Making history at the national championship

Local high school grads join women’s Pace lacrosse team


Pace University women’s lacrosse made history this spring, winning the national championship for the first time in school history. On Sunday, May 21, the Pace Setters beat the West Chester Golden Rams, 19-9, to win the NCAA Division II Lacrosse Championship.

With a roster consisting of 31 players, 17 women on the team are from Long Island. Freshman midfielder Mackenzie Carita’s hometown is Medford and she attended Pat-Med High School, senior Attacker Jolie Urraro graduated from Connetquot, midfielder and graduate student Emma Rafferty went to Islip High, freshman Defender Natasha Franchina and sophomore Attacker Nikki Mottes both were born and raised in West Islip, and junior goaltender Ashley Belfiore’s hometown is Manorville and she graduated from Eastport-South Manor.

Those six local Pace Setters lax players made big contributions to the championship season. Mackenzie Carita played in 22 games starting in 20, scored one goal and made two assists with three shots on goal and .750 shots on goal percentage. Carita totaled 30 ground balls, was credited with 10 turnovers on defense, 17 defensive caused turnovers, and was ascribed with five draw controls. Playing and starting in all 23 games, Jolie Urraro placed fifth on the club with 51 goals scored, second with 24 assists, was fifth in two other team categories totaling 75 points and 68 shots on goal, had .773 shots on goal percentage, and Urraro also scored one game-winning goal.

Emma Rafferty was the team leader in goals totaling 83. Rafferty finished on her squad in a three-way tie for third place in assists with 19, tied with teammates Kayla Conway from Wantagh and Angelina Porcello from Eastchester. Rafferty scored 102 points in 2023, which was the second most, had the most shots on goal with 133 and her shots on goal percentage was .811. Rafferty scored seven game-winning goals in which she placed first on Pace lax. She also had 22 groundballs, 43 turnovers on defense, 10 caused turnovers, and 4 draw controls. Natasha Franchina played in nine games and had one groundball, one turnover on defense, two caused turnovers, and two draw controls. 

Nikki Mottes played in 20 games, scored 19 goals, made five assists, tallied 24 points, took 30 shots on goal, with .732 shots on goal percentage, and one game winner. Samantha Tanguay from Baldwinsville, N.Y., is the starting goalie, but goalkeeper Ashley Belfiore from Manorville made a lot of contributions to the 2023 championship between the pipes. Belfiore played in 13 games starting three, played 235:57 minutes on the field this season, ascribed 25 saves, and compiled a .391 save percentage. In the NCAA semifinal vs. Florida Southern College at Key Stadium in Indianapolis on May 19, many of the Long Islanders paved the way to victory.

Urraro came up clutch in the big spot when it mattered most with one assist and scored five goals, which was her highest goal total in a game this season. Rafferty notched three goals and two assists, and Nikki Mottes scored one and picked up two assists as the South Shore offensive juggernaut combined for 14 points in the 22-11 semifinals victory and Pace earned a berth in the national championship game.

Also in the semifinals, Belfiore spent 9 minutes and 41 seconds tending the goalkeeping duties and made a save. Two days later was the Division II National Championship vs. the West Chester Golden Rams in Indianapolis. Belfiore protected the net for one minute and 57 seconds of game time during the NCAA championship and made a save. Carita had two groundballs and one defensive turnover. The goal-scoring trio continued to show their dominance under the pressure in the spotlight in a winner-take-all game. Mottes scored a goal, Rafferty scored twice, and Urraro scored three times and had one assist as they combined for 7 points in a 19-9 historic win vs. West Chester to win the Division II National Title!

“It’s the most incredible feeling, especially for the university itself, given this is the first national championship title that any team at Pace has ever won. I’m incredibly proud of my teammates, my coaches, everyone at the university for supporting us to go home with the championship. It’s hard to put into words,” Kayla Conway said, 2023 female Scholar Athlete of the Year award winner. “It was the most exhilarating feeling of my entire life—once that clock hit zero, we knew that we just won and knowing that all of our hard work that we put in all season finally paid off and that all the goals that we set for ourself going into this season did come true. A lot of us started playing in, say, third of fourth grade, and this is something that you always dream of when you’re a kid because this is the end goal, so getting to end off on this note, it’s the best ending that I could possibly have ever dreamed of.”