 5 — 12
UAlbany 5 1 3 2 — 11
Vermont scoring: Giancola 3-1, Vasile 3-0, Mullen 2-0, Halloran 2-0, Gerety 1-1, Ballard 1-1. UAlbany scoring: Falk 3-0, Futia 2-0, Maloney 2-0, Poupard 2-0, Hogg 2-0, Canning 0-1, McCauley 0-1, Pascale 0-1, Sancilio 0-1. Goalies: Vermont, McLaughlin, 9 saves. UAlbany, Chiarella, 7 saves.