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    Notre Dame Spring Sports Preview: Women's Lacrosse

    FIGHTING IRISH Head coach Tracy Coyne begins her 14th season as the only coach in the Notre Dame women's lacrosse program's history.  The Irish are coming off a 16-5 season in 2009 that saw them capture their first BIG EAST Championship and make their fifth NCAA Tourmament appearance.
    FIGHTING IRISH
    Head coach Tracy Coyne begins her 14th season as the only coach in the Notre Dame women's lacrosse program's history. The Irish are coming off a 16-5 season in 2009 that saw them capture their first BIG EAST Championship and make their fifth NCAA Tourmament appearance.
    FIGHTING IRISH

    Feb. 26, 2010

    Notre Dame, Ind. -

    W. Lacrosse Season Preview with Coach Coyne

    EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the eighth in a 10-part series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2010 Notre Dame spring sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we take a look at the Fighting Irish women's lacrosse team, which already opened the season on Feb. 23 with a win at Hofstra.

    The Notre Dame women's lacrosse team turned in one of its finest seasons in 2009 and will look to take it one more step in this the 14th year of the program. Coach Tracy Coyne's Irish were 16-5 overall and finished 5-2 in the BIG EAST to finish third in the regular season.

    The 16 wins are a school record and along the way, Notre Dame rewrote most of its offensive record book. All of that helped lead the Irish to their first-ever BIG EAST Championship and then advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. In the NCAAs, Notre Dame advanced to the quarterfinals and finished the year ranked sixth in the nation, the best season ending ranking for the Irish. As with any new season there are questions that will need to be answered, as change is a part of collegiate athletics.

    Coyne and her coaching staff return a strong nucleus of players from the 2009 squad and have added a highly touted freshman class. They move into the new season, looking to find replacements for four highly decorated players, who graduated with the group including two first team IWLCA All-Americans and a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist.

    The four graduates include four-time unanimous all-BIG EAST and All-American Jillian Byers who finished her Notre Dame career as the school's all-time leading scorer. She also was the BIG EAST co-attack player of the year and a finalist for the Tewaaraton Trophy in 2009.

    Also lost to graduation were fellow first team All-American defender Shannon Burke, three-year starting goalkeeper Erin Goodman and defensive stalwart Beth Koloup. "There's no question that we lost four outstanding players who played key roles in our program," said head coach Tracy Coyne, the only coach in the program's history.

    "You don't replace a Jill Byers' 111 points. But that means we'll be looking to spread the scoring around. Several players are going to have an opportunity to contribute on attack. Shannon (Burke) and Beth (Koloup) were key members of our defense and Erin (Goodman) gave us three strong years in goal. There are plenty of chances for people to step up and break into the lineup this season."

    In looking at the Irish roster to start the 2010 campaign, Notre Dame has talent and skill on defense, in the midfield and on attack. The key for Coyne and her staff comprised of assistants Kateri Linville, Meredith Simon and Kassen Delano will be finding the right combinations especially on defense where the Irish will be playing in front of a freshman goalkeeper.

    Taking over for Goodman in goal will be freshman Ellie Hilling (Rochester, N.Y.) who is the lone goalkeeper on the Irish roster. At 5-2, Hilling relies on her quickness and athleticism to make plays. She is active outside the goal as she sees and reads the play. Being the lone keeper in the fall gave her plenty of experience and a chance to adapt to the speed of the game at the Division I level. A two-time honorable mention high school All-American at Brighton High School, she has all the tools to be a top collegiate goalkeeper.

    "I think Ellie is going to be a great goalie for us," said Coyne. "She's technically sound and reads the play so well. She took advantage of all the playing time in the fall and came up with some big saves. She gives the players in front of her so much confidence with the way she plays."

