Women’s Lacrosse | Women’s lax season opens this weekend

Just over 10 months after bowing out of the NESCAC Tournament at the hands of the No. 5 seed Colby Mules in the first round, the women’s lacrosse team is about to start all over again.

With the season opener at Amherst just a few days away, the Jumbos are looking to roll into the Lord Jeffs’ Gooding Field — and the rest of this season’s matchups — on a team-oriented path. With last season ending on a sour note — the Mules, whom the Jumbos defeated in the regular season, upset them 22-14 on the way to winning the conference championship — the Jumbos, who earned the No. 4 seed in last year’s conference tournament, are hoping to bring a new level of concentration and mental preparation to the field.

After posting a 10-5 overall record with a 5-4 conference record in 2008, the Jumbos are looking to capitalize on their greater depth this year. Keeping in step with its reputation as a competitive NESCAC opponent, Tufts has spent the offseason toiling away in the weight room and Carzo Cage.

During the fall, the Jumbos embraced their intensity and excitement and coupled it with performance- and strength-building activities. The team seems to have established a regimen that has led to the development of successful players in past seasons — in the last five years, coach Carol Rappoli has produced 11 All-NESCAC players. Outside of the weight room and fall practices, the squad spent time together to build a solid team.

“We were extremely serious about the preseason,” senior co-captain Caroline Roma said. “Due to this focus, we feel prepared for the upcoming season.”

As a result of a large freshman class, the squad has expanded from 18 in 2008 to a substantially larger 23 players this year. While such expansion can create friction in the form of competition for starting positions, the additional players may be key to creating a balanced lineup as talent runs deep into the roster. Moreover, the team has a history of turning out solid first-year players, like current sophomore Amanda Roberts, who recorded a 10-goal weekend at one point in her 2008 freshman season and a team-leading 39 goals on the year. Also returning is sophomore goalie Sara Bloom, who started her freshman year and racked up 151 saves. Although the team graduated four seniors in May, three of the top five scorers were underclassmen in the 2008 season, so the Jumbos will still be able to rely on much of the talent that carried them to success last year.

“We have more depth with 23 people as compared to 18,” senior co-captain Chrissie Attura said. “All of the girls are athletic, strong and solid players. The freshmen have stepped it up, too. Every single one has stepped it up to a higher level.”

“All 23 members of the team are great players,” Roma added. “There are no wasted spots on the roster.”Finishing the 2008 season ranked No. 14 in Inside Lacrosse’s ranking of Div. III programs, the Jumbos currently hold the No. 17 position from the Feb. 24 Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) national poll. The Jumbos are looking to improve upon last year’s fourth-place finish and move up in the NESCAC rankings, beginning with their first game of the season this Saturday when they visit Amherst. The old rivalry should be quick to reignite, as last year’s late-season match between the Jumbos and Jeffs led to the end of the Jumbos’ six-game winning streak with a 14-7 loss. Attura attributed the unfortunate outcome to a loss of focus and lack of preparation. “This game means an immense amount to the rest of the season,” Attura said. “It sets the tone for the season.” “We were definitely unprepared mentally for the game,” senior Courtney Thomas added. “I feel from watching the game film this week that we all are on the same page for this Saturday.”

Women’s Lacrosse | Women’s lax season opens this weekend

The battle is about to begin in the always hotly contested NESCAC women’s lacrosse arena.

While Tufts is ranked nationally at No. 17 in the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) preseason poll, it still sits behind conference foes Middlebury, Colby, Amherst and Trinity. With six total teams ranked in the top 20, the NESCAC is easily one of the best Div. III lacrosse conferences in the nation, if not the best. But this is nothing new.

“In any given year, NESCAC teams that get to the NCAA Tournament do very well,” Amherst coach Christine Paradis said. “Getting there from the NESCAC situation is the toughest thing because we beat up on each other so much.”

In 2008, four NESCAC teams earned bids to the NCAA Tournament. Trinity and NESCAC champion Colby were downed in the first and second rounds, respectively, while Middlebury and Amherst garnered two tournament wins apiece before being knocked out in the regional finals. Middlebury’s regional loss, which came at the hands of eventual national champion Hamilton, marked the first time that the Panthers lost before the semifinals after having made it at least that far for 14 straight years. Clearly, the women of the NESCAC know how to play lacrosse.

