Feb. 23, 2009
The last four seasons have all culminated with the same prize for the Boston University lacrosse team: an America East championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament. In 2009, the Terriers will seek to capture their fifth straight conference crown and stake their claim as an America East dynasty while making further strides in the national rankings and NCAAs.
Each of BU's 21 returnees has hoisted the conference championship trophy at the end of every season in scarlet and white, and an experienced squad that includes 10 returning starters will look to continue that trend.
"What's nice this year is that we are actually more of an experienced team," said third-year head coach Liz Robertshaw, who guided youth-laden squads to league titles in her first two campaigns. "We only have three seniors, but we have a large junior class that has a ton of playing experience. That's really helped us teach the younger players what's expected and what we're looking for."
Last season's team finished with an 18-3 record, including a 15-game winning streak, a perfect 6-0 run through the America East and a spot in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament, and also finished the season ranked seventh in the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association poll, combining for one of the finest seasons in program history.
The 2009 Terriers will open the season favored to capture their fifth straight league title, tabbed at the top of the America East preseason coaches' poll and selected 10th in the nation in the IWLCA preseason poll.
The squad will be captained this season by a quartet of accomplished veterans in senior attacker Steph Walker, midfielder Sarah Dalton, defender Kelly Munroe and redshirt junior goalkeeper Rachel Klein. With a captain at each position, Robertshaw will find leadership in all of her units. "They are a group of people that really cover all the bases, both on and off the field," said the coach.
Robertshaw's Terriers have been characterized by a high-scoring, aggressive attacking style ever since she joined BU as an assistant coach five years ago. The Terriers finished in the top 10 nationally in points scored and goals per game last season, averaging 14.3 tallies in each contest.
"I think you're going to see some very creative things from this unit," said Robertshaw. "I'm going to look for them to continue to push the boundaries of how we score goals and how many goals we score."
This season, the junior class is expected to shoulder much of the load up front, a role that group has embraced since its freshman season.
All-conference and all-region selection Traci Landy is expected to play exclusively on the attack this season after spending time in the midfield the last two years. Landy chipped in 56 points (44g, 12a) in her sophomore campaign and ranks second in scoring among returnees.
"Traci has worked on her inside game and she's worked on communication and that's bringing a ton of confidence to our attacking unit," said Robertshaw.
Landy is complemented by a pair of crease attackers in classmates Erica Baumgartner and Xan Weitzel. Baumgartner earned all-conference honors after leading the conference with 33 assists, while Weitzel tallied 44 points. McKinley Curro, fresh off of a 40-point season, gives the Terriers four returning junior starters on the attack to create a core group with the experience and talent to combine for another explosive offensive season.
"Erica and Xan are the leaders in terms of calling plays and in terms of seeing what's going on," said Robertshaw. "When you put those two together and throw McKinley and Traci into the mix, you have four junior attackers that have a lot of experience and have been through it all."
BU can count on further familiar faces up front with Walker, who added 21 goals last season, and junior Jenny Taft, who appeared in 11 games.
"Steph really embodies the ideals of BU lacrosse and of hard work paying off," said Robertshaw of the captain. "She was a reserve player her first two years here, became a very big impact player as a junior and now as a senior captain, she just exudes confidence. She's doing well in the attacking end and we're going to be able to look to her when we need to get a big goal."
Sophomore Alyssa Kovach and redshirt freshman Catie Tilton can expect to see their roles increase this season and freshmen Jordie Lopez (Glen Arms, Md.) and Kristen Oakey (Damascus, Md.) have been learning the BU system and provide additional options on the attack.
"Alyssa is showing really nice looks at the cage this year and she brings another element of creativity to the attack," said Robertshaw. "Tilton has done a great job of learning the game. She's a nice feeder and she's going to give us a great option on the crease as well as potentially up higher."
The focal point of the midfield is first-team All-American Dalton, back for her senior season after earning America East Player of the Year honors and a selection to the US Lacrosse Developmental Team. Despite losing two all-region midfielders to graduation in Lauren Morton and Molly Collins, Robertshaw has a group of six players who are expected to be midfield mainstays.
Dalton led the America East in scoring (4.42 ppg) and ranked fifth in the nation in goals per game (3.74 gpg) as a junior, netting 71 goals to break BU's single-season record. She has a chance to leave BU as the program's all-time leading scorer.
"Sarah is just a great player for us," said Robertshaw. "She's the player that people want to play with because of what she brings to the field. Creativity, confidence, speed, stickwork - she's the total package and she's bringing that off the field as well. She really picks the team up on her shoulders when we need it."
Sophomore Rachel Collins will look to take on an increased role this year, switching to wear the number four of her graduated sister, Molly. Recognized as the Terriers' most improved player last season, the younger Collins started the final six games last year and tallied 13 points.
"From the attacking standpoint, Rachel Collins has done great things," said Robertshaw. "She saw some playing time and gained some confidence towards the end of the year and she is back ready to go."