    Hilling will be relying on a veteran group on defense in front of her that will be led by returning starter and one of the team captains, Rachel Guerrera (Sr., Wantagh, N.Y.). Joining Guerrera will be juniors Lauren Fenlon (Dayton, Md.) and Jackie Doherty (Ellicott City, Md.), sophomores Kristin DeRespiris (Locust Valley, N.Y.), Janel Carey (Pittsburgh, Pa.) and Jordy Shoemaker (Andover, Mass.) with freshman Emily Connor (Alexandria, Va.) and Michelle Tremblay (Tonka Bay, Minn.) joining the rotation.

    Senior defender Rachel Guerrera leads the Irish defense. She was a preseason all-BIG EAST selection to start the 2010 season.


    Guerrera is a three-year starter for the Irish and brings a tough, tenacious style of play to the back line. A preseason all-BIG EAST selection, she is the leader of the defense and is coming off an outstanding fall and junior season. As a junior, Guerrera had 33 ground balls, seven draw controls and 22 caused turnovers on the way to being selected second team IWLCA West/Midwest region. One of the team's top match up defenders, she is strong in transition and does not shy away from physical play.

    Fenlon played in all 21 games in 2009 and worked her way into the starting lineup for 16 of them. She is Notre Dame's physical presence on the field and can make life miserable for opponents around the goal. A player who knows what it takes to win, Fenlon does all the little things well and is an impact performer when she's on the field. She plays with intensity and has outstanding instincts for the defensive end of the game. As a sophomore she contributed 30 ground balls, five draw controls and 12 caused turnovers.

    Rounding out the top three on defense is Doherty who brings versatility to the lineup as she can move between defense and midfield. She is coming off a break out sophomore year and a strong fall campaign where she proved to be a player that the Irish need on the field in all situations. A fierce competitor, Doherty has a tremendous work ethic and strong leadership skills. Splitting time between midfield and defense in 2009, she had nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points. Her 53 ground balls were second on the team and she added 36 draw controls and 21 caused turnovers to the stat sheet.

    Junior Jackie Doherty will be part of a versatile Notre Dame defense that plays an aggressive and relentless style in front of goalkeeper Ellie Hilling.


    Expected to have an impact in the defensive rotation early in the season is Conner. A high school standout on back-to-back Virginia state championship teams at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes high school, Conner has excellent stick skills to go with outstanding speed. A smart, skilled player who brings size to the defense, she will be counted on to play plenty of minutes in 2010.

    Joining Conner off the bench to start the season is Shoemaker. A sophomore, who saw limited playing time as a rookie, she is coming off a strong fall where she gained plenty of playing experience. Shoemaker has learned Notre Dame's defensive system and is comfortable in her role. A year ago, she played in five games and had one ground ball, one draw control and a pair of caused turnovers.

    DeRespiris saw limited action as a freshman but continues to improve her game. A strong team player, she has become more confident in her abilities and continues to impress the coaching staff with her work ethic.

    Carey joined the team in the fall of 2008 and made the squad only to suffer a knee injury that ended her year. A hard-working player, she rehabbed the knee during the spring and summer and will look to see her first collegiate action on defense this season.

    A second freshman along with Conner, Tremblay made giant strides in the fall after being moved from attack to defense and was on her way to working her way into the defensive rotation before going down with a knee injury in January that will sideline her for the season. A hard-working athletic player, Tremblay caught the coaching staff's eye with her tenacious, physical brand of play and should be a player to watch in the future.

    "I really believe that our defense is going to be one of the strengths of this team," says Coyne.

    "(Assistant coach) Kateri (Linville) has been working the last couple of years to build more of a defensive presence. We now have the kids who can play that style. Traditionally we've been known as an attacking team more than a defensive team, but I see that starting to change. We have kids that are more athletic and want to play defense."

    Coyne continued, "They have come through the system where they are encouraged to be more aggressive and play an up-tempo pressuring style. Rachel (Guerrera), Lauren (Fenlon) and Jackie (Doherty) want to be defenders. They take pride in the way they play defense."

