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Sports Archives The Altamont Enterprise, May 5, 2011
Branchini leads the way
By Jordan J. Michael
GUILDERLAND There was a feeling of uncertainty for the University at Albany women’s lacrosse team when senior Nikki Branchini left Saturday’s home game for three minutes in the second half after being given a yellow card. The University of Maryland Baltimore County was gaining momentum and the Danes were without one of its key leaders in Branchini.
Branchini, who honed her skills at Guilderland, returned, and teammate Talyor Frink scored right on cue to give UAlbany an 11-to-8 lead. Branchini threw up her arms in excitement as she ran back onto the field, a place she rarely vacates during a game.
The Great Danes won the game, 12 to 11, solidifying its perfect 15-0 regular season while capturing the America East title. Branchini, the defensive midfielder, played like the leader she is known as, pushing her teammates with a fiery, but supportive attitude.
After freshman goalie Anna Berman threw a pass to Baltimore County, resulting in a goal, cutting the UAlbany lead to one goal, Branchini voiced her opinion. “Why would you do that?” Branchini sternly asked Berman after the goal.
Berman turned back into her goal without saying a word, and Branchini won the next draw, setting up another goal for the Danes.
“I have to support and ground the younger players,” said Branchini of her exchange with Berman. “Sometimes, they’ll know that what they did was wrong, but they’ll learn from it. Tensions are high and nothing is taken personally.”
The anxiety of Saturday’s game reached a pinnacle when Baltimore County was trying to get possession from UAlbany in the final four minutes. Branchini, who’s scored 20 goals this season, dropped into the offense zone to protect and carry the ball.
She did her job, weaving in and out of opponents, securing the perfect season.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but here right now,” Branchini said after the game, glowing in the bright sun. “I love getting that ground ball and being part of the action. I know that my team is counting on me.”
Danes Head Coach John Battaglino, who was chosen America East Coach of the Year this week, told The Enterprise on Saturday that Branchini is a very important element of his team.
“She makes us mentally and physically tougher,” Battaglino said. “She demands a lot from herself and completes tough assignments. She does the right things.”
Branchini was voted America East Co-Player of the Year this week after being named the conference’s top player last year. She was named conference player of the week once and defensive player of the week three times this season. Branchini ranks third in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I with 4.93 draw controls per game while being the active leader in career draw controls with 258.
“I value the ball more when I’m on defense,” Branchini said. “I enjoy being able to score, but defense is my passion. I’ve always been a defender in any sport I played. I’m big on supporting people.”
Branchini plans on pursuing a law degree, so she may one day support clients, but for now, she does well with supporting her undefeated lacrosse team. UAlbany is now ranked fifth in the nation, as it gets ready to host the America East Tournament today.
“We want to defend this unbeaten streak,” said Branchini. “It’s an exciting time. Winning the next game is our primary goal.”
A sense of euphoria came with Branchini’s pleasure after Saturday’s victory because she hasn’t experienced an undefeated season at the college level. “We proved successful,” she said. “It’s just one of those seasons where different players are picking up the slack all of the time.”
Branchini used to play for the Lady Dutch, a team known for its own special winning streak over the last few years. Now, she’s older and smarter, but never forgets where she came from.
“I wear this jersey proud,” Branchini said after the game. “There’s a bunch of young girls out here watching and I’m trying to watch them, too. I’m really fortunate for all the great memories and all the great people.”