It did not take long Sunday for Canisius College’s Erica Evans to demonstrate why she’s one of the best women’s lacrosse players in North America.
Just four minutes into the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game, Evans scooped up a loose ball deep in her own end, blew past six opponents on a full-length sprint down the field and set up Ashley Bull directly in front of the net for an easy goal.
“Watching her do that is kind of one of those in-awe moments,” said Bull. “We see it every day in practice, and every single time it still blows me away. Her speed is definitely her greatest asset. I am just so glad I’ve had the opportunity to play with her.”
Evans was spectacular from end to end and start to finish in leading the Golden Griffins to a 13-10 victory over Fairfield University.
The win was the second straight conference title for Canisius and its sixth crown in the last seven years. The juggernaut program built by coach Scott Teeter will play Boston College the first-round of the 26-team NCAA Tournament on Friday at Syracuse. Boston College (13-6) was ranked No. 12 last week.
Teeter’s recruitment of Evans, a junior from the lacrosse hotbed of Peterborough, Ont., has taken the Griffs to a new level of dominance. Canisius won for the 31st time in its last 32 MAAC games over the past three years and improved this year’s mark to 15-4, a school record for wins in a season.
Evans took over the national lead in goals by scoring six times to give her 76 in 19 games. That broke her own MAAC record of 72 set last season and is five better than the No. 2 scorer in the nation, Michaela Michael of Southern California.
Evans also had four assists to bring her season points total to 107, second best in the nation and another MAAC record.
“To sum it up in one word: phenomenal,” said Teeter. “That kid, it doesn’t matter how big the game is or how big the moment is, she shines. Today was another example. Every time I think that’s the best she can play, she comes out and plays better.”
“She’s a great player, no doubt,” said Fairfield coach Laura Field. “I think she’s one of the best in the nation. I think she handles the ball, she a true middie, she’s got great speed. She’s not a one-dimensional player. She’s a threat all over the field.”
Fairfield (12-6), the No. 2 seed, packed in its defense and made scoring difficult for the Griffs, who average 15.6 goals a game.
After taking a 7-5 edge into intermission, Evans put Canisius in command by drawing fouls near the net and scoring two free-position goals in the first 2:01 of the second half. That put the Griffs ahead, 9-5.
“My teammates are the ones who set me up, and I have to go in and finish,” Evans said. “Everything I’ve done here at Canisius is because of them, and I really am thankful for them.”
Fairfield did not wither. The Stags cut the deficit to two goals on four occasions in the final 14 minutes, but each time Canisius answered.
“Every time we got up and thought we could get a comfortable lead, they battled back,” Teeter said. “Fairfield gave us everything we could handle. Our girls responded. There were a lot of fouls but overall a great lacrosse game.”
Bull, a senior from British Columbia, weaved through the defense for a key goal to make it 10-7 with 12:01 left.
“I’m not really known as a big driver,” Bull said. “I always joke with my coach, coming off an ACL injury, that my first step isn’t always there. So having that opportunity and actually trusting in myself was kind of a shock to me."
A goal with 5:21 left by junior Jen Reininger, a transfer from Syracuse, was another key moment, giving Canisius a 12-9 cushion. It came after a Kayla O’Connell steal in the defensive zone and was set up by a nifty Evans pass.
“Rici and I are pretty good at pushing together in transition,” Reininger said of Evans. “We know if I’m ahead of her or she’s ahead of me, we try to draw the defender and get the ball to the other person.
Canisius got a strong defensive game from senior Shannon Pelitera, who face-guarded Fairfield star Riley Hellstein the whole game. Hellstein, who scored 56 goals on the season, was held to one goal and two shots.
Griff sophomore Tessa Chad scored her 100th career point.