    The depth of the Notre Dame roster is definitely at midfield where Coyne can call on anywhere from a strong and talented group of players who can get the done on both the offensive and defensive sides of the field.

    Junior Shaylyn Blaney is one of a group of talented midfielders that head coach Tracy Coyne has at her disposal. Blaney was a second team All-American in 2009 after scoring 44 goals in her sophomore year.


    Three juniors lead the Irish midfield and are led by IWLCA second team All-American Shaylyn Blaney (Stony Brook, N.Y.), Kailene Abt (Huntington, N.Y.) and Kaitlin Keena (Vienna, Va.). The trio combined for 109 goals last season and will be counted on to run Notre Dame's transition game.

    Despite getting 44 goals to go with three assists last season for 47 points, this could be the year that Blaney begins to dominate the game. A first team all-BIG EAST selection as a sophomore and a preseason pick this year, Blaney is involved in all aspects of Notre Dame's game. She had 46 draw controls, grabbed 31 ground balls and caused 16 turnovers and is one of the team's top defensive players. One of the team's most athletic players, she has tremendous athletic ability to go with great quickness. A team captain in her junior year, Blaney makes things happen when she's around the ball and the Irish will look for her to make up some of the scoring lost due to Byers' graduation.

    Abt is not far behind Blaney and actually had more goals and points last season, scoring 46 times with nine helpers for 55 points. The duo should be in the running for all-BIG EAST and All-American honors this season. Her 46-point improvement from her freshman season is the second largest jump by any Notre Dame player. Abt brings size (5-11) and speed to the Irish midfield and has the ability to take over a game. Look for her to join Blaney as key members of the Notre Dame draw team. She had 22 a year ago in her first regular duty. Abt continues to improve all aspects of her game and plays at both ends of the field. Coyne will look for this junior to continue to get better.

    Kailene Abt brings size and speed to the Notre Dame midfield. She scored 47 goals last season and has the talent and skill to add to that total this season.


    Just when you think you have Blaney and Abt's speed measured, here comes Kaitlin Keena. The fastest player on the team, the Virginia native opens the field for her teammates. She is a multi-dimensional player who can lead the attack, set up a goal or finish and she continues to improve. As a sophomore, Keena had 19 goals and 15 assists but also excelled in the gritty parts of the game. She scooped up 32 ground balls, grabbed 38 draw controls and caused 13 turnovers from her spot in the midfield. Keena will be a key member of the Irish attack this season.

    The lone senior in the midfield is captain Maggie Zentgraf (Charlottesville, Va.). One of the team's leaders, Zentgraf gives the Irish versatility as she can play in the midfield or at attack. A no-nonsense type player, look for Zentgraf to be a member of one of the team's draw unit. She is coming off a strong fall and is a "whatever it takes," kind of player. In 2009, she played in all 21 games and had six goals with one assist for seven points. Zentgraf had six ground balls, 15 draw controls and three caused turnovers.

    Four sophomores are in the mix in the midfield with that group made up of Kate Newall (Middlesex, England), Megan Sullivan (Winchester, Mass.), Flannery Nangle (Auburn, N.Y.) and Amelia Bernier (Strafford, Pa.).

    Newall and Sullivan play on the defensive side of midfield and both have tremendous speed in the transition game. Newall is a fierce and relentless competitor who forced her way into the lineup as a freshman because of her tenacious style. Having played in England, she has quickly adapted to the way they play the game in the United States and is a presence on the field. A dedicated, hard-working player, Newall continues to develop her lacrosse skills and has become a valuable member of the Notre Dame midfield.

    Sullivan worked her way into the lineup a year ago and saw more and more playing time as she adjusted to the speed of the college game. Her quickness and speed make her a valuable asset in the transition game. She scored four goals and added an assist for five points last season. She had 11 ground balls, five draw controls and seven caused turnovers. Look for her role to increase this season.

