Most teams with a new coaching staff and a previous sub-.500 record would typically keep their expectations tempered for the following year. The women’s lacrosse team, however, has been excited for the 2014 season since learning that Tufts had hired new head coach Courtney Farrell.
“The whole new coaching staff has just given us a fresh perspective,” senior co-captain Gabby Horner said. “They’ve really invigorated the program. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of spirit, even since last fall.”
Horner and her fellow seniors attribute this energy to their new coaching staff.
“I think having a new coach makes you work that much harder,” senior Eliza Halmo said. “You want to get out there and impress them.”
The Jumbos will look to prove to their new coach that they are better than last year’s 3-7 conference record. Despite the underwhelming win-loss total, Tufts does not see itself as an underdog heading into this season.
“We’re totally a different team this year,” Horner said. “Last year against Babson we went to overtime, and this year in our scrimmage against them, we crushed them. This year, we walked on the field and were composed, [which was a result] of having a solid, confident coaching staff on the sidelines. [It] really reflected on the field.”
Part of the transition from last year to this year will also include working a new goalie into the mix, following the graduation of Tess Shapanka (LA ’13).
Taking over for Shapanka will be junior Rachel Gilmore, who saw sparse playing time her past two seasons behind Shapanka. However, the team is fully confident that Gilmore can step in and be the rock in net that Shapanka was during her time at Tufts.
“[Tess] last year was awesome,” Horner said. “But Rachel is ready. We also have a grad assistant, Jenna Ross, that does goalie work, [which] is great to have.”
“Rachel is just going to get better with time,” Halmo added. “She hasn’t experienced a whole lot of playing time, so she’s just going to keep improving.”
Aside from losing Shapanka in the net, the Jumbos will also have to deal with replacing two of the team’s top leaders from last year, former co-captains Kerry Eaton (LA ’13) and Meg Boland (LA ’13). Boland, a defender, was a first-team All-NESCAC selection, while Eaton made the conference second team on attack.
But the Jumbos aren’t thinking about this year simply in terms of replacing players like Boland and Eaton. Instead, they see the upcoming season as a chance to create something entirely new.
“Every day is a building block,” Horner said. “Every single practice is a building block – we’re continually adding something on. We’re not trying to replace anything.”
Horner emphasized the coaching staff’s commitment to wiping the slate clean for a Jumbos’ squad that, at times, found itself in a rut last year.
“We have a much more structured attack and a bunch of defensive sets that we’re able to run [and] couldn’t last year,” Horner said. “For the midfield, we have a new rotation that has been great.”
However, despite the exciting new playbook and coaching staff, the Jumbos still have to face the fact that they reside in arguably the toughest conference for Div. III lacrosse in the country.
“We definitely want to assert ourselves in the NESCAC and avenge some of the one-goal losses from past seasons,” Halmo said.
This year is the last chance the senior class has to beat some of their conference rivals, Horner pointed out. However, Horner and her classmates are also looking at this season as a opportunity to do more than just improve upon their record.
“We want to lay a really solid foundation and set a precedent for years to come, while also being successful,” Horner said.
The Jumbos will have their first chance of the year to prove that their offseason preparation has paid off when they take on No. 3 Middlebury at home tomorrow. But unlike years past, this team is heading into tomorrow’s game with both the preparation and confidence to succeed against one of the best teams in the nation.
“One of our goals is to have fun, and we’re already doing that,” Halmo said. “This year could be the best year yet.”
“It always helps to win,” Horner added.