March 1, 2003
During the first five years of existence for the Notre Dame women's lacrosse program, head coach Tracy Coyne looked forward to the beginning of each season with guarded optimism. She hoped to see her then-growing program continue to progress to the point of being one of the top programs in the country.
Year six, the 2002 campaign, came and brought higher expectations for Notre Dame after the team finished the previous season ranked for the first in the program's history.
While expectations were high, the Irish were still the new kids on the block when it came to national recognition.
The 2002 season changed all that. Coyne's veteran team delivered the best season in the program's history - a 13-5 record, a second-place finish in the BIG EAST, a trip to the NCAA quarterfinals and a final ranking of seventh in the nation.
Now, the cat is out of the bag. The Irish are no longer strangers on the women's lacrosse scene. Notre Dame goes into its season opener on March 2 at Cornell ranked seventh in the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) preseason poll and fifth by Inside Lacrosse Magazine.
Two Irish players - midfielder Danielle Shearer (Sr., Hampstead, Md.) and goalkeeper Jen White (Sr., Annapolis, Md.) - have been selected preseason all-Americans. Yes, the good old days of being an underdog are over and Coyne has no problem with that.
"It's a great compliment to our program and the hard work that the players who have played here and the group that is here now has put in to be ranked so high in the preseason," says Coyne.
"This will be the first time that we have had to defend a winning season. People know who we are now and will be gunning for us. Last year was a breakthrough season for the program, but we can't be satisfied with one year. Our players are looking forward to the challenge."
Coyne has no worries when it comes to her goalkeeper. White will begin her third season as the top Irish shot stopper and she's a good one. As a junior last season, she was a unanimous first team all-BIG EAST selection and goes into her final year as a preseason all-American and all-BIG EAST candidate. Last season, White set Irish records for wins (13), goals-against average (7.49) and save percentage (.545).
Sophomore Carol Dixon (Pennsauken, N.J.) will backup White this season. She has yet to see any regular season action in goal, but Coyne has confidence in the young goalkeeper.
"Carol continues to improve and played well in the fall," says Coyne.
"She will compliment Jen (White) and gives us a solid duo in goal."
On defense, the Irish graduated three four-year starters. Kathryn Lam (second-team all-American), Maureen Henwood and Tina Fedarcyk were the foundation of one of the nation's top defensive groups.
Leading the defense in 2003 are senior co-captain Kelly McCardell (West Chester, Pa.) and junior Kassen Delano (Flemington, N.J.) who return from last year's starting five. Both are solid defenders who will now be key figures on the Irish defense.
McCardell is a steady, consistent defender who is an all-BIG EAST and all-Region candidate in 2003. She's the leader of the Irish defense who will be counted on for her solid all-around game.
Delano is talented all-around defender who gives the Irish a versatile player on defense. Strong on draw controls, she also uses her speed and quickness to start the Irish transition game. She scored 12 goals and added four assists for 16 points last season.
Senior co-captain Elizabeth Knight (Baltimore, Md.) and junior Andrea Kinnik (West Chester, Pa.) are two key reserves from last season who will start this season.
Knight is a total team player who has outstanding instincts on the field. She knows the game and anticipates the play as it develops. A three-year monogram winner, Knight gives the Irish a coach on the field.
Kinnik has shown solid improvement in each of her first two seasons and is ready to become a prime time player for the Irish. She's another speedster who anticipates well and can lead the Irish transition game.
Juniors Bridget Higgins (Wilton, Conn.) and Abby Owen (Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.) are coming off injuries that sidelined them last season, but will be regular contributors this year.
Higgins is a tough defender who would have been a key player last year if not for the injuries. Her addition to the lineup gives Coyne a solid group on defense.
Owen had a strong fall and preseason and will have an impact on this year's squad. A versatile player, she could also see duty at midfield. She gives the Irish another quick player with a strong transition game.
Kristin Gaudreau (Jr., Annapolis, Md.) moves from attack to defense and has played herself into a possible starting role. She has confidence in her all-around game and the coaching staff has confidence in her when she's on the field.
A solid all-around defender, sophomore Jess Mikula (Chester, Md.) is a gifted athlete and a top-notch one-on-one defender who brings tremendous speed to the defense and will see playing time.
Two freshmen, Kerry Van Shura (Bel Air, Md.) and Lena Zentgraf (Charlottesville, Va.), have impressed the coaching staff in the fall and preseason workouts and should battle for playing time.
Lindsay Shaffer (So. Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and Meghan deMello (Fr., Manlius, N.Y.) round out the defensive corps for Coyne's 2003 squad.
Three freshmen, Anne Barthelme (Lutherville, Md.), Katie Killeen (Manhassett, N.Y.) and Molly Miner (Englewood, Colo.) missed most of the fall and preseason due to injuries and will use the 2003 season to recover and improve their lacrosse skills.
"We lost three players who started every game for four years on defense. We have a strong returning group of players who have waited a long time for their chance. They've worked hard and are excited about the season to come," says Coyne.
"The strength of our defense lies in Jen White. She gives everyone confidence because she comes up with the big save."
At midfield, the Irish are strong and deep despite the graduation of top scorers, Natalie Loftus (27-13-40) and Alissa Moser (29-6-35).
