BALTIMORE—The UMBC women's lacrosse team hosts George Mason Friday at 5 p.m. at UMBC Stadium in the 2011 season opener. The game will be streamed live on UMBCRetrievers.tv.
In February 2010, Kelly Berger was a first-year head coach taking over a UMBC program that had not advanced to the four-team America East Championship in four years.
A year later, Berger's team is coming off unprecedented success, and she is trying to build on the confidence gained from not only earning a berth in the tournament but defeating top-seeded Albany in the conference semifinals before falling by one goal to five-time defending champion Boston University in a hard-fought title game. The Retrievers posted an 11-7 overall record in 2010 and ranked among the leaders in the America East in both scoring and goals against.
"I think the team believing in themselves and believing what they can really do and have it actually pay off was the biggest enjoyment that I look back on," she said. "More than half the battle is believing in yourself. We're now trying to tell the girls to not stop thinking about what that feeling was like and know what they are capable of doing."
UMBC returns more than 80 percent of its offense from a year ago, when the Retrievers scored 223 goals, their most since 2003, and ranked second in the America East with 12.39 goals per game. The top five scorers from last season are back, including all four 30-goal scorers – junior Emily Coady (35) and seniors Amanda Pappas (34), Ashley Stodter (33) and Erika Braerman (32).
Berger will again look to Braerman and Coady to lead UMBC on the attacking end. After scoring just 15 goals and 32 points in her first two years combined, the left-handed Braerman experienced a breakout junior campaign with a team-high 54 points and an all-conference second-team selection. Berger credits the presence of assistant coach Amy Appelt, a four-time All-American and the 2004 Tewaaraton Trophy winner, with contributing to Braerman's emergence.
"Erika and Amy are similar players in the attacking zone, and I think Amy has really helped Erika open her eyes to a couple different things that she can do differently," the head coach said. "But I think the biggest thing that helped Erika is knowing somebody had confidence in her."
Coady finished the season strong, scoring 14 goals over the final six games, including eight in the America East Tournament. She was the most efficient shooter on the team in 2010, leading the Retrievers with a .522 shooting percentage.
Stodter's production has increased each season, and she was extremely consistent as a junior, finding the back of the net in 16 of 18 contests, and Berger looks for her to continue that trend in her final go-around in black and gold.
"Stodter is another one who needs to be a goal scorer for us this year, and I expect big things from her," Berger said. "She needs to use her speed and her fiery attitude to get our offense started."
Berger also looks to a pair of freshmen – Jenn Wells and Maddie Irwin – to make big contributions on the offensive end. Wells is an outstanding feeder with a high game IQ, while Irwin does a lot of "behind-the-scenes" work like getting ground balls and setting picks.
"Maddie Irwin is a ground ball machine," the coach said. "She does all the dirty work, and the best thing is that she is OK with it; she wants to do that kind of stuff."
An all-conference second-team selection, Pappas will again anchor the offensive midfield unit after ranking second on the team in goals despite missing four games. As a true midfielder, Pappas can make a difference on both ends of the field.
Junior Alicia Krause came back extremely fit this season, so she will shift to the midfield to better utilize her speed. Krause scored 24 goals in her initial campaign at UMBC after transferring from Duquesne, but she is also extremely familiar with defensive segments.
Senior Carrie Paris, a lefty, suffered a knee injury that forced her to miss the second half of last season, but she is building her speed and confidence back and when healthy can be a strong presence on the left side.
Junior Madi Bell transferred to UMBC after two years at Navy, where she did a little bit of everything for the Patriot League champion Midshipmen. "Madi is the hardest working kid on our team," Berger said. "I expect her to do most of the work between the 30's and really get after it, even when she doesn't have the ball in her stick."
Freshman Jennie Ballenger was the 2010 Frederick News-Post Offensive Player of the Year at St. John's Catholic Prep, but she missed the fall season as a mid-year transfer and is still trying to work back into shape. However, Berger expects her tremendous speed and athleticism to help throughout the midfield.
Several freshmen will play key roles on the defensive end of the midfield, including Kristen Bilney and Taelar Errington. Bilney, a local product from national powerhouse Mount Hebron in Ellicott City, played for assistant coach Tony Giro's club team and understands his defensive concepts.
"With her gifted speed and first step, I expect her to do things throughout the midfield and into the offense," Berger said. "I'm asking a lot of her as a freshman."
Errington is a 2010 U.S. Lacrosse All-American from Southern Maryland. At 5-foot-8, she is one of the tallest Retrievers, and Berger looks for her to use her size to her advantage and believes she should also be a dominant force on the attacking end.
