Tufts to open 2018 campaign against Hamilton on Saturday

Junior midfielder Maddy Schwartz guards an opponent during Tufts' 16–8 win over Claremont-M-S on March 15, 2017. Ray Bernoff / The Tufts Daily

The No. 19 Tufts women’s lacrosse team will kick off its 2018 season on Saturday with a home matchup against its NESCAC rival, No. 13 Hamilton. The team hopes to build momentum for the rest of the season with an opening-day victory, as it did last year against MIT, though it won’t be so easy.

In 2017, the Jumbos put up a respectable record of 10–6 on the season, with a 5–5 record in NESCAC play. The key to their success was a high-powered offense: Tufts scored 200 goals last season, which was good for fourth in the conference. On a per-game basis, Tufts led the NESCAC with an average of 12.5 goals per game.

A large part of that offensive display came from the spectacular rookie season of now-sophomore attacker Emily Games. The Wayne, Pa. native scored 49 times last year and put up 15 assists, which were both team-highs (senior attacker Taylor Meek also had 15 assists last year). Games was named the NESCAC Rookie of the Year and also made the All-Conference First Team for her efforts.

An encouraging sign for Tufts entering the 2018 campaign is the number of young players, like Games, who will return to the team. Nine of the Jumbos’ top 10 goal scorers in 2017 are back in action this year, as many of the team’s best players last season were first-years and sophomores who now have a year of experience under their belts.

“I think what’s really good [about the offense] is that we have a lot of returning attackers,” Games said. “I think what we’ve done this past year is starting to come together … and I think we also have a lot of freshmen coming in who have different skill sets that we can use to our advantage.”

However, the Jumbos did lose four seniors in Kate Mackin, Casey Briody, Caroline Kingsley and Olivia Veillette. The group combined to start 50 games last year, which creates openings in the starting lineup that will have to be filled by younger players this season. Notably, Veillette and Briody were key defensive players for the squad last year. 

“They definitely were tough losses for us,” sophomore midfielder Johanna O’Neil said. “But the juniors now, who were under them, have definitely learned a lot from them, and they’ve stepped up this year. I think they’re strong leaders and strong players. Under their leadership, we’ll be okay.”

Handing over the reins to the younger players should be a little more seamless this year, thanks to the continuity within Tufts’ defensive system.

“This will be our second year working with the zone defense,” junior attacker Dakota Adamec said. “We implemented it last year. We did well with it, but now that it’s our second year [running it], we’re going to have a little bit more experience.”

Right off the bat, the Jumbos have a chance to get some early revenge for last season’s road loss to the Continentals. Tufts traveled to Clinton, N.Y. in early April, falling 10–6 to then-No. 15 Hamilton.

Another key contest comes later this month, as Trinity — ranked third nationally in the NCAA’s preseason rankings — comes to town on March 24. The Jumbos lost to the Bantams twice last year, once in the regular season and again in the quarterfinal of the NESCAC tournament. In fact, Tufts was unable to pick up a victory against any of the four teams (Middlebury, Hamilton, Trinity and Colby) that ended tied atop the conference standings last year, so there will be plenty of opportunities for revenge. Winning itself, however, is much more important to the Jumbos than beating any specific team.

“We want to go 1–0, 15 times,” Adamec said. “We don’t worry about the games later, we don’t worry about the games that happened — we just go 1–0 each game, and we want to do that 15 times.”

It all starts on Saturday afternoon at Tufts’ Bello Field. The Jumbos look forward to improving upon last season’s performance, as they recognize that last season’s statistics and record don’t tell the whole story. With a fresh season on the horizon, the team has a chance to redefine its narrative. 

“Our record may say one thing, but when you watch us play from years past, we’re so much faster, the lax IQ is better — a lot of the intangibles are just coming together,” Adamec said. “I know that deep down, we all have the ability and have the confidence. It’s just a matter of showing up. I want to instill that by the end of the season.”