Feb. 23, 2005
Notre Dame, Ind. -
There's nothing that Notre Dame women's lacrosse coach Tracy Coyne likes better than a good challenge. Coming off one of the best seasons in the history of the Notre Dame women's lacrosse program in 2004, Coyne knows that her program has several challenges facing them in 2005.
First, there's the challenge of putting together back-to-back successful seasons. After making the NCAA tournament for the first time in 2002, the Irish hit a bump in the road in 2003, missing the tournament before putting together a strong 2004 campaign.
The second challenge will be replacing six graduating seniors - four on offense and two on defense - who played key roles in setting Notre Dame records for goals (206) and points (297) in a season, while also recording the second-lowest goals-against average (8.54) in the program's eight-year history.
Then there's that challenge of advancing even further in the NCAA tournament. Last year's tough, heartbreaking 10-8 loss at Northwestern, in the first round of the Inca's gave Coyne, her staff and her players something to think about all summer and fall.
"We definitely have a few challenges ahead of us this season," says Coyne as she looks to the season opener on Feb. 27 at Ohio University.
"There's no question that the key to this year's team is going to be our defense. We lost three All-Americans in Andrea (Kinnik), Abby (Owen) and Meredith (Simon), so those will be big shoes to fill. We also lost key offensive players like Lauren Fischer and Kassen Delano who played major roles over the last three seasons."
With the loss of Meredith Simon, Abby Owen, Lauren Fischer and Kassen Delano, Notre Dame loses 128 of those 206 goals or 62% of the offensive attack.
Simon set a single-season Notre Dame record for points with 74 on 46 goals and 28 assists and was a first team All-American and the BIG EAST co-attack player of the year.
Owen, a third team All-American had 34 goals and 11 assists for 45 points and was the BIG EAST midfielder of the year.
Fischer was third in scoring with 28 goals and 13 assists for 41 points and was a second team all-BIG EAST selection while Delano, a talented midfielder, had a career year with 20 goals and 7 assists for 27 points.
Andrea Kinnik and Kristen Gaudreau anchored the strong defense with Kinnik being a first team All-BIG EAST selection and a second team All-American. Finding their replacements will be the challenge for Coyne and her staff.
"There's no question that we will need some of our younger players to step up and raise their level of play," says Coyne.
"Now its their chance to show that they can play at this level. They've had to wait their turn behind some good players. Well, the wait is over."
There's a saying in sports that defense wins championships and the Irish defense will be counted on this season. Of the 10 returning monogram winners, seven of them played defense or in the defensive midfield.
"The key to our success, especially early in the season is going to be our defense," explains Coyne.
"That's where games are won and lost and I have a lot of confidence in this group."
Returning to the defense for her second year as starter is goalkeeper Carol Dixon (Sr., Pennsauken, N.J.). A proven, top-notch collegiate goalkeeper, Dixon played all but 3:28 minutes in 2004, turning in a 12-5 record with an 8.59 goals-against average and a .505 save percentage. An athletic goalkeeper, Dixon anticipates well and comes up with big saves in the big games. With a strong season, she should contend for postseason honors.
Katie Linhares (So., Greenwich, Conn.) will serve as Dixon's back up in goal. She continues to work at improving her game and will look to gain more experience in 2005.
On defense, the Irish have a nice blend of experience and youth. Leading the defense will be graduate student Bridget Higgins (Wilton, Conn.) along with seniors Jess Mikula (Chester, Md.) and Lindsay Shaffer (Seneca Falls, N.Y). All three were starters in 2004 and will give the defense experienced leadership in front of Dixon.
Higgins missed most of her first three years with the Irish due to injuries and is the first women's lacrosse player at Notre Dame to return for a fifth year. A strong, stay-at-home defender, Higgins excels in the one-on-one battles in front of the net and directs the defense. She made 13 starts in 2004.
Mikula is the heir apparent to the role played by Andrea Kinnik the past two seasons. A preseason all-BIG EAST selection this year, Mikula has developed into a "big-play player." She has a strong understanding of the Irish defense and recognizes what her opponents are trying to do on the field.