Expected to make an immediate impact as an attacking midfielder this season is freshman Hannah Frey (Nyack, N.Y.), a two-time high school All-American. "She is learning the system very quickly," said Robertshaw. "I see her fluid stickwork and confidence in the attacking unit and throughout the midfield."
On the defensive side of the midfield, junior Jenny Martin returns to the starting lineup and looks to be more of a two-way threat this season. "I saw Martin gain confidence defensively last year," said Robertshaw. "She has upped her attacking game and now she's going to be a threat for us from the low defensive spot where she can mark out a key player for an opponent all the way up through the midfield, where she has great speed in transition."
Sophomores Corcoran Downey and Mandy Rogers will be looking to build on promising rookie campaigns. "The two of them are incredibly hard workers who have taken their game to the next level," said Robertshaw. "They both play an aggressive style of defense, are great on the draw and get those hustle stats. Attacking-wise, they're working hard to learn our system and feel confident in it. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do."
Freshman Annie Stookesberry (Denver, Colo.) also joins the fold this season, bringing further depth to the midfield.
While the Terriers may be best known for their high-octane offense, not to be overlooked is a stingy defense that yielded just 8.32 goals per game last season, eighth-best in the nation.
Munroe is the experienced leader of the defensive corps, starting every game for the last two seasons. Honored as an all-conference and all-region performer last season, Munroe led a stifling defense in the postseason to garner Most Outstanding Player accolades at the America East Championship and earned a spot on the US Lacrosse Developmental Team. The veteran defender tallied 31 ground balls and 27 caused turnovers last season, tops on the team among returning field players in both categories.
"Kelly is just a workhorse," said Robertshaw. "She is someone who leads our defense with her 1v1 defense and with her ability to help in our team defense. Her playing on the defensive end with the U.S. team has brought a new level of confidence to her play, as well as our team's."
Junior Caitlin Defliese and sophomore Katie Nichols also return as starters in the backfield. While Defliese has experience in the midfield as well, Robertshaw expects to use her primarily as a defender this season. "Defliese is so aggressive and she comes up with big plays out of nowhere," said Robertshaw.
Nichols was recognized with all-conference accolades last season and was selected to the Division I All-Rookie Team by Womenslacrosse.com despite suffering a late-season injury. "I'm expecting her to come back strong," said Robertshaw. "She's one of our best one-on-one defenders and I'm expecting her to fight for her spot again and do great things."
Juniors Courtney Burd and Caitlin Webb have impressed in fall practices and could play more of a role this season after contributing as reserves a year ago. "They've upped their one-on-one games and their communication is very strong," said Robertshaw. "I'm going to look for them to become key players in our defense."
Sophomore Kate Cipolletti should see more playing time this season as well, and freshmen Brittany Vieira (Columbia, Md.) and Anne Politsch (Catonsville, Md.) have worked hard to learn BU's defensive style.
Klein returns between the pipes this season after playing every minute of action a year ago. Stepping into the starting role for the first time last season, Klein responded by posting an 8.32 goals-against average and setting the BU record for saves in a season with 181 to earn all-conference and all-region recognition.
"It's always nice when one of your captains is your goalkeeper and one of your anchors of the defensive unit," said Robertshaw. "She's become really vocal, telling people what she expects of them and really trying to up the game of everyone on the field."
Klein earned all-conference and all-region honors last season and ranked in the top-10 nationally with both her goals-against average and save percentage.
The Terriers will be tested early and often by top-notch competition this season, battling five teams ranked in the IWLCA preseason poll as part of the 16-game regular-season schedule.
"We have a tough schedule to start off the season and that's something I'm excited about," said Robertshaw. "We've done a nice job of making sure we have a strong out-of-conference schedule, which helps to prepare us for America East Conference play."
BU launches the 2009 campaign with what has become an opening day tradition, facing off against Massachusetts on Feb. 25 in the first of seven home dates at Nickerson Field. After a visit to William & Mary, the Terriers take on three nationally ranked foes, visiting second-ranked Syracuse on March 4, hosting 12th-ranked Vanderbilt on March 7 and returning to Philadelphia to face fifth-ranked Penn, the team that has ended BU's season each of the past two years, on March 11.
The Terriers also visit George Mason, Robertshaw's alma mater, and Yale in non-conference action and host cross-town challenger Harvard before opening the conference slate against Albany on March 28.
A season-high four-game road swing kicks off on April 1 with a visit to 14th-ranked rival New Hampshire for a rematch of last season's America East championship and NCAA first round games. Conference tilts follow at Stony Brook and Vermont, as well as a trip up Commonwealth Avenue for a non-conference clash with Boston College.
The season closes with a three-game homestand that includes a visit from 13th-ranked Dartmouth on April 22 and America East games against Binghamton and UMBC.
"It's going to be challenging for some of our younger players to know that we're no longer a surprise team," said Robertshaw. "People know who we are and now we have to fight a little bit harder to try and pull out that win. I think it's going to be good for this team to go from being underdogs to being the team that people are coming after. I really want this team to concentrate on our style of play, executing our game plan every game day and focus on the team we're playing that day, and we'll find success."