After falling to Springfield College in the final moments of the 2012 New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) semifinals last season, the goal is simple for the Wheaton College women's lacrosse team this spring – to advance to the conference title game for the first time since 2006.
"We felt like we were right there competing with Springfield and Babson all season long. Having lost to Springfield by a goal in the semifinals was a hard pill to swallow but to see them win the NEWMAC championship comfortably, to me, the conference title was decided in our game," said fifth-year head coach Emily Kiablick. "Our game against Springfield came down to the last moments and as heartbreaking as it was, since I have been here, we have never come that close to something like that so it gave us a lot of confidence."
The Lyons finished their 2012 season with a 14-6 record overall and a 4-2 mark in NEWMAC play. Wheaton won the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) championship for the first time in its 35-year program history. The Lyons defeated Framingham State, 20-6, in the semifinals and Smith College, 20-5, in the championship round.
"To even have a discussion to put in a bid for ECAC's you are talking about possibly losing in the NEWMAC Tournament. The decision to compete in ECAC's was for our seniors who had given so much to this program," said Kiablick. "We got the number one seed and got to host the ECAC Championships and in a year when we only had four home games it was great to send them out with a few more games at home and win the championship."
Sophomore Katy Ananian (Belmont, Mass./Belmont) will open up the 2013 season as the starter for the Lyons. Senior Stephanie Hoomis(Duxbury, Mass./Duxbury) will technically serve as the backup goalkeeper to begin the year but nothing is solidified once Wheaton takes the field.
"Last year, Katy pulled ahead as the more consistent starter midway through the season, but both goalies are close in their level of play. Their styles are very different and it is nice to know that we can mix up the other team by having two completely different styles in net," said Kiablick. "While Katy proved to be the starting goalie last season there is nothing solidified. If our goalies are giving up three or four goals without a save I will make a substitution and I do that more than other coaches will."
Ananian went 13-5-0 in 17 starts (20 games played) last spring with a 44.4 save percentage, a 9.62 goals against average (GAA) and 126 total saves. Hoomis posted a 1-1-0 record in 12 games played (one start) had 14 saves, a 25.5 save percentage and an 11.09 GAA.
"Knowing we have quality depth at this position is very comforting," said Kiablick. "I am happy they have one more year to play together. Stephanie can impact Katie so much on and off the field and show her the way throughout the season."
Wheaton's defensive unit will feature seniors Elizabeth Hickey (Weymouth, Mass./Weymouth) and Caitlin Nygren (Harvard, Mass./Bromfield School), juniors Devon Soucier (Avon, Conn./Northwest Catholic) and Anya Sokolova (Andover, Mass./Andover), sophomore Anna Viragh (Columbus, Ohio/Wellington School) and freshmen Katherine Kowal (Ossining, N.Y./Choate Rosemary Hall) andMia Cambi (Longmeadow, Mass./Longmeadow).
During their 2011-12 season, the Lyons stepped outside of their comfort zone, defensively, increasing their pressure on stick-handlers to cause more turnovers. The philosophy paid dividends as Wheaton posted a plus-50 differential (163-113) in caused turnovers from 2010-11 to 2011-12. The Lyons will use that same approach coming into this spring with an added layer of defensive intensity.
"We will try to do the same thing this season with our defense as we want to try and disrupt what the other team is doing on attack," said Kiablick. "Both of our goalkeepers are also comfortable outside of the crease and will act as an eighth defender which will increase our defensive play and give our defenders more space to work with to try and cause more turnovers."
Hickey, who was slotted to play as a midfielder this season, has been moved back to a defensive role to provide leadership and direction to the defense. Kiablick said of Hickey, "When we are making mistakes and giving up goals, she will be someone who will bring the defense together with a direct and decisive message without disrupting our momentum. She will also help our transition offense since she can make long passes down the field."
Viragh will also aid Hickey in providing leadership and cohesiveness to the defense. Soucier will act as the anchor of the defensive unit providing much needed consistency throughout the group.
"Devon will be playing more defensively because of what we ask her to do in that position is so challenging and high pressured," said Kiablick. "She is the anchor of our defense so even when it is a one-sided game and we use our bench, Devon will be out there to maintain consistency and keep everyone connected on the defensive side of the ball."
Soucier led the NEWMAC in caused turnovers with 41 a season ago and ranked 39th overall, nationally, among all NCAA Division III student-athletes in caused turnovers per game averaging 2.05 a contest. Wheaton finished third overall in the conference in caused turnovers. The Lyons also ranked first overall in total clears (243) in the NEWMAC and 48th overall among all NCAA Division III programs in scoring defense allowing 9.95 goals per game.
Kiablick's plan is to utilize two lines of midfielders this season because of the amount of depth Wheaton has at the position. With seven players listed at the position, the Lyons hope to have the same intensity level from all their midfielders in transition from the start of the season until the end of the year.
"Everyone is really close right now, not everyone is on the same level but if we can utilize them all this season we can certainly get them there," said Kiablick. "Early on during the season we will take advantage of our depth at this position because the expectation is that there transition game is at a sprint at all times and if we only use three midfielders they can't sprint for 60-straight minutes. By using two lines of midfielders throughout a game our intensity level will be much higher."
Kristen Palmer (East Dorset, Vt./Burr and Burton Academy) is the lone senior on the midfield depth chart. Last season, Palmer recorded 19 points on 16 goals and three assists. Palmer also tallied 35 groundballs, 50 draw controls and 11 caused turnovers in 13 games played (12 starts).
