2003 Women's Lacrosse Outlook
The 2003 women's lacrosse season actually began at about 5:30 p.m. on May 9, 2002.
That was when the final whistle blew in UMBC's first-ever NCAA Division I tournament appearance, a 22-6 setback to #3 North Carolina. Head Coach Monica Yeakel knew that the experience in Chapel Hill would alter the course of her program.
"We knew going in that it was going to be a learning experience, and that, no matter how prepared we thought we were, the team would have to experience the NCAA's to truly understand what is was all about," said the Retriever mentor. "It was a different team that emerged from the locker room after the game, and that has carried us to where we are right now."
The holdovers from the 2002 team have welcomed the 2003 newcomers to a different practice environment. "It is primarily a change in mental attitude," said Coach Yeakel. "We have always had intense practices, but now there is more of a sense of purpose. They truly know how you have to prepare for that type of game, and it has been demonstrated in their conditioning and their mental preparation for the season."
But even last year, Coach Yeakel detected a change in attitude from her team, which she feels carried them to an unscathed run through the NEC regular season (12-5 overall, 7-0 NEC) and two relatively uneventful victories in the league tournament. "In 2001, we let the pressure of an NCAA automatic bid get to us," recalled Coach Yeakel. "That's all the team talked about that year-getting to the NCAA's. Last year, we were much more relaxed and we were able to approach the NEC title game as just another game."
They disposed of rival Monmouth, 15-5, in that game to earn the school's first bid to the NCAA Tournament. UMBC reeled off a school record eleven straight victories and finished the season ranked 16th in the RPI. In that span, the Retrievers outscored the opposition, 168-85, but lost players to graduation who accounted for 50% of the goal-scoring. But Coach Yeakel still expects the 2003 Retrievers to present a balanced and potent attack, distributed amongst the attack and midfield players.
Leading the attack will be junior second home Jen Dragoni (36g, 17a, '02) The 2002 NEC Tournament MVP emerged as a "go-to" player in the second half of the year, as she continually maneuvered herself into excellent position for high quality scoring chances. Dragoni will have a new pair of linemates to work with this season. At first home, sophomores Lauren Hess (2g, 5a) and Anna Jacobs (12g, 4a) were stuck behind more experienced players last season, but have emerged this fall and spring as potential offensive forces. They each appeared in all 17 games and provide Coach Yeakel with a pair of players capable of "quarterbacking" the Retriever offense.
The other line attack position is also a battle for playing time between freshmen Kelly Fiorani (Liberty HS), Jennifer Kasper (South Carroll HS) and Kate Worthington (Old Mill HS). All three are local products and they all have demonstrated outstanding finishing abilities in the fall and early spring.
Sophomore Ashleigh Borsody provides additional depth, while red-shirt freshman Jocena Venditti suffered her second ACL tear this fall and will miss her second straight spring campaign.
The midfield will also be expected to lend scoring punch to the UMBC offense. Senior captains Stephanie Allen and Lauren Traber should be constants in the lineup in 2003. Both are outstanding centers that can get to the goal and give UMBC a tremendous boost on draw control. Allen, a native of Ontario, led the nation in draw control last season with 64 in 17 games and she also produced her best offensive season with 30 goals (30g, 4a, 34 pts.). Traber gives the Retrievers a southpaw look on the draw and possesses a wicked left-handed shot (24g, 11a, 35 pts.). She will most likely start on an attack wing slot, with the other slot going to one of the aforementioned attackers or freshman (red-shirt) Julie Libertini. Red-shirt freshman Annie Davis and freshman Katie Kraus provide depth to the Retriever midfield.
Defensively, UMBC will be very young, but Coach Yeakel, a former All American defender, will not compromise her aggressive style of play on the back line. "This is the way we need to play. The good thing about being young is that they don't know any other way than being aggressive. Although we are young, it is the most talented defensive group we have had at UMBC."
Three probable starters do have collegiate experience, including junior defensive wing Emily Sawyer, sophomore third man Stephanie Crouch and junior cover point Tracie McClintic. Sawyer started eight games last season, netted 22 ground balls as she buzzed all over the field. Crouch was named the NEC Rookie of the Year as she tallied 10 goals and added 4 assists while starting in 16 games. Her size and ability to shift from defense to offense make her an ideal player in UMBC's style of play. McClintic, who started in all 17 games, knows only one way to play, all-out, and is one of the team's vocal leaders on the field.
Junior Kelly Reese, who played in all 17 games after battling back from injury, is slated to start at the point position. Three freshmen are battling for time on defense, including Rochele Locey (line) and speedy wings Erin Lynn and Ashley Wilson.
Senior captain Courtney Stringer will be between the pipes for the second straight season She allowed 9.65 goals per game last year and appears to have a more relaxed approach in her final campaign. Stringer will challenge shooters and has the athletic ability to be effective outside the crease.
Coach Yeakel continues to build a strong non-league schedule before her teams enters NEC play. The Retrievers will take on four perennial top 15 powers in Duke, Loyola, Old Dominion, and Virginia and take a trip to the west coast to take on improving Cal-Berkeley and Stanford. "We've struggled against some of the top teams, but little by little, we are starting to earn their respect. We want to send a message early that we are a tough, aggressive, and disciplined team.
"Whether we play the #1 team in the country or the #50 team, we want to be consistent. Last year was a great beginning to the kind of program I would like to have year in and year out. I think we are on the right track."