The senior Blue Devils on last spring's record-setting team included (from left) Megan Mietelski, Karli Brinthaupt, Morgan McNamara, Amy Simon and Sara Ceraso.
by Jerry Reilly, Sports Information Director
In May, Fredonia State qualified for the 2012 NCAA Division III Women’s Lacrosse tournament – its first national tournament appearance in the program’s 17-year history.
The Blue Devils had the second highest strength-of-schedule in the Empire Region, and one of the top 15 in the nation. A 7-1 conference record and a 14-4 record following the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) Tournament were two other key factors in the Blue Devils’ inclusion when the 31-team field was announced May 6 on NCAA.com during a live selection show.
In addition, the NCAA selection committee also awarded Fredonia State a first-round home game. It was the campus’ first NCAA home game of any kind since the 1994-95 men’s hockey season. “It was a very nerve-wracking weekend,” Head Coach Chris Case said of the days leading up to the official announcement. “There was a lot of number crunching and scoreboard watching on my end to see if we would get (an at-large) bid. With only eight (at-large) bids in the whole country, I knew it would be tough to get one."
The Blue Devils lost a first-round heartbreaker to St. John Fisher, 9-8 in overtime, yet that setback failed to dim the feeling of accomplishment among the team.
“Making it to our first NCAA tournament was an amazing experience,” senior attacker Karli Brinthaupt (Horseheads, N.Y.) said. “Even though we didn’t get as far as we hoped, I am still so honored to have made it and I couldn’t be happier that it happened our senior year.”
Brinthaupt, attackers Sara Ceraso (Bellmore, N.Y.), Morgan McNamara (Oswego, N.Y.) and Amy Simon (Amherst, N.Y.), and defender Megan Mietelski (Fairport, N.Y.) were all four-year players. Mietelski became the first Fredonian named to the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) All-American First Team after she earned her fourth straight All-SUNYAC honor and second straight IWLCA Empire Region selection. She later added the 2012 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for carrying the highest grade point average among the 26-member All-SUNYAC team.
Simon graduated as the all-time leading scorer after earning her fourth straight All-SUNYAC award and her second IWLCA regional selection.
McNamara placed her name on several statistical Top 10 lists, Brinthaupt was a consistent playmaker all four years, and Ceraso missed her entire junior season due to injury, yet was still chosen team captain, joining Mietelski and Simon.
Other awards went to Case, named SUNYAC Coach of the Year for the second time (his first came in 2008); sophomore midfielder Katie Kleine (Cazenovia, N.Y.), a First Team All-SUNYAC selection, SUNYAC Rookie of the Year, and Empire Region selection; and junior goalkeeper Casey Chiesa (Baldwinsville, N.Y.), named First Team All-SUNYAC. “I think that a lot of our success came out of the fact that we weren’t a young team,” Mietelski said. “We only had two freshmen, so everyone knew the routine. It was nice because we didn’t have to use practice time to go over previous concepts, and the freshmen picked (things) up quickly.”
The team opened the season with a home win over Allegheny, then lost at nationally ranked Messiah before winning two of three games during its annual Florida trip, including a win over nationally ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. The team wouldn’t lose again for over a month, including a key seven-day stretch in early April with wins against Geneseo, Oneonta and Buffalo State.
“I remember thinking that those three games could literally make or break our playoff chances,” Mietelski said. “We needed to take one game at a time, and when we (beat) Geneseo at their home field in double overtime, I remember thinking, ‘Alright, one down.’” The Geneseo victory was the first in team history and the first time Case, who also coaches women’s soccer, had defeated Geneseo in either sport. After the Oneonta and Buffalo State wins, the team’s confidence grew even further, leading to a school-record nine-game winning streak.
Others noticed too.
When the IWLCA released its NCAA D-III poll on April 17, Fredonia State was included for the first time in program history. Although the Blue Devils did not crack the Top 20, they were among the teams “also receiving votes” and stayed on the list for the rest of the season. The win streak ended with an 8-7 home loss to No. 2-ranked Cortland before one of the largest women’s crowds in program history.
Despite the loss, the team’s confidence remained, just as it had two years earlier following the team’s first win ever over a ranked opponent. Several of the seniors, when asked to look back on their careers, pointed to the 2010 victory over then-No. 20 Nazareth as the game in which they began believing in themselves.
“I remember feeling we had done something big,” Ceraso said. “We always had those games where we had fallen short (and) wished we could replay just five minutes of it; but that game, we gave it our all. We’ve had other amazing wins since then, but that is the first time I remember an overwhelming feeling of amazement the second the game was over.” Simon recalled two other steppingstones.
One was a close loss to perennial SUNYAC champion Cortland in 2010, which, she said, “proved…when we played our game, we could compete with them.” The other came in a 2011: a come-from-behind win over St. Lawrence. Down 7-0, the Blue Devils rallied for a 13-12 win, an experience which stuck with the returning players. “I can recall numerous times this past season where we had been down a number of goals, and the girls just never gave up,” Simon said. “We worked as hard as we could, coming back one goal at a time, until the game changed in our favor. “That is one of the biggest changes I have seen in this program and one of the reasons we were so successful this past year. I never once felt like our team had given up, or accepted a loss until the clock ran out.”
“We never really proved ourselves before,” McNamara said. “Maybe in some games, but not in an entire season. (Starting with) our freshmen year, we would write to each other on Facebook over winter break about how excited we were to get back and actually have a season to be proud about. This year the message really got to me. It was our last shot to show these teams that we deserved to win.”
The seniors mentioned tough practices, long bus rides, and one even recalled a trip to a favorite fast-food restaurant in Florida as memorable moments along the way to becoming the first group of senior players to lead Fredonia State to the NCAA tournament. They also cited their love of the game and the lifelong friendships they have formed.
“It was hard to predict how far we would come in four years,” Brinthaupt said, “but I knew from the beginning that I was playing with teammates who had a real passion for the game, who would never sell themselves or the team short. I was proud to be playing next to such passionate players.”
“Not many people can say they have been in a national tournament, or competed against some of the best teams in the nation,” McNamara said. “Not only did I end my career with a great memorable season but… also with best friends that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Not many people can say that either.”