As the Gettysburg women's lacrosse team was traveling back from winning the college's first NCAA Division III championship late Sunday night just outside the south-central Pennsylvania town a police escort swung in front of the team bus and led it back to campus.

Carol Cantele, Gettysburg's coach, said yesterday she and her assistants knew what awaited the team, but the players didn't.

"As we rounded the corner of the president's house they could see the lights at our field were on," Cantele said. "That got them excited."

Gettysburg's 176th commencement was earlier Sunday, so very few of the college's 2,600 students were still on campus. Cantele said about "60-70 people" welcomed the team at midnight, including college president Janet Riggs, a few students, faculty members, coaches, safety staff and dining services people. They carried signs and orange and blue balloons.

"It was incredible," Cantele said. "Here are all these folks who spent a full day with the commencement activities, yet they came back to campus after midnight. It's what makes Gettysburg the place it is."

Gettysburg (19-4) defeated Bowdoin, 16-5, in the title game Sunday at Garden City, N.Y.

Tournament victories leading to the final were over Adrian (Mich.), Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Calif.), Salisbury (Md.) and Cortland State (N.Y.).

Gettysburg's coaches all have Philadelphia-area connections. Cantele is from Wallingford. After graduating from Nether Providence High (now Strath Haven) she played on the Bullets' only other national champion: the 1980 field hockey team that won the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) title. Cantele's record in 19 seasons at Gettysburg is 267-88.

Assistant Barbara Jordan, Gettysburg's head field hockey coach, is a Penncrest graduate. Katie Hagan, another assistant, is a Cardinal O'Hara High alumna. Cantele's husband, Mike, is Gettysburg's head athletic trainer.

Last season, the Bullets were 18-4 and lost in the NCAA semifinals. With 10 seniors, including nine starters, gone from that team Cantele wasn't sure how Gettysburg would be this season.

"The team thought they could be in the Final Four [again]," Cantele said. "[The coaches] thought it might not be a realistic goal, but the returning players knew what it takes to get there.

"Our depth was unbelievable. Three freshmen on offense made a huge impact: Katie Blumenthal [Malvern, Academy of Notre Dame], Loren Pruitt [Moorestown High] and Kelsey Markiewicz."

Among the experienced players providing leadership were Hannah Church, Becky Lutz and junior co-captain Lexi Kelly (Ridley Park).

"Our teams have always had the component of playing for each other," Cantele said, "but I've never seen players get so much joy from the success of their teammates."

With only three seniors on the championship team maybe they will enjoy another "midnight mini-madness" celebration next year. *

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