POUGHKEEPSIE, NY – Holding three fingers aloft in triumph, the second-seeded Iona women’s water polo team celebrated its third consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament Championship and trip to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Elite Eight with a 12-10 upset win over number-one seed Wagner College Sunday afternoon at McCann Athletic Center.
With 29 saves in two MAAC Tournament matches, junior goalie Marisa Gaynor was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Senior Alyssa Turza and junior Amy Olsen were named to the All-Tournament team. On Friday night, Olsen earned the MAAC Offensive Player of the Year award, and Turza was named to the MAAC’s First Team.
Junior Erika Lauraitis led the Gaels (21-8) with three goals, while Olsen, junior Sarah Hanly and sophomore Katie Stelnicki hit two. Turza, freshman Meghan Mahoney and freshman Taylor Silva added one each. Gaynor recorded 16 saves in the victory.
With 3:36 left in the first quarter, Lauraitis put Iona on the board, but Wagner (28-7) tied the game at one with 37 seconds to go. Stelnicki answered 12 ticks later to give Iona a 2-1 lead going into the second period.
In the opening two minutes of the second quarter, two consecutive goals from Hanly and Olsen gave Iona a 4-1 three-goal lead. In the final 57 seconds, Wagner scored, but Silva restored the Gaels three-goal edge 20 seconds later to lead 5-2 at intermission.
In a high-scoring third period, Wagner rallied with three straight scores to tie the match at five with 5:38 left. Turza, Mahoney and Lauraitis put Iona back on top with three unanswered scores to lead 8-5 at the 2:48 mark. In the closing minute, each team scored twice with Olsen and Hanly hitting the net for a 10-7 Iona edge going into the final period.
Wagner opened the fourth with two straight goals to trim the Gael lead to 10-9 with 6:43 left in regulation. Twenty-nine seconds later, Lauraitis’ five-meter penalty shot, followed by Stelnicki’s goal at 2:41 sealed the championship win.
Celebrating his third straight MAAC crown and NCAA trip, head coach Brian Kelly credited the entire team’s effort for the two tournament victories. With the Gaels sharing the regular season crown with Marist and Wagner, Iona was seeded second in the tournament.
”We knew it was anybody’s tournament to win,” Kelly said. “We knew that the team who played the best was most likely going to win it.”
“Thankfully, we really came together on both sides of the ball offensively and defensively. And our goalie was the best player in the pool. We were fortunate to beat two great teams in Marist and Wagner.”
Kelly and his assistant coaches, Maggie Wood and Chris Vidale, both former Gaels, were pulled into the pool in the post-game celebration, as they all raised three fingers aloft to signify their MAAC and NCAA three-peat.
The Gaels will travel to Harvard University for their third straight NCAA Elite Eight appearance on May 10. Their quarterfinal opponent will be named Monday night.