"Kristen is the best athlete we have when it comes to transition," said Kiablick. "She quickly reacts to caused turnovers asking for the ball over her shoulder and if the opposing goalie makes a save she is immediately back in position at midfield in no time."
Junior Hailey Bright (Cumberland, Maine/North Yarmouth Academy) recorded five points (all assists), 17 groundballs, six draw controls and ten caused turnovers in 20 games played last season including 18 starts. "Bright looks really good defensively so far in preseason. She has a ton of presence in the back for us and is the most versatile defender we have," said Kiablick. "She is great in transition and is really great off of the draw. Offensively, she has all the skills but she needs to gain composure and understand the tempo of our offense. She will be able to produce in a lot of ways including driving, feeding and shooting once she gets up to speed with our tempo on offense."
Classmate Hannah Whitley (Bow, N.H./Bow) had 19 groundballs and 11 caused turnovers in 18 games played (11 starts) last spring. Whitley will be looked upon to play in the midfield and on defense for the Lyons this season.
"Hannah is a solid player who makes really good decisions all the time, that is why she will be used in both places this year," said Kiablick. "We don't really need her to produce offensively but she sets a great tempo and is capable of doing anything offensively while still getting back in the midfield. When we put in a new line of midfielders she can always drop back defensively."
Sophomores Kelsey O'Brien (Reading, Vt./Westminster School), Melanie Sharick (Amherst, Mass./Amherst) and Kelsie Jenquine(Brunswick, Maine/Brunswick) and freshman Madison Cohen (East Lyme, Conn./East Lyme) will start off the season all receiving ample playing time.
Despite losing 49-percent of its scoring to graduation including 127 points (86g-41a-127p) from CoSIDA Capital One Academic Al-AmericanHailey Colburn '12 (Concord, N.H./Concord), the Lyons do not expect a fall off offensively this season.
"There will be a completely different way of scoring for us this season," said Kiablick. "Chemistry for us on attack is more important than it has ever been since anyone will be able to score and a large percentage of our offense can feed. Our goal is to have a freelance attack where it doesn't have to be scripted. We will be harder to scout if our offense is natural, going through several players, and not run through set plays."
Junior Charlotte DeSantis (Darien, Conn./Cushing Academy) returns as the Lyons top leading scorer from last season. DeSantis compiled 50 goals and 15 assists for 65 points in 18 games played (15 starts) and a 76.1 shots-on-goal percentage.
"Charlotte is just a different player this year," said Kiablick. "She has been working tirelessly to become a more diverse player. She can do everything on offense – set picks, cut, drive and feed. Charlotte is taking a lot of ownership of the team and the attack this year. You can really see a leadership role developing with her."
Senior Amy Moreira (Bristol, R.I./Mount Hope), who now has one year of playing attack under her belt after switching to offense from defense last season, will be looked upon to continue to aid the offense this spring. In 2012, Moreira registered 40 points on 25 goals and 15 assists in 20 starts. Moreira also picked up seven ground balls, collected 334 draw controls and caused four turnovers.
"Last year she improved immensely at the attack position," said Kiablick. "She won the ECAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player award last season which was a culmination of her progression from transitioning to the position. Amy is a strong leader who leads by example every day. You just get a consistent effort from her all the time and she also has the hardest shot on the team."
In the ECAC Tournament last season, Moreira scored six goals and won five draw controls in the championship game against Smith College. Moreira also compiled two goals, two assists and four draw controls in the ECAC semifinal round versus Framingham State University for a two-game total of eight goals, two assists and nine draw controls.
Junior Leila Mills (Brunswick, Maine/Brunswick) contributed 39 points to the Lyons offense last season scoring 28 goals and dishing out 11 assists in 20 games played (19 starts). "Leila is one of the smartest players on the team and she knows exactly what I want out of our attack," said Kiablick. "Leila will do what we need her to do to win the game. As a junior, she has been called upon to be a lead and has stepped into that role well."
Freshman Jenna Tewksbury (Concord, Mass./Concord) could be an high impact player for the Lyons. "Jenna will be on the circle and take the draw sometimes for us as well," said Kiablick. "She is similar to Charlotte because she could really be a high impact player. She can feed with her right and left and is very good at driving."
Classmates Brooke Sabol (Landgrove, Vt./Burr and Burton Academy) and Allie Bush (Kennebunk, Maine/Kennebunk) will receive a lot of playing time in the early part of the season. Sabol has recently been moved to attack but may be called upon to play multiple roles for the team throughout the season. "We just recently made the decision to try her at attack because we felt we really needed more depth at the position," said Kiablick. "Brooke is an all-around solid player and will definitely be one of those student-athletes who plays three different positions before she graduates."
Freshman Anna Carando (Easthampton, Mass./Williston Northampton) and Ava Myette (Brattleboro, Vt./Brattleboro) and junior Taylor Roy (Mill Valley, Calif./Brewster Academy) will provide depth at the attack position.
Schedule / Outlook
The Lyons open up their season against Salve Regina on March 2 at 1:00 p.m. on the road. Wheaton travels to Roger Williams on March 5 at 4:00 p.m. for its second game of the year before the Lyons head south for their annual spring break trip to Florida on March 12-15.
"I am really happy with our schedule in Florida. Stevens and Washington College were both ranked one or two spots ahead of Babson last year so I really wanted to play them to give us a really good test," said Kiablick. "Skidmore is a really good team as well. What will be most challenging about them is that we will have less than 24 hours to turn around and play our third game that week so it will be a really good test for our team."
Wheaton's first home contest is scheduled for March 21 against Bridgewater State at 3:30 p.m. The Lyons will begin NEWMAC play on March 23 versus MIT, at home, at 1 p.m.