Brave Battle Back to Beat Fight in WPLL Championship Game

Brave goalie Kelsey Donnelly (26) and defender Tianna Wallpher celebrate after the final whistle of a 13-12 comeback win over the Fight in the WPLL championship game Sunday at US Lacrosse.

SPARKS, Md. — Is this thing on? Sonia LaMonica wants to go on the record.

Dempsey Arsenault is the best women’s lacrosse player in the world. Repeat, in the world.

“She’s an absolute unit,” LaMonica said Sunday after watching Arseneault, the rookie midfielder out of Boston College, wreak havoc all over Tierney Field in the Brave’s 13-12 comeback win over the Fight in the WPLL championship game.

“Best player in the world. I’ll make that statement,” said LaMonica, the Brave’s second-year coach. “I’m going to put it out there. It’s bold. But in terms of her versatility, just two-way, she does it all and she is so dominant. She can score. She can feed. She can take the ball away. She’s fast. She’s strong. Her size helps her, but her smarts too.”

LaMonica’s assertion seemed especially audacious considering the spectacle Fight attacker Kayla Treanor provided Sunday, scoring seven goals with a variety of fakes, several release points and amazing dexterity.

Treanor’s seventh goal, on a blistering behind-the-back shot from goal line extended that had ESPN’s play-by-play announcer Jay Alter invoking “SportsCenter,” put the Fight ahead 12-9 with 9:53 remaining in the game.

LaMonica had seen enough — not only of Treanor, but also of Katrina Dowd, who scored three goals in the last four minutes of the third quarter to turn an 8-7 Brave lead into a 10-8 deficit. The Fight repeatedly and successfully isolated Treanor and Dowd on their defenders while spreading out the rest of the offense to give them room to operate underneath.

“I’m a little more reserved as a coach, but I lit up at that point,” LaMonica said. “They were having their way with us.”

LaMonica, also the head coach at Towson, said she reminded the players that this wasn’t a college team, that they’re professionals and that there were no excuses.

Marie McCool, the reigning WPLL MVP, provided a PG-rated summation of the speech: “All of you are here for a reason. We selected you guys to be on this team for a reason, and that’s because you’re gritty.”

The message resonated especially with the Brave’s midfield unit of Arsenault, McCool and Amanda Johansen. LaMonica deployed Arsenault to press out on ball carriers outside the box and ignite transition, McCool exclusively as a draw specialist and Johansen as an initiator on offense.

The trio combined to score 10 of the Brave’s 13 goals and reel in 17 of their 18 draw controls. With McCool at the wheel, the Brave won 14 of 17 draws in the second half.

“That midfield is I think no question the best in the league,” LaMonica said. “A strong midfield can do serious damage.”

A lefty rip down the alley by Arsenault was sandwiched in between a pair of Johansen tallies, as the Brave stormed back with three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 59 seconds to tie the game at 12.

Two minutes later, Brave attacker Alyssa Leonard threaded a feed inside to Johansen, whose soft one-touch shot barely trickled past Fight goalie Megan Taylor for the go-ahead goal.

After the Brave defense forced a shot clock violation, Taylor came up with her 10th save on the other end, setting up a frenetic final two minutes.

Brave attacker Dana Dobbie nearly sealed the win on a no-look backhand shot that pinged off the post with 45 seconds left. Fight midfielder Taylor Cummings stepped offside in pursuit of the rebound that made it all the way to the midfield line, and the Brave successfully salted away the remaining time.

Rookie midfielder Dempsey Arsenault earned MVP honors following a four-goal performance that also included significant contributions on defense and the draw.

Arsenault, who finished with four goals, an assist, four ground balls and three draw controls in the championship game, was named the WPLL MVP.

“We just never gave up and we didn’t think for one second that we were out of it,” said Arsenault, whose versatile skillset has proved especially valuable in a league that features 15-minute running-time quarters with a shorter field and fewer players than the college game.

“It’s so fast,” she said. “It keeps you on your toes a lot more. I just love it. It’s a middie’s game.”

McCool, who had two first-quarter goals to go with nine draw controls, and Johansen, who finished with four goals, were among 13 Brave players who returned after losing to the Command on a late goal in last year’s championship game, also at US Lacrosse headquarters.

“This team was here last year and we came up short. That kicks in,” LaMonica said of the fourth-quarter comeback. “Sheer will and grit.”

“Last year, it was an incredible honor to be the first-ever MVP of the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League’s inaugural season, but I was so unsatisfied after that game,” McCool said. “I would much rather have a trophy with my teammates.”

As for that whole best-player-in-the-world argument? Arsenault has McCool’s vote as well.

“I always tell her, ‘I’m so happy I don’t have to mark you ever again,’” said McCool, who faced Arsenault as ACC rivals when they were at North Carolina and Boston College, respectively. “She is unbelievable on all parts of the field. Behind the cage [on defense], in the midfield, in transition, behind the cage at X on attack — I don’t know how she doesn’t get tired, especially when it’s a hundred degrees out here. Super happy for her. Super happy she’s on my team.” 


Sunday’s championship game was broadcast by ESPNU, the first-ever nationally televised game at US Lacrosse headquarters, which opened in 2016. … Among the standing-room-only crowd was Australia’s under-19 national team, set to compete in the upcoming World Lacrosse Women’s U19 World Championship in Peterborough, Ontario. WPLL commissioner Jen Adams is co-coach of the Australian team. … The Fight’s undefeated run came to an end. They dethroned the Command in the semifinals Friday at Yale, winning 13-10. … The Brave also dominated the draw in their semifinal victory, winning 17 of 24 in a 15-9 win over the Pride. … Treanor’s seven goals were one more than her season total entering Sunday’s final. She shot 7-for-11. … The Brave won despite not registering a save after the first quarter. As they have all season, they rotated goalies Kelsey Donnelly and Haley Hicklen. … The first half featured six shots that hit either the post or crossbar.

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