    Nangle will work her way into the midfield lineup on the offensive side this season after sitting out the 2009 campaign recovering from a knee injury. Highly touted coming out of high school where she scored 238 goals and an All-American, Nangle plays the game hard and has great intensity. She's got excellent quickness and dodge moves and is coming off a strong fall season.

    Bernier suffered a shoulder injury in the fall of 2008 and should see action this season. Tall and quick, she is coming off a strong fall schedule that saw her start to regain confidence in her abilities. She has the size (5-10) and quickness to become a presence on the field.

    Three freshmen - McKenzie Brown (Greenwood Village, Colo.), Francie Crowell (Seal Beach, Calif.) and Jenny Granger (East Setauket, N.Y.) - join the lineup for the 2010 campaign.

    Brown is a tall, athletic midfielder who played on three Colorado state championship teams and was the top player in Colorado for two consecutive years. A two-time high school All-American, she is a fierce competitor with excellent stick skills and a nose for the net. Brown is will miss the season while she recovers from injuries that limited her participation in the fall.

    Crowell is the first player from California to play on the women's lacrosse team and will see action at midfield defense after being a high school All-American at attack. A hard-working player, she has good speed and stick skills and continues to adapt to the speed and level of play at the Division I level.

    Granger is one in a long line of talented players from Long Island that has ended up at Notre Dame where she joins former high school teammate Shaylyn Blaney. A two-time high school All-American at midfield, Granger has size (5-9) and speed and outstanding lacrosse skills. She will be in the mix to start this season and has all the tools to be a top notch Division I player.

    Coyne likes the talent and depth she has at midfield.

    "We have six to nine players who should contribute at midfield this season," said Coyne. Many of our top players on the team are midfielders. That should equate into solid attack-transition play or solid defensive-transition play where we are forcing turnovers and getting the ball back," said Coyne.

    "We should have the ability to score quick transition goals. I think that we are at the point with this team that we can do a few more tactical things with our midfield."

    On attack, Coyne knows that it's going to be tough to replace Byers, her four-time All-American, but she has plenty of options as she looks to spread the scoring around.

    Senior attack standout Gina Scioscia is Notre Dame's top -returning scorer. She had 53 goals and 43 assists for 96 points in 2009.


    Leading the way is 2009 IWLCA All-American Gina Scioscia (Sr., Summit, N.J.) who is one of the top-returning scorers in the nation. A second team all-BIG EAST choice a year ago, Scioscia is a preseason all-BIG EAST selection this year and was voted by the league's coaches as the preseason offensive player of the year.

    Scioscia has seen her career grow by leaps and bounds over her first three seasons. After getting eight points as a freshman, she had a 47-point increase to 55 points as a sophomore. During 2009, she saw her point totals grow by just 41 points as she finished second to Byers with 96 points on 53 goals and 43 assists. Her 43 assists set the Irish single-season record for assists and she is already the all-time leader in assists with 77.

    As a senior, Scioscia will serve as one of the team captains this season and will look to take it to the cage more often. A key to Notre Dame success in 2010 is how well the New Jersey adapts to being the player marked by the opposition's top defender.

    Following in Scioscia's footsteps is junior Ansley Stewart (Alexandria, Va.) who came out of nowhere last season to score 30 goals and add 12 assists for 42 points. That came a year after not scoring a point in limited action as a freshman.

    Junior Ansley Stewart had a break out season in 2009, scoring 30 goals with 12 assists for 42 points.


    A talented goal scorer, Stewart looks to take the ball to the net and has a variety of shots that give her plenty of options against the goalkeeper. She continues to develop all aspects of her game and is becoming a major threat when Notre Dame goes on the attack. A character player, Stewart's teammates and coaches have a great deal of confidence in her game.

    Joining Scioscia and Stewart on attack will be sophomore Maggie Tamasitis (Boyertown, Pa.) who came off the bench last season to score 15 goals and add 20 shots for 35 points. A highly skilled playmaker, Tamasitis will be asked to do a little of both this year - set up her teammates and also score. She's got great instincts with the ball and has uncanny ability to find the open player. With more playing time as a sophomore, Tamasitis will look to account for some of the goals lost to Byers' graduation.

