**TIME CHANGE** GAME NOW SCHEDULED FOR FRIDAY, FEB. 14 AT 2 p.m., INSTEAD OF THURSDAY, FEB. 13 AT 4 P.M. (ADMISSION FREE)
BALTIMORE – The UMBC women's lacrosse team starts out its 2014 slate with a bang, hosting No. 2 Maryland on Friday, Feb. 14 2 p.m. at the UMBC Stadium. All the live action can be seen live on UMBCRetrievers.tv, courtesy of the America East digital network.
In their first season at the helm of the UMBC women's lacrosse program, co-head coaches Amy Appelt and Tony Giro guided the Retrievers to their best start through nine games since 1986 by posting a 7-2 mark, however, UMBC battled a tough schedule, taking on four nationally-ranked opponents, and struggled to put the ball in the net during the latter part of the season, finishing with an 8-8 record and narrowly missing out on the America East Tournament for the first time since 2009.
With a year under their belts and the implementation of a new offense in the offseason, Appelt and Giro are optimistic in their attack-heavy 2014 squad. The Retrievers were picked to tie for third with New Hampshire in the annual America East Preseason Coaches' Poll after returning 17 letterwinners and nine starters from a year ago.
"We are really attack-heavy right now and our attackers are finally learning how to play together," said Appelt. "They are beginning to understand who likes what drive, who likes what pop-back, who likes what pass, and they are really starting to mesh, whereas last year we struggled a bit to score goals at the end of the season. Now they know how they like to play and who likes to go where, so we see a lot of these attackers being able to put the ball in the net."
Senior Shannon Harkey and junior Abby Wilson provide an experienced threat out front for the Retrievers. The black and gold will look back to the duo for production after combining for 51 goals and 25 assists a season ago. Harkey enjoyed a breakout junior campaign, registering a point in 13 of 16 contests and ranking second in the league in free position goals per game (0.81). Wilson was one of three Retrievers to post double-digit goals (23) and assists (19) in 2013. The first-year captain finished seventh in the league in assists per game (1.27) and fell one helper shy of entering UMBC's top-10 single season assists list.
"As a junior, Abby is the only kid on the attack that has played all three years thus far for us, so we are really going to look to her a lot to be able to settle the offense down, slow the pace and the make the calls," said Appelt. "She is a dynamic attacker and will help us with the ball in transition and pose a threat on the attacking end.
"Shannon is another vital piece for us," continued Appelt. "She is fast and really helps us get up and down the field. She will be a huge part of our attack this season."
Returners Rachel Benzing and Sam Nolan, as well as newcomer Mackenzie Reese have proved themselves in the preseason and should see some significant time on the attack. Despite limited time last season, Benzing has put in work over the offseason and will see some time in the draw circle, while Nolan will look to continue to be aggressive in her second season with the Retrievers, after scoring nine goals in her rookie campaign. Reese, a 2013 "Player to Watch" by ESPN Rise, will be expected to go in and make an immediate impact on the offensive end."
Also on the attack is sophomore transfer Meagan Guthrie, who is coming off an ACL injury, and rookie Caroline Haggerty, who Appelt and Giro will rely upon to provide some vital minutes in the latter part of the season. Sophomores Kris Coppolino and Kayley Jones provide further depth at the position after seeing action during their rookie campaigns.
"In the midfield, it is great to have Alyssa Semones and Kristen Bilney back," admitted Appelt. "They are both great defenders, in addition to posing a huge threat on the attack, and will play a vital part in transitioning the ball from one end to the other. Bilney did a great job with her draw controls last year and is a huge part of our transition game. Semones is also a huge part of our draw controls as well. Last year, she dominated the draw circle for us and I think she is on track to do that again this year."
Bilney and Semones provide a dangerous tandem in the middle for the Retrievers, with both earning All-Conference recognition in 2013. Bilney, a two-time team captain, led the squad in ground balls (26) and caused turnovers (14), while also finishing the season with a career-best 38 points, on 28 goals and 10 assists. Bilney placed 79.4 percent of her shots on goal and drilled a team-best four game-winning goals on the year.
Semones led the Retrievers in scoring in her first season with the squad, tallying 32 goals and 12 assists for a team-best 44 points. The sophomore proved to be a threat on all cylinders, tying for sixth in draw controls during a single-season in UMBC's record book with 44 on the year and adding 18 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers.
Due to the number of dynamic attackers, red-shirt junior Ali Carpenter will be a transitioner between attack and midfield, in order to give the captain a maximum amount of time on the field. Carpenter is coming off an injury that sidelined her for the entire 2013 season after gaining experience in her first two seasons at BIG EAST champion Loyola.
Sophomore Megan Flock has done well in the preseason and saw significant minutes during the scrimmage as a defensive midfielder, while newcomer Amber Kovalick will be looked upon by the Retrievers to provide a spark to the offense as an attacking midfielder.
The Retrievers' defense will look to fill the shoes of four-time America East All-Conference selection Jamie Fahey. The defender, who started every game over her final two seasons, concluded her career by eclipsing the century mark in both draw controls (115) and ground balls (105).
"Defensively, we have Devan Hibbs, who is a super senior, and has been an integral part of the defense during her time here," Appelt said. "She has been playing a pretty dynamic role as our communicator and our captain and we will continue to ask that of her this season.
"We are really young on the defensive end, with only Hibbs and Jackie Benson haven seen major minutes in the last couple of season," continued Appelt. "We are really hoping that Devan can step up and take some of our younger kids along with her. She is doing a great job so far and she will continue to be a huge part of our team's success defensively."
Hibbs has started every game over the last two seasons after missing all of the 2011 campaign due to injury. The two-time team captain ranked fourth on the team in caused turnovers (10) in 2013, in addition to picking up 14 ground balls. Fellow senior Jackie Benson started 11 of 15 games a season ago.
Juniors Lexi Bristow and Courtney Thompson will each see an increase in action in 2014 after each seeing starts last season. Sophomore Meghan Milani, along with newcomers Jessie Czulewicz and Rachel Katzenberger round out the defensive squad.
None of the Retrievers' three goalkeepers saw time on the field last season, as departed senior Kendall Mason logged every minute in net for UMBC and finished the year second in league in save percentage (.438). Red-shirt sophomore Anna Barnett returns to the lineup after missing all of the 2013 season. Barnett earned America East All-Conference Second Team recognition and a spot on the All-Rookie Team in her inaugural campaign with the Retrievers after leading the league in save percentage (.486).
Barnett will battle with newcomer Kelly Gielner, another 2013 "Player to Watch" by ESPN Rise, for the starting spot between the pipes. Gielner saw great success with Chesapeake Club Lacrosse, helping the squad to a 2012 Maryland Club National Championship.
Junior Alyssa Goldeisen will also battle for time in net for the Retrievers.
Scouting the Terrapins
Head coach Cathy Reese is coming off her sixth ACC Coach of the Year honor, after guiding the Terps to a 22-1 record in 2013, with their only loss coming in three overtimes in the national championship game versus North Carolina. Reese and the Terrapins enter the season ranked No. 2 in both the Inside Lacrosse and Brine Media Poll preseason rankings and will look to notch their sixth straight conference title and sixth straight final four appearance.
Maryland graduated a trio of All-Americans in Alex Aust, Ilana Sanza and Katie Schwarzmann, but the Terps welcome in one of the top recruiting classes in the national. UMD also returns sophomore midfielder Taylor Cummings, who led the squad in draw controls last season and was tabbed to the Inside Lacrosse's Preseason National Player of the Year Watch List.