Feb. 4, 2004
Notre Dame, Ind. -
For some teams, an 8-7 overall record could be classified as a good season. For Notre Dame women's lacrosse coach Tracy Coyne and her 2004 squad, the final record in 2003 left them with a less than euphoric feeling.
Coming off their first trip to the NCAA tournament in 2002 and with a veteran squad in place, the Irish looked to make the postseason a regular occurrence.
Playing their most ambitious schedule in the program's history (10 of 15 opponents were ranked among the nation's top 20), the Irish stumbled, dropping three one-goal losses and needed a four-game winning streak at the end of the season to close with the 8-7 record.
Among the tough defeats were one-goal losses in double-overtime to 16th-ranked Stanford, a one-goal overtime loss to fifth-ranked Georgetown and a one-goal loss to 13th-ranked Yale.
Following the 16-15 overtime loss to Georgetown, Notre Dame's record stood at 4-7. Instead of dwelling on the tough losses, the Irish put them behind them and ran off four straight wins to close out the season with the 8-7 final record.
Included in the streak were wins over Rutgers (13-6) and Vanderbilt (22-11), both top 20 teams. The record-setting win at Vanderbilt has become the starting point for the 2004 season.
"The Vanderbilt game has really become our stepping stone into this season," says Coyne, the only coach the Irish have ever had.
"The way we played in that game, against a big rival, really went a long way showing our players how good we really could be. We were all disappointed in not making the NCAA tournament last season, especially since we played so well down the stretch."
As Notre Dame gears up for the 2004 season, Coyne likes the way things went for her team in the fall.
"The players came back this fall with something to prove. Our seniors have set a positive example and the attitude has been great," says Coyne.
"The senior class has experienced it all over the past three seasons. They are determined to lead us to our first conference championship and to get us back to the NCAA tournament."
Things don't get any easier for the Irish schedule-wise as they again face a challenging schedule that features nine teams ranked in the Top 20 to end last season.
"I'm really excited about our schedule this year. We've added Johns Hopkins and James Madison, both highly ranked teams and the BIG EAST will be as strong as ever," says Coyne.
Heading into the 2004 season that starts on Feb. 14 with an exhibition game versus Team Canada (a team that Coyne also coaches), the Irish must replace several key contributors.
Notre Dame's all-time leading scorer Danielle Shearer and all-time leading goalkeeper Jen White have graduated. Shearer, who led the Irish in scoring for three straight seasons, had 35 goals and 26 assists for 61 points in her senior season. She finished as the all-time leader in goals (130) and points (196) and was second in assists (66). White started 48 consecutive games; winning 31 over three seasons and had an 8.79 career-best goals-against average. Both were all-Americans during their careers.
On defense, four-year starter Kelly McCardell and steady defender Elizabeth Knight were also part of the class of 2003. McCardell started every game of her career and had 100 career ground balls while being fifth all-time with 51 caused turnovers. Knight was both a starter and a top reserve during her four seasons.
Besides Shearer, three other key members of the offense graduated. Angela Dixon was fourth on the team in scoring from her attack position with 15 goals and 14 assists for 29 points. Anne Riley (16g, 2a) and Eleanor Weille (13g, 11a) were key performers at midfield. Riley was third on the team in draw controls with 24 and Weille was fourth with 21.
With the departure of those six players, Coyne has some holes to fill throughout the lineup and will be expecting big things from several players.
In goal, junior Carol Dixon (Pennsauken, N.J.) will take over after being White's backup the past two seasons. Dixon saw her first action in 2003, playing in five games with an 8.93 goals-against average and a .571 save percentage. She continues to develop her overall game and is coming off a strong fall schedule.
Freshman Katie Linhares (Greenwich, Conn.) will be Dixon's lone backup. She saw action in the fall and must get used to the speed and quickness of the collegiate game.