Speedy sophomore Lindsay Cox showed flashes of brilliance during her rookie campaign, leading all Retriever freshmen with 10 goals and earning the first and last America East Rookie of the Week awards of the season.
Despite losing four-year starter Sarah Willis, the defense is still in experienced hands with seniors C.J. Durham, Kristen Milligan and Meagan Linkous leading the way. Durham has led the Retrievers in caused turnovers in each of the last two seasons and is an outstanding one-on-one defender. Milligan missed most of her sophomore season with an injury, but recovered to make 13 starts last year and post career highs in every category. Linkous is a tremendous athlete who can make things happen on both ends of the field.
"Using the three of them to really enforce a firm defensive unit will pay off," Berger said of the trio, who have a combined 104 starts under their belts. "I am expecting big things from them."
The seniors will have the support of sophomore Jamie Fahey, the reigning America East Rookie of the Year and an IWLCA Mid-Atlantic Region second team selection. Fahey, one of just four Retrievers to start all 18 games a year ago, led UMBC with 35 draw controls and ranked second on the team with 39 ground balls.
"Jamie Fahey does great things," Berger said. "She's a great one-on-one defender, she understands the concepts, and she has extremely fast feet coming out of the defensive end."
Also in the backfield will be juniors Lauren Mundell and Jessica Harkey and freshman Jackie Benson. Mundell started seven games in her first season at UMBC after transferring from Hofstra and has a great understanding of the game. Harkey has been used sparingly in her first two years, but is extremely fast and in outstanding shape, and Berger expects her to make bigger contributions in 2011. Benson is coming off an injury, but Berger especially likes that she is not afraid to use her voice on the field despite being a rookie.
"That's the biggest thing I can say about our freshmen," the coach said. "They're not afraid to talk."
Sophomore Devan Hibbs is coming off back surgery and will likely miss the season.
For the first time in three years, the goalie position is up in the air, as former all-conference keeper Kate Quick will now be found on the sidelines as a volunteer assistant coach after graduating last spring, and three relatively inexperienced players are fighting for the starting spot.
Senior Natalie Rau has totaled just 62 minutes over seven games in her first three years at UMBC, and at 5-foot-2 is somewhat undersized for the position, but Berger notes her quick hands and her leadership qualities. Rau will serve as a team captain this season, along with Braerman and Linkous.
"Natalie is one of the best leaders I've ever had," she said. "She's right there when I need her, pulling her teammates up when they need help, and she's always so positive."
Five-foot-10 sophomore Kendall Mason saw action in three games as a rookie and has quick hands, a long clear and a strong voice. "Kendall has the most unbelievable clear I have ever seen, and that gives us confidence going into the attacking end," Berger said. "But the number one thing I see with Kendall is her voice, which gives the defense confidence to believe she is back there to help them out."
Freshman Ashley Chaconas is another midyear transfer who is trying to get back into playing shape, but she has great angles and quick hands and plays hard.
The Retrievers have another challenging schedule, with five games against teams that were either ranked or received votes in the IWLCA preseason poll. UMBC kicks off its season on Feb. 11 against local rival George Mason, and America East play begins March 26 against New Hampshire.
NEWS AND NOTES
Dawg Bites: UMBC's 11 wins last season were its most since winning 12 in 2002… Braerman's 54 points in 2010 were tied for the 10th-highest single-season total in school history, while her 22 assists were tied for fourth… UMBC has had a 50-point scorer in three straight seasons… Six Retrievers scored at least 20 goals last season, the most since 2003… Pappas enters the season riding an 11-game point streak and a five-game goal streak, while Coady scored a goal in the final six games of the season and Stodter scored in five straight... The Retrievers were picked to finish third in the America East preseason poll.
On the Patriots: George Mason posted a 3-14 record in 2010… Attack Madalyn Jamison led the Patriots in scoring last season with 64 points on 26 goals and 38 assists, while midfielder Emily Ellisen was the top goal scorer with 31… Defender Caitlin Hoffen led the Patriots with 46 ground balls and 25 caused turnovers, while defender Hayley Berger won a team-high 29 draw controls… Jamison and midfielder Chelsea Gamble both earned All-CAA second-team honors, while midfielder Allie Hilderbrandt was named to the All-Rookie Team.
The Series: UMBC leads the all-time series with George Mason, 5-4. Last season, the Retrievers defeated the Patriots, 16-8, in Fairfax, Va. Pappas scored a career-high seven goals, while Coady found the back of the net three times and Braerman posted four points on two goals and two assists. Jamison led the Patriots with five points on two goals and three helpers, while Ellisen scored three times.