Defending national champion Loyola Maryland and the resurrected club program at Navy will meet Saturday in the WCLA’s 2019 D-II championship game after both teams posted semifinal wins Friday.

Loyola staged a strong second half comeback to defeat No. 1 seed Utah State, 16-10, while Navy led from start to finish to upset No. 2 seed Denver, 15-9.

Loyola and Navy will be meeting for the third time this season. As members of the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Lacrosse League (MAWLL), the teams faced each other in both the regular season and the league championship. They split the first two meetings.

In Loyola’s win on Friday, the Greyhounds proved that it’s not about how you start, but rather, how you finish.

The defending champs found themselves in a 5-0 hole just nine minutes into the contest against Utah State. But there was no panic, and certainly no quit.

No. 4 seed Loyola answered by scoring four of the next five goals to stop the bleeding, and eventually pulled to within 8-6 at halftime. After intermission, the Hounds ran at full stride.

A powerful offensive explosion, reminiscent of the precision in last year’s national championship victory against Denver, catapulted Loyola past Utah State and into Saturday’s 12-noon final.

Loyola, 13-1 overall, returns to the D-II final for the third straight year with a chance to claim its second straight title.

“We just didn’t have any momentum at the start,” said captain Joanna Messina. “For some reason, our energy wasn’t flowing yet. But once we got it started, it was unstoppable.”

Loyola scored 10 of the game’s last 11 goals, including eight straight to cap the second half. All-American attacker Kelly O’Krepkie tallied three of her four goals in the second half and finished with a game-high eight points.  Fellow All-American Michaela Smith also scored four goals and added two assists. 

“Everyone on this team is capable and everybody can finish,” O’Krepkie said. “We were a little frustrated at the beginning, but we knew we would be okay if we started to play our game.”

Faith Ritchie led Utah State (11-3) with a team-high four goals, all in the first half. The Aggies, ranked number one in the coaches’ poll throughout the 2019, made their first appearance in the national semifinals.

In the nightcap, Navy used four goals by Cheyenne Coughlin and three by both Aidan Gelback and Mary O’Flaherty to storm past the Pioneers. Navy (9-3) opened the game with a 4-1 run to take early control, and added a four-goal run, fueled by three tallies by Coughlin, in the final five minutes of the first half to create separation. 

Despite three goals by Megan Lynch and two by Anna Bean, Denver could not draw closer than five goals in the second half.

“This is crazy, we never expected this in our first season,” Coughlin said.

Navy has a successful club history, having finished as the national runner-up in the inaugural WCLA championship tournament in 2001 and again in 2007. The program then went dormant as Navy launched its new women’s varsity program in 2008. After a 10-year hiatus, the club returned to competition this spring through the revival efforts of several players. 

“The girls on this team have so much passion for this sport,” Coughlin said. “We were all a bit rusty when we started practicing in the fall, but we’ve improved all through the season.”

The championship game will be available for viewing via free streaming on www.laxsportsnetwork.com.  

Harrow Sports serves as the official event partner for the 2019 US Lacrosse WCLA National Championships, while US Lacrosse’s national partners, Motive Pure, Pearl by Guardian, Nationwide, Impact Canopy, Krossover, SISU and Sports Performance Tracking provide additional event support.