Jacksonville University women’s lacrosse coach Tara Singleton describes junior 5-foot-2 junior attack Brianna Samuels as “a nugget.”
An appropriate nickname given the fact that Samuels scored the “golden goal,” on Saturday at Rock Stadium – lacrosse parlance for a game-winner in sudden death.
Samuels took a pass from Grace Hobson on the left side of the Liberty net, no more than 6 feet from the goal line. Samuels spun to her left, had to juggle her stick for a split-second to secure the ball, and faced Liberty defender Mikayla Coghill.
With another defender, Madeleine Klunder closing fast, Samuels flicked the ball towards the net, and it one-hopped past keeper Taylor Gallarellao with 2:20 left in the second overtime to lift the Dolphins to a 14-13 victory over the Flames in the ASUN women’s championship.
“We just worked the ball, got touches, got everybody involved, and did it as a team,” said Samuels, who scored three goals and had one assist. “I really can’t recall what happened. Everything happened so fast and [Hobson] just found me.”
It was the sixth consecutive ASUN tournament championship for JU (12-7) and the fourth in a row over Liberty (12-7) in the title game.
The Flame beat JU earlier in the season at The Rock 12-10 for their first victory ever over the Dolphins in 11 meetings, went on to win the regular-season title (breaking the Dolphin’s streak of nine in a row) and earned the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
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But it will be Jacksonville getting the automatic NCAA bid, their ninth overall and sixth in a row. JU has won more ASUN championships in women’s lacrosse than any other conference team in any other sport.
The Dolphins had two chances to win the game before Samuels’ goal. Sarah Elms, who had five goals and earned tournament MVP, sent a shot wide with 1:15 left in regulation, and Lauren Craft, who got the winning play started with a pass to Hobson behind the Liberty net, was too high on a free-possession shot with 1.8 seconds left in the first overtime.
But the Dolphins’ defense did not allow Liberty a shot on goal in the first overtime and dominated possession in the second overtime once Kaila Stasulli won the draw control.
The game was tied six times after Elms, JU’s all-time leading scorer, bagged four goals in the first period to give the JU a 7-4 lead. Liberty rallied by netting the last five goals of the second quarter, the last two by Kelly Scott, to lead 9-7 at halftime.
The second half was a chess match between Singleton and Liberty coach Kelly Nangle. It also got chippy, with JU assessed six yellow cards and the Flames three.
“There was a lot of adversity,” said Singleton, in her first season at JU after Mindy McCord left to start the University of South Florida program. “We could have easily crawled back into a shell and sort of played reactive and I think the girls faced that head-on. It took everything we had in those [closing] minutes.”
Singleton said Liberty made it their mission on defense to keep Elms from dominating the game any more than she did in the first quarter. Elms managed one more goal, the 67th of her career, with 8:00 left on a free-possession shot to give the Dolphins a 13-11 lead but the Flames’ Cami Merkel scored twice within 43 seconds to tie it for the final time.
“Liberty has very good players … there’s a reason they were the No. 1 seed in this tournament,” Singleton said. “Credit where credit’s due. They were disciplined, they followed their game plan and they made us work for every inch.”
Elms finished her JU career with 20 goals and five assists in ASUN championship games and had 32 goals in the Dolphins’ last eight games since their regular-season loss to the Flames. Jacksonville is 7-1 since that defeat, losing only to Florida, ranked eighth in the NCAA RPI.
Elms and five other graduate senior teammates who started all 19 games this season – including Hobson, Addy Tysdal, Lauren Ellis, Molly Brock and Madeline Cloyd – went out winners in their last game at The Rock and were unbeaten in every ASUN tournament in which they played.
Hobson added three goals and three assists and Brock scored twice, including the opening goal of the game when she took the draw control and sped down the field to score with only 13 seconds elapsed in the game.
“We’ve always come out on top in the championship and it’s gotten exponentially tougher,” Elms said. “It means a lot to go out a winner on this field.”
But it won’t be their last game. JU will find out their NCAA opponent and site Sunday night.
“The cool part is we just punched our ticket to see our name pop up on the selection show,” Singleton said. “I’m thrilled for at least more day with this group.”