Season Preview: Women’s Lacrosse Ready to Take the Next Step Forward in 2014, Opening this Saturday
Thursday, February 27, 2014 - Newark, Del.
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Junior Megan Keffer led the team last year with 30 ground balls and 65 draw controls while scoring 25 goals and adding seven assists in 2013. Copyright 2013; Wilmington University. All rights reserved. Photo by Paul Patton.
Senior Ali Kern finished second on the team with 29 grounds balls and 13 caused turnovers on the defensive end last year in 2013. Copyright 2013; Wilmington University. All rights reserved. Photo by Paul Patton.
The 2014 Wilmington University women’s lacrosse team has 11 opportunities to prove to its home crowd that it is ready to take the next step in the program and once again return to the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Tournament for the fourth time in six years.
Jackie Trainer returns for her third year at the helm of the Wildcats and will once again be joined by assistants Steve Shipe and Jess Graybeal. Trainer and Shipe joined forces as assistant coaches for the 2011 season, both coaching Graybeal, a former Wildcat. This is only the second year the trio has been a complete coaching staff, but has been working together for much longer.
“It may only be our second season as a coaching staff, but we have a great working relationship and friendship,” Trainer, the 2012 CACC Coach of the Year, said. “I think our passion for the game exudes out of us and keeps our players excited for practice day in and day out.”
Unable to play this season, Jess Stratton will still be heard from, however, helping Trainer and the coaching staff from the sidelines.
“Jess’s presence on the field will surely be missed this year, but will continue to be vocal and heard from on the bench,” Trainer said. “She will be able to help in more ways this year other than just playing the game.”
Trainer returns 10 student-athletes from last year’s squad while also bringing in a mixture of transfers and freshman to add to the chemistry. In all, Trainer has a pair of NJCAA junior transfers and four freshmen newcomers joining the experienced Wildcat squad.
The defensive unit returns with the most experience, as all six student-athletes that will hold down the opposition return for their senior season.
The anchor of the defense will be senior goalkeeper Corinne Dries who returns to the cage after backing up an All-CACC net-minder, seeing time in the field as a junior.
“Playing in the field last year definitely helped Corinne’s confidence with her stick,” Trainer said. “She will be our vocal leader in the back and the one-on-one time that Steve (Shipe) has had with her in the fall is beginning to show early in preseason.”
Dries will have a lot of experience playing directly in front of her, led by two-time captain Ali Kern. Kern will be the quarterback of the defense, directing fellow seniors Rachel Burley, Sarah Lindler, Brittany Rhodes, and Chelsie Maher. The unit has a year under its belt of all playing together and will use its fast, aggressive, and athletic style of play to keep the opposing team off the scoreboard.
Rhodes has the capabilities of playing in the midfield as well, and will look to be one of the main transitions from out of the back field and into the offensive zone.
Taking the ball from the defensive unit is another experienced group, led by a trio of junior in the midfield. Rebekah McCurry, Megan Keffer, and Ashely Kroll provide Trainer and the Wildcats with speed, grit, and a competitive edge in areas most needed on the field. McCurry and Keffer will take the majority of the draws with Kroll crashing in to scoop up the loose balls.
Newcomers Madeline Hewitt, Shawna Chopko, and Morgan Tildon join senior Penelope Fantis in the midfield as well, adding versatility, speed, and a good game sense to the offense. Hewitt was an All-Conference player at Harford CC for two seasons while Chopko joined the Wildcats late after playing this past fall season with the Temple Owls’ field hockey squad.
“Our attack will breathe new life and a new look into the team this year,” Trainer said of the offensive unit. “This is where we lost the most off last year’s team but this offense may surprise some people and catch some teams off guard this year.”
Newcomers Katie Spence and Gabby Spalt look to occupy the low attack position while Alexis Olsen adds another viable option in front of the net. Spence played with Hewitt at Harford CC for two seasons, earning All-Region 20 honors in both seasons. Her height and passing ability will have the opportunity to create multiple scoring chances in a contest.
“Our team has taken the next step forward in all the intangibles,” Trainer continued. “The mental aspect of the game, the heart, the toughness; it is all there. Everyone is on board with the team philosophy and they all want to go out and get better every game. The girls have a defined sense of purpose in every aspect of the game. We want team to walk away and say that we never backed down and continued to fight to the very end.”
The team opens with nationally ninth ranked Dowling College on Saturday March 1, but will have 10 more chances to play in front of its home crowd at the WU Athletics Complex. One of the team’s home games will also be featured under the lights at Red Lion Christian Academy on April 2 when CACC rival Dominican comes to town.
The Wildcats will be vying for one of two spots to represent the South Division in the CACC Tournament starting on April 26. Two teams from the North Division (Caldwell, Dominican, Nyack, Post, and Georgian Court) and two teams from the South Division (Holy Family, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, and Wilmington) will meet for the CACC Semifinals, with the winners battling for the CACC Championship hosted by Chestnut Hill.
“The South Division is going to be tough this year with four veteran programs all in one division,” Trainer concluded. “We can absolutely be one of those two teams at the end of the season but we are going to have to fight and claw and it is not going to be easy. I think it is going to be an exciting season with every week the possibility of an upset taking form. I’m excited that the CACC is getting stronger throughout.”