“It is an outstanding group of schools academically, and we often draw a lot of two-sport athletes who come to the NESCAC for the academics or a chance to play two sports,” Paradis said. “We draw talent away from a lot of Div. I schools.” “From the top down, [the NESCAC] schools are attractive,” Colby coach Karen MacCrate Henning said. “Who wouldn’t want to go to them? We have competitive, driven students who also play lacrosse, which just adds to that next level of competition.” At 5-4 in conference play last year, Colby may not have been the obvious choice to win the NESCAC championship. But with the top offensive numbers in the conference, Colby knocked out No. 4 Tufts, No. 1 Middlebury and No. 3 Trinity on their way to victory. Now ranked No. 9 in the nation in the IWLCA poll, the Mules may be in line for another stellar season in a tough league. The team lost just two seniors in the offseason, and the return of the 2008 NESCAC scoring leader, senior co-captain Kate Sheridan, will be a huge plus.

“Kate helps make other players look better,” Henning said. “But to be a success we have to raise our game because if we stay the same and don’t improve in the NESCAC, you won’t see any success because all the other teams will improve.”

Ranked No. 5 on the IWLCA poll going into this Saturday’s season opener, Middlebury is intent on building on last year’s success as well. The Panthers went 8-1 in NESCAC play last season to claim the regular season title for the eighth straight time before succumbing to eventual champion Colby in the semifinal of the conference tournament, ending their reign of seven straight NESCAC Tournament titles.

Middlebury will undoubtedly look to restore itself atop the NESCAC this year with another championship and will rest much of those hopes in the hands of returning starting goaltender, senior tri-captain Blair Bowie. On the other hand, the Panthers will be without their most dangerous scorer from 2008, Katherine Entwisle.

“You lose your top scorer every year, but that is the great thing about college lacrosse — you have to rebuild every year,” Middlebury coach Missy Foote said.

No less formidable is preseason No. 10 Amherst, which went 7-2 for second place in the NESCAC last year before losing in double overtime to Trinity in the semifinal of the conference tournament. Extending their 2008 season to the NCAA quarterfinals, the Lord Jeffs laid a solid base to build on this year, but the loss of four high-impact seniors, including starting goalie Linda McEvoy, will not make their job easy. The team will have to rely on a roster heavy in underclassmen to get the job done.

“We are not going to ride on our past success, and we will take this season for what it is,” Paradis said. “It will just take some time for [the new players] to learn our systems of play.”

Third in the NESCAC last year at 6-3 and second in the conference tournament, Trinity is now ranked at No. 14 in the nation coming into the 2009 season. The appearance in the NESCAC final in 2008 was the first ever for the Bantams, a sure sign that the team is on the rise. But if they hope to build on last year’s success and possibly earn another NCAA bid, the Bantams will have to find a way to replace graduated goalie Michelle Smith, who led the NESCAC in saves and save percentage in 2008.

At No. 17 in the preseason poll, the Jumbos don’t look too bad, either. Tufts ended the 2008 campaign tied with Colby for fourth in the NESCAC at 5-4 but lost in the first round of the championship tournament to the eventual champion Mules. On the plus side, the Jumbos did not suffer a single out-of-conference loss all season, ending the year at 10-5 overall though not earning an NCAA bid. Despite graduating four seniors, the Jumbos were fortunate in retaining sophomore Amanda Roberts, who led the squad with 39 goals last year, as well as starting goalie sophomore Sara Bloom. Second in the league in team assists and the league-leader in assists per game last year, Tufts will be looking to its ball-sharing abilities to carry it through the NESCAC gauntlet this year.

The NESCAC opener will take place this weekend, and with all 10 NESCAC teams squaring off against each other on the same day, all the heated rivalries from years past should be quick to rekindle. Tufts will kick off its season at Amherst, which ended the Jumbos’ six-game win streak late last season. The chance for revenge and a solid start to the season should make for an exciting day.