    The Irish have several other players on attack that will get the opportunity to contribute to the rotation during 2010.

    Junior Meredith Locasto (Pittsburgh, Pa.), sophomore Kelly Driscoll (Andover, Mass.) and a pair of freshmen Betsy Mastropieri (Richmond, Va.) and Jaimie Morrison (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.) lead the attack contingent.

    Locasto is a total team player that has seen limited action during her career but when given the opportunity has produced. A hard-working player, Locasto is coming of a great fall season that saw her get a chance to see more playing time. She's got one of the most accurate shots on the team and last year scored three goals in eight games.

    Driscoll moves from defense to the attack to take advantage her passing and stick skills. A smart player, she has the ability to read the defense and move the ball around to open teammates. Driscoll has a point guard mentality and could become another playmaker up front for the Irish.

    Both freshmen come into their rookie season with strong resumes. Mastropieri is a talented attack player with outstanding speed and quickness. She has a nose for the net and has a sneaky, accurate shot. She has been a good fit in the Irish rotation on attack and should see playing time in her rookie season.

    Morrison joins the Notre Dame lineup after being a high school All-American last season. A talented goal scorer, she brings versatility to the lineup as she has seen duty on the draw, in the midfield or at attack. Morrison has strong stick skills and the ability to create her shots in tight spaces around the goal. Along with Mastropieri see playing time this season.

    "We have very talented scorers returning, so we will be looking to spread the scoring around this season," says Coyne.

    "I know we have players who can score - Gina (Scioscia), Maggie (Tamasitis), Ansley (Stewart), Kailene (Abt), Shay (Blaney) have all proven they can score. Last year, we had a go-to scorer (Jill Byers) and a great supporting cast. This year, I would like to see multiple people score 50 points instead of one player getting 111. "

    Coyne continues, "Gina is going to see a ton of pressure. I think she's ready and won't back down from anyone. We are going to rely on Gina's leadership. She is clearly one of the top players in the country and is respected by her teammates."

    "We have a lot of good players who do a lot of things well. We will need to spread the wealth and have different looks to put those people where they can take advantage of their skills."

    The Irish women's program enters another new era in 2010 as they move into their new home - Arlotta Stadium. The stadium features over 2,000 seats, lights, an artificial-turf field, locker rooms, player lounges, restrooms and concession areas. The state-of-the-art facility is named after Notre Dame graduate John Arlotta, president and chief executive officer of Denver-based Coram Inc. He and his wife Bobbie pledged the lead gift toward the stadium.

    As usual Coyne's team will face an ambitious schedule as they face three ranked teams - No. 6 Georgetown, No. 7 Syracuse and No. 14 Loyola (Md.) - in the eight-game BIG EAST schedule. Five other ranked teams - No. 1 Northwestern, No. 11 Vanderbilt, No. 12 Boston University, No. 15 Dartmouth and No. 16 Ohio State round out the schedule. The Irish open the year on the road as they travel to Hempstead, N.Y., on Feb. 23 to face the Hofstra Pride. The home opener comes on Feb. 27 when Notre Dame plays host to Duquesne University.

    "I really like our schedule this season. We had a great opportunity at the end of January to find out where we stand with two exhibition games against the U.S. Elite Team and the U.S. Developmental Team in Florida. We learned a lot about what we were doing well and what we needed to work on for the regular season," explains Coyne.

    "We always look forward to the BIG EAST schedule because it is such a competitive conference and we have some great rivalries. We also are excited about getting the chance to defend our BIG EAST championship.

    "Our non-league schedule features some great Midwest rivalries. We've been playing teams like Northwestern, Ohio State and Vanderbilt for a long time. They are always great games against quality opponents. I can't wait to get started," adds Coyne.

     

     

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