Mikula was fourth on the team in ground balls a year ago with 33 and tied for caused turnovers with 22. She will be counted on to be one of the team leaders for the defense.
Shaffer started her Notre Dame career as a walk-on and has worked her way into a starting role as a senior.
A student of the game, Shaffer uses her speed and athleticism to be one of the team's top one-on-one defenders. A true success story, she saw action in 15 games as a junior, making five starts, grabbing 15 ground balls and causing nine turnovers. Shaffer is one of the team leaders and has proven herself in big games.
Three juniors - Kerry Van Shura (Bel Air, Md.), Meghan deMello (Manlius, N.Y.) and Katie Killen (Manhasset, N.Y.) - will be in the mix for playing time on defense.
Van Shura has seen regular action in each of her first two seasons. She was usually the first defender off the bench in games as she played in all 17 games, making three starts.
A tough, gritty competitor, Van Shura understands the game and has excellent stick skills. She had 21 ground balls and 14 draw controls as a sophomore in 2004.
Killeen and deMello have seen limited action in their first two seasons continue to improve their games and could break into the regular rotation on defense this season.
Two sophomores - Meaghan Fitzpatrick (Farmingdale, N.Y.) and Kristin Hopson (Rosemont, Pa.) - should play key roles.
Fitzpatrick played in16 games as a freshman, making one start last year and proved to be a tough and tenacious defender who wins most of the "50-50 balls" that come her way. She adjusted quickly to the collegiate game and despite missing the fall with a broken collarbone, could see herself in a starting role this spring.
Hopson took advantage of the fall practices and caught the coaching staff's attention with her no-nonsense style of play. She uses her speed and tenacious style to disrupt the offensive attack and could be an impact player this season.
The lone freshman on the defense will be Becky Ranck (Radnor, Pa.) who brings size (5-8) and athleticism to the defense. She also had a strong fall and made the adjustments to a new defensive system. Ranck has all the tools to be a top collegiate player.
At midfield, the Irish will look to fill the spots left due to the graduation of Delano and Owen.
Delano handled a majority of the draws over the last four seasons and also contributed at both ends of the field with her speed and quickness. Owen became a regular the last two seasons and paced the team's transition game. The duo combined for 54 goals last season.
Four players return to the midfield with four new comers also looking to break into the regular rotation.
The returnees include senior Maura Costello (Manhasset, N.Y,) and three sophomores, Meghan Murphy (Centennial, Colo.), Kaki Orr (Darien, Conn.) and Lena Zentgraf (Charlottesville, Va.).
Of the four, only Murphy and Zentgraf have seen regular playing time. Murphy broke into the starting lineup in 2004, making 13 starts as a freshman in 17 games. She scored 11 goals and added three assists for 14 points while recording 31 ground balls, 15 caused turnovers and 13 draw controls.
Murphy played well at both ends of the field and showed an ability to get open for shots and to catch and shoot in tight spaces.
Zentgraf played a regular role defensively in 2003 before sitting out last season for personal reasons.
One of the top athletes on the team, Zentgraf has speed and quickness and reads the game well. Not one to shy away from physical play, she used the year off to develop her all-around game and should move into a starting role this season.
Costello has seen limited action in her first three years but continues to work at improving her game. A dedicated, hard-worker, she is a total team player who will look to get in the rotation at midfield.
Orr caught the coaches' attention with a strong fall and could become a top contributor this season. An athletic player, Orr has good instincts and continues to improve her stickwork. She has benefited from good coaching to improve her overall game.
Five freshmen join the Notre Dame midfield/attack and will be looking for playing time in the spring.
Mary Carpenter (Rochester, N.Y.), twins Heather and Lindsey Ferguson (Newtown Square, Pa.), Caitlin Lucas (Baldwin, N.Y.) and Caitlin McKinney (Lafayette Hill, Pa.) round out the group.
