BALTIMORE – The UMBC women's lacrosse team opens its 2013 slate, the first under co-head coaches Amy Appelt and Tony Giro, on Saturday, Feb. 16 when the Retrievers travel to American for a noon contest at Jacobs Field.
UMBC made a trip to its third straight America East Championships last season, finishing with a 3-3 mark in league play and earning the third seed in the tournament. The Retrievers look to build upon their semifinals appearance from a year ago and get back to the league title match for the third time in four seasons. Tony Giro and Amy Appelt enter their first season as co-head coaches of the program, having been on UMBC's coaching staff for five and four years, respectively. The duo return 12 letterwinners and seven starters from a squad that defeated a pair of top-20 programs in 2012.
With the graduation of Emily Coady, who ranked second on the team in assists (10) and third in goals (27) and points (37) last season, UMBC will look to sophomore Abby Wilson and junior Shannon Harkey to lead the Retrievers' youthful attack this season. Wilson earned all-rookie team recognition in 2012, ranking second in points among freshman last season, tabbing 22 goals and seven assists, while Harkey notched six goals and five assists in 13 starts in her first campaign with the Retrievers.
"We will expect a lot from our returners on the attack," said Appelt. "We will look to Wilson, Harkey and newcomer Sam Nolan, who has seen significant minutes in the preseason, to contribute a lot on the offensive end."
Nolan, an Under Armour All-American as a junior at Fallston High School, will look to make an immediate impact on the attack for UMBC in 2013. Sophomore Michelle Platz is the only other attacker on the roster with game day experience, having registered six goals on 10 shots in 12 appearances as a rookie. Sophomore Jordan Lyons, who missed all of the 2012 season, along with newcomers Kris Coppolino, Paulina Christ, Kayley Jones and Rachel Benzing will all compete for time in their first campaigns with the Retrievers.
"In the midfield, we're very lucky," admitted Appelt. "We have girls with excellent abilities to get to the goal. We have Lindsay Cox, Kristen Bilney and Alyssa Semones, along with a bunch of newcomers that are putting in significant time, who are all very vital to our team's success.
"We're a lot faster than we have been in the past, so we're able to push the fast break a lot, which is what we're looking do to," Appelt continued. "These are the three or four girls that make either end work, so right now, we're in a good place with having such diverse midfielders."
Cox and Bilney, two of the team's four captains this season, return after starting all 17 games in 2012. Cox enters her senior year with the Retrievers after leading UMBC in goals (42) and points (50) as a junior. The High Bridge, N.J., native also ranked third on the team in assists (eight) and draw controls (21) last season, while Bilney led the team in draw controls (51) and accumulated career-bests in goals (23) and points (25) as a sophomore.
Semones comes to the Retrievers for her sophomore campaign after seeing action in three games at Penn State last year. The Westminster High School career record holder in goals (229) looks to make an immediate impact for UMBC's offense, which averaged 9.94 goals per game last season. Fellow transfer Mary Milligan hopes to continue her success after scoring 143 goals in two seasons at Anne Arundel Community College. UMBC will look to the pair to fill the shoes of Alicia Krause, who earned all-conference second team recognition after reaching the 30-goal plateau for the second straight season, finishing the year with 31 scores.
Sophomore Sarah Hemler and newcomers Brittany Marquess and Megan Flock will also vie for time in the midfield.
The Retrievers' defense returns a two-time America East All-Conference First Team selection in senior Jamie Fahey, as well as junior co-captain Devan Hibbs. The duo piloted UMBC's defense, appearing in all but one contest in 2012, that surrendered 10.00 goals per game last season – ranking third in the conference. Fahey finished second on the team in draw controls (36) and fourth in ground balls (20). Hibbs registered 11 caused turnovers, good for second on the team, and added 15 ground balls and 10 draw controls.
Courtney Thompson gained great experience in her first collegiate campaign, appearing in 15 games and earning one start for the Retrievers, and will likely increase her role as a sophomore. Anne Zabel, an Under Armour All-American out of Marriotts Ridge High School, will be looked upon to jump right into the mix in her rookie season. Junior Jackie Benson and sophomore Lexi Bristow also return on defense after seeing action a season ago and will compete with newcomer Meghan Milani for time.
"Defensively, we have four or five girls that we are going to lean on a lot," Appelt said. "Most of our defenders have been coached by Tony [Giro] for the last four years. They understand what we're looking for defensively, and are very responsive to everything we are asking of them.
"We have a lot more speed this year than we have in the past, so we can put pressure on the ball and do a lot of things we might not have been able to do in the past," concluded Appelt.
Goalkeepers Kendall Mason and Anna Barnett split time in net last season, following the graduation of Natalie Rau. The two allowed a conference-low 170 goals and combined for 127 saves on the year. Mason, one of four captains on the squad, started 13 games last season, tallying a career-best 59 saves on the year, while Barnett earned America East All-Conference Second Team recognition and a spot on the all-rookie team after leading the league in save percentage (.486) in 2012. Barnett, who saw action in 14 contests, posted a 5-3 mark and finished the season with a team-best 68 saves.
"For goalkeeping, it is a dog fight," Appelt said. "They're both playing and they're both making amazing saves. Barnett has improved dramatically on her clearing. Mason is the voice behind there. They both have things they bring to the table and we're really lucky to have two great athletes in that position."
America East Preseason Coaches' Poll
The Retrievers were one of four teams to earn a first place vote in the 2013 America East Preseason Coaches' Poll, receiving one first-place vote and 19 total votes from the seven coaches. Stony Brook, who defeated the Retrievers in the league tournament semifinals last season as the No. 2 seed, was picked to finish first in the conference after returning all 12 of its starters from a year ago. Regular season America East Champion Boston University and AEC tournament champion Albany were tied for second with 29 votes apiece. UMBC followed in fourth, in front of Vermont (17), New Hampshire (13) and Binghamton (seven).
"Regardless of where you are in the preseason poll, on any day, we feel that anyone – if you prepare and do the things you need to do – can beat any opponent," Appelt said. "At this point, every game is a new game. We're not looking ahead to April or May; we're looking ahead to American and taking it game-by-game, week-by-week.
"For a team that's so young that's how we have to look at it," Appelt continued. "We always have the hunt in our mind, we want to get to that championship weekend, but in order to get there we have to take care of each piece first."