The defense should be solid with three seniors playing key roles led by all-BIG EAST and all-America candidate, co-captain Andrea Kinnik (Sr., West Chester, Pa.). Kinnik came into her own as a starter as a junior, leading the team in ground balls (44) and caused turnovers (22). A tough, tenacious defender, Kinnik uses outstanding speed and quickness to break up plays. She was a first team selection to the Brine/IWLCA all-Mid-Atlantic region team and was a third team All-American selection by womenslacrosse.com. She comes into her final season with the Irish as an all-BIG EAST preseason selection.
Joining Kinnik from the senior class are Kristen Gaudreau
(Annapolis, Md.) and Bridget Higgins
(Wilton, Conn). Gaudreau made the move from offense to defense as a junior and became one of Notre Dame's steadiest defenders. Another speedster, Gaudreau is outstanding in transition and makes smart plays at her end of the field.
Higgins has battled injuries in each of her first three seasons but had a great fall and should be a regular contributor. A stay-at-home defender, Higgins is strong in front of her goal and is an excellent one-on-one player. She has become the glue to the Irish defense and makes all the smart plays.
Two sophomores, Kerry Van Shura (Bel Air, Md.) and Lena Zentgraf (Charlottesville, Va.) were top reserves as freshmen and should see plenty of playing time in 2004. Van Shura is a steady defender who has excellent instincts on the field and has a strong transition game. She continues to improve with playing time and will be in the running for a starting spot this spring.
Zentgraf is a solid, tough defender who became the first defensive reserve off the bench in her freshman year. An outstanding athlete, Zentgraf uses her quickness and aggressive style of play to break up the opposition's attack.
Fellow sophomores Molly Miner (Englewood, Calif.) and Katie Killeen (Manhasset, N.Y.) will also look to see playing time. Miner had a strong fall and showed good defensive instincts and continues to become more confident in all situation.
Killeen was hurt for the entire 2003 season and is completing an extensive rehabilitation program.
Two incoming freshmen will look to add to the Irish depth on defense and should be in the mix for playing time. Meaghan Fitzpatrick (Farmingdale, N.Y.) and Kristin Hopson (Rosemont, Pa.) each played well in the fall and will battle for playing time.
Fitzpatrick is a tough, tenacious defender who does what it takes to shut down an opponent. A member of the U.S. Under-19 team, Fitzpatrick has the tools to be a key contributor in 2004. Hopson showed outstanding potential and should develop into a quality defensive player.
Notre Dame likes to create a great deal of its offense through the midfield and the Irish are deep both at defensive midfield and at midfield attack.
The top returnees are seniors Kassen Delano (Alexandria, Va.) and Abby Owen (Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.). Delano has been a regular contributor in each of her first three seasons. Extremely versatile, Delano has seen duty at both defensive and offensive midfield. Delano missed the fall due to injuries, but will be a key piece of the puzzle in the spring. She takes draws for the Irish and has a driving will to win.
Owen came out of nowhere as a junior to become one of Notre Dame's top midfielders in 2003. After playing just two games in her first two seasons, Owen started 11 of 15 games as a junior, scoring 15 goals with 10 assists. She was a second team all-BIG EAST selection. She is a confident playmaker who is strong in transition.
Junior Jess Mikula (Chester, Md.) has made huge strides during her first two seasons and figures to break into the regular rotation this season after coming off the bench in 11 games as a sophomore. Mikula uses her outstanding speed to move the ball and is developing into a "big play" type of player.
Coyne goes into the spring with several players looking to break into the midfield lineup. The group includes two freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors.
Freshman Meghan Murphy (Centennial, Colo.) stood out in the fall and has proven to be a strong playmaker that is always around the ball. A highly skilled player, Murphy could break into the regular lineup.
The rest of the group is made up of juniors Maura Costello (Manhasset, N.Y.) and Lindsay Shaffer (Seneca Falls, N.Y.), sophomores Meghan deMello (Manlius, N.Y.) and Britney Fox (Annapolis, Md.) and freshman Kaki Orr (Darien, Conn.).
Costello, Shaffer and Fox have seen limited playing time in their Notre Dame careers. All four have worked hard in the off-season to continue to improve their games. They give the Irish depth at midfield and will look to see playing time this season.