Carpenter is a true midfielder who can play either defensive or offensive midfield. She's a talented all-around player who will give the coaching staff options due to her versatility. A player who can run all day, Carpenter had an impressive fall and preseason and should see action in her rookie year.
Heather Ferguson is an attacking midfielder with good quickness and excellent lacrosse instincts. She's a hard-working player who needs to gain game experience at the Division I level.
Heather will be joined by twin sister Lindsey in the midfield who will look to develop confidence in her game while providing the Irish depth in the middle of the field. She has worked hard in the preseason improving her skills and will also look to gain game experience as a freshman.
Lucas brings an excellent work ethic to the Irish and has the potential to develop into a regular contributor. A highly coachable player, Lucas has good speed and continues to improve her all-around game.
McKinney is a dynamic with tremendous speed and quickness. She has the ability to find the open player or to get open for scoring chances of her own. A tough, tenacious player, McKinney continues to adjust to the collegiate game but should make a strong contribution this season.
Notre Dame's attack will look to replace the scoring of Simon and Fischer as that dynamic duo combined for 74 goals and 41 assists for 115 points between them. They also brought leadership to the team, as Simon was a four-year starter while Fischer was in the regular lineup the last three seasons.
At attack, the Irish have several players ready to move into the vacant spots.
Leading the way is junior Crysti Foote
(Suffern, N.Y.). Foote has been a regular in the lineup the last two seasons splitting time between midfield and attack. Last season, she recorded 26 goals and nine assists for 35 points and is already 10th in goals (53) and 10th in points (73) on Notre Dame's all-time scoring list.
Foote has a nose for the net and the ability to take over a game. She is totally healthy this season and will be Notre Dame's "go-to-player" this season. A preseason all-BIG EAST choice and All-American pick, Foote can expect to see teams key on her all season long.
Should teams key on Foote, that should open things up for Jackie Bowers (Sr., Springfield, Pa.) and junior Mary McGrath (Bryn Mawr, Pa.). Both have seen regular action over the last two seasons.
Bowers broke into the starting lineup last season and scored 14 goals with 11 assists for 25 points. Strong around the crease, Bowers will be counted on to improve her scoring numbers to take some of the heat off Foote, especially early in the season.
McGrath has seen action in 31 games over her first two seasons, with all of them coming in a reserve role. A gifted passer with outstanding lacrosse skills, this could be the year she blossoms into a top, all-around player.
The Irish have plenty of depth at attack with several players just waiting for their chance.
Leading the group is junior Brittany Fox (Annapolis, Md.) who has seen limited action in her career, but when she has played, she's performed well. A left-handed shot, Fox has strong attack skills and has worked hard to get a chance to contribute.
Sophomore Megan O'Shaughnessy
(Englewood, Colo.) has been hampered by injuries in the preseason but will be looking to break into the lineup this year.
She's got outstanding lateral quickness and works hard to improve all aspects of her game.
Rounding out the attack is freshman Julie Foote (Suffern, N.Y.), the sister of junior Crysti Foote. Julie made the most of her chances in the fall and proved to have solid stick skills around the goal. She should be in the mix for playing time on attack.
Coyne knows who her players are, now it's all about putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
"We had a strong fall and preseason has gone well," reports the only coach the Irish have ever had.
"Our senior class has to believe in themselves. As a group, they've been to two NCAA tournaments, so they know what it takes to get there. They have to be able to get that message through to their teammates."
"We are really a work in progress until we start playing the games. The defense is going to have to carry us early until we get the right combinations working in the midfield and at attack. I really believe we have the players, it's just putting them in the right spots to take advantage of their skills," adds Coyne.
As usual, the schedule will be challenging as the Irish face many of the top teams in the nation, including Duke, James Madison, Northwestern, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, Johns Hopkins and Syracuse.
The Irish will look to put an end to Georgetown's reign atop the BIG EAST standings.
"Our schedule is just as competitive as last year as we play many of the top programs in the country," says Coyne.
"Georgetown is still the team to beat. We've come close to beating them the last two years, but haven't. There are really no easy games on the schedule. It's a good test and now we are ready to get started."