They return a veteran group of players led Shearer who will serve as one of the team's co-captains this season.
The BIG EAST midfielder of the year as a junior, Shearer led the team in scoring in 2002 as she comes off a 39-goal, 20-assist season. She was a second-team all-American, joining Lam as the first two women's lacrosse all-Americans in school history.
Joining Shearer at midfield will be seniors Anne Riley (Marblehead, Mass.) and Eleanor Weille (Garden City, N.J.) along with junior Meredith Simon (Flemington, N.J.) and freshman Crysti Foote (Suffern, N.Y.).
Riley and Weille have seen duty as starters throughout their careers. Riley is a veteran leader who brings outstanding speed to the midfield. She had eight goals and two assists for 10 points last season.
Weille has shown the ability to be a clutch, all-around player in the past three seasons. She's a vocal leader on the field who looks to win every ground ball and draw control. As a junior she chipped in eight goals and nine assists for 17 points.
Simon had a breakout season in 2002 as she finished fourth on the team in scoring with 28 goals and six assists for 34 points. She comes to play every game with an intense desire to win. The junior will be counted on this season to be one of the team's key contributors.
Foote is a freshman that Coyne and her staff expect big things from. A high school goal scoring machine, Foote has phenomenal stick skills, outstanding quickness and is a creative playmaker. The Irish expect big things from her as a rookie.
Notre Dame has excellent depth at midfield with several players in the battle for top reserve spots.
Junior Mia Novic (Murrysville, Pa.), sophomore Lisa Lombardi (Milton, Mass.) and freshman Brittany Fox (Annapolis, Md.) have all shown strong improvement since the fall and should be in the mix as the season begins.
Novic played her way into contention for playing time after a strong fall and preseason. She hasn't played much in her first two seasons as she continues to learn the game.
Lombardi gives the Irish outstanding size and quickness off the bench and gives the Irish versatility as she can play at midfield or attack. She continues to improve all aspects of her game and should break into the regular rotation during the season.
Fox joins the Irish after a standout career at St. Mary's High School in Annapolis, Md., and brings enthusiasm to the lineup. A very competitive player, she continues to improve as she adapts to the college game.
On attack, the Irish will look to improve their offensive output from last season.
The top returnees up front for Notre Dame are senior Angela Dixon (Pennsauken, N.J.) and junior Lauren Fischer (Pittsburgh, Pa).
Dixon scored just two goals last season off the bench, but had a 17-goal campaign as a freshman. One of the hardest workers on the team, Dixon gives the Irish a solid, veteran player on the front line. She is outstanding at finding the openings in the opponents defense and knows her role. She will be the leader when it comes to setting up the offense in the attack zone.
Fischer took over as a starter as a sophomore last season and showed a nice scoring touch around the goal. She was fifth on the team in scoring with 17 goals and two assists for 19 points. Her all-around game continues to improve as she develops confidence in her skills.
Another possibility for the Irish on attack is to move Shearer from midfield to this spot to take advantage of her creativity and goal-scoring talent. That would also open a spot for one of the other midfielders should they show continued improvement.
Two freshmen have shown that they know how to light up the scoreboard in the preseason and could play their way into regular roles at attack.
Mary McGrath (Bryn Mawr, Pa.) and Corey Samperton (Bethesda, Md.) have impressed the coaches with their ability to find the open shooter around the goal.
McGrath has outstanding stick skills with a good shot and should make an immediate impact on the Irish offense. She has shown that she is just as good at setting up her teammates as she is at putting the ball in the net.
Samperton sees the entire field and the way the play is developing around her. An unselfish player, she knows how to find the open player and has all the tools to be a top collegiate player at attack.
Sophomore Jackie Bowers (Springfield, Pa.) and freshman Morgan Molinari (Manhasset, N.Y.) are also in the mix up front and should see playing time during the season.
Bowers did not see playing time as a freshman, but was a gifted scorer during her high school career. She owns a variety of shots and continues to improve her game.
Molinari missed the fall due to an ankle injury and needs playing time to get into the lineup. A top scoring threat in high school, she gives the Irish depth at attack.
"We are excited to get the season started," says Coyne.
"We have a good mix of veterans and younger players who are developing a strong team chemistry as we get closer to the start of the season. This team has a lot of players who have waited for their chance to play. They are chomping at the bit to show everyone that they can play too accomplish what last year's team did."
The Irish face a challenging schedule in 2003 as they seven of their 16 games versus teams that are ranked in the preseason. That list includes Duke (#2), Georgetown (#4), Vanderbilt (#8), Cornell (#9), Ohio State (#11), Yale (#13) and Syracuse (#14).
After playing seven of their first eight games on the road, Notre Dame closes the season with six of its last eight at home.
"I like our schedule this season. It's very challenging and should be a good test for this team," says Coyne.
"The BIG EAST continues to improve. Georgetown is the team to beat and Syracuse is always strong. Connecticut and Virginia Tech have up-and-coming programs and Boston College and Rutgers continue to get better."
She added, "We can't live on what we did last year. This is a new year and we'd like to take it one step further. That's the challenge this group of players has in front of it."