The Notre Dame attack can be explosive at times as evidenced by scoring 22 goals versus Vanderbilt and 16 versus a highly ranked team like Georgetown.
Four players who saw plenty of action in 2003 return this season to lead the Irish attack. Senior Meredith Simon (Flemington, N.J.) is the top returning scorer who had 27 goals and 14 assists as a junior. A first-team all-BIG EAST selection and second-team Mid-Atlantic all-region selection in 2003, Simon has 63 goals and 21 assists for her career and joins Kinnik as a preseason all-BIG EAST selection in voting by the coaches. She proved to be a big-game player last year and should be in the running for all-BIG EAST and all-American honors this season.
Fellow senior Lauren Fischer
(Pittsburgh, Pa.) has started 28 of 35 games over the last two seasons with 36 goals and seven assists to her credit. She is a leader on the attack who finds openings and knows how to create her own shots. A total team player, Fischer is a calming influence on the attack that knows when to slow things down or speed the play.
A pair of sophomores joined the attack last season and had outstanding rookie years. Crysti Foote (Suffern, N.Y.) played in all 15 games, starting the final six and proved to be an outstanding offensive player.
She finished the year third on the team in scoring with 27 goals and 11 assists for 38 points and was chosen to the Brine/IWLCA Mid-Atlantic region team. That made her the first Irish freshman to receive all-region honors.
Her 27 goals tied the Notre Dame freshman record and in her six starts at the end of the season, Foote racked up 18 goals and eight assists, including a pair of six-point games. Foote's late-season scoring binge included four goal games versus Georgetown and Vanderbilt and three-goal games versus Davidson and Northwestern.
Mary McGrath (Fr., Bryn Mawr, Pa.) also contributed as a freshman with nine goals and five assists for 14 points while playing in all 15 games. McGrath is the consummate playmaker that has the ability to put a teammate in position for a good scoring chance. She should be a regular contributor for the Irish this season.
The Irish have outstanding depth at attack. Others who should see playing time in 2004 include Mia Novic
(Sr., Murrysville, Pa.), Jackie Bowers
(Jr., Springfield, Pa.), Corey Samperton
(So., Bethesda, Md.) and Megan O'Shaughnessy
(Fr., Engelwood, Colo.).
Novic has seen limited playing time in her career but is one of the senior leaders on the squad. A total team player, Novic continues to work to improve her game and should see playing time this year.
Bowers is coming off a strong fall after playing in 10 games as a sophomore with three goals and an assist. She has stepped up her play this season and is becoming more confident in her all-around game.
Samperton showed an excellent goal scoring touch as a freshman as she had three goals in just four games off the bench. She uses her quickness to find openings around the goal and has the ability to create her own shot.
O'Shaughnessy showed in the fall that she has the tools to be a good player. The cousin of Irish scoring great Lael O'Shaughnessy, Megan showed outstanding quickness and good moves on attack. She just needs time to develop her all-around game and gain confidence with playing time this spring.
As the Irish move towards the start of the 2004 campaign, Coyne is pleased with her team's efforts in the fall and winter.
"We worked hard in the fall to get better at the little things. Things like ground balls and possessing the ball. Against Georgetown last year we took the lead in overtime and all we had to do was get possession off the draw. We couldn't and it cost us a win," says Coyne.
"I think we are better skill-wise this season. We are still working on the intangibles, learning how to compete, dealing with adversity, things you develop over time. Our seniors have been great leaders so far. They are very united and very positive. They've set a great example for the younger players."
The Irish will again face a schedule that features many of the top teams in the nation. Nine of the 16 teams on the schedule finished among the top 20 a year ago and a 10th, Rutgers, was in-and-out of the top 20 all season. The list of teams includes: Duke (4th), Georgetown (6th), James Madison (8th), Syracuse (10th), Ohio State (11th), Cornell (12th), Stanford (15th), Johns Hopkins (17th) and Vanderbilt (18th).
"Again, we have a challenging schedule. We like to play against the top programs in the country. Our schedule should be a good test for us this season," says Coyne.