W&L Women's Lacrosse Season Preview

W&L Women's Lacrosse Season Preview

After seeing a string of six-consecutive conference titles snapped by Roanoke in last season’s Old Dominion Athletic Conference Championship, Washington and Lee Head Women’s Lacrosse Coach Brooke Diamond believes her team is focused on climbing back atop the conference in 2010.

“There is a renewed urgency and drive going into this season,” offered Diamond. “We were obviously disappointed by how last season ended, but it has brought in an unyielding desire to get back to the top. Our team has recommitted itself to winning the ODAC – not just simply saying those words, but actually taking key actions throughout the fall and the off-season that will help us make our goals a reality.”

If bringing the ODAC hardware back to Lexington and advancing to the NCAA Tournament are part of Diamond’s end goals, then her team will have to endure a tough schedule throughout the season that will have the Generals battle-tested by the time the conference tournament begins.

The 19th-ranked Generals will face six teams ranked in the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) Preseason Division III poll during the regular season, including 2009 national champions and top-ranked Franklin & Marshall and 2009 national runner-up and second-ranked Salisbury. W&L will also face No. 8 Catholic University, No. 9 Union, No. 13 Cortland and 17th-ranked Roanoke. Additionally, the Generals’ packed non-conference schedule includes perennial NCAA tournament participants St. Mary’s (MD), Mary Washington and Christopher Newport University.

“The ODAC is looking stronger than ever this season,” said Diamond. “Playing a tough non-conference schedule early-on will test our team, but it will also help prepare us for conference play and beyond.”

Individual development and team chemistry will be paramount to the Generals’ success as well, and Diamond will rely heavily on her upperclassmen to steady the ship while a bevy of youthful talent adjusts. Senior captains Julia Gotwald (Alexandria, Va./St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes) and Laura Cavanaugh (Pylesville, Md./North Harford), along with junior captain Emmy Mathews (Baltimore, Md./Bryn Mawr) will be the stabilizing force for the 2010 squad.

A defender, Gotwald has played in 49 games over her first three seasons, including 17 starts last season when she collected 25 ground balls and caused 11 turnovers.  

“Julia has been a consistent defensive force for us over the last three years,” noted Diamond. “Her experience and talent will help us tame the many talented attacking units that we will face this season. Julia will likely be asked to take on the toughest defensive assignments each time we take the field.”

Cavanaugh returned from an injury that cost her all of her sophomore season to start 18 games as a defender last season.  She notched 25 ground balls and caused six turnovers as W&L ranked fourth in Division III in scoring defense, allowing an average of just 7.56 goals per game.

“We expect Cav to be the rock of our defense again this season,” said Diamond. “Her defensive IQ is high and her stick skills out of the back are strong. Her talent and consistency will once again be key to our team’s defensive performance.”

Mathews has started all 38 games in the midfield over the past two seasons and has totaled 82 points during that time, including a team-leading 48 points (40 g, 8 a) last year.  For her efforts, Mathews received First Team All-ODAC and IWLCA All-Region honors.

“Emmy is a relentless competitor,” remarked Diamond. “As a true two-way midfielder, she has the ability to make key plays for us on both ends of the field and we will depend on her to do that for us this season.”

Despite losing two-time All-American Kelsi Robinson, two-time All-ODAC honoree Colleen Evans and Honorable Mention All-ODAC honoree Katie Flippen from last season’s potent offense that averaged 13.6 goals per game, Diamond will have a wealth of options starting with the returnees at attack.

Seniors Britten Mathews and Meredith Freeman both provide talent and experience at the position.  Mathews has played in 54 games over the past three seasons, including 35 starts across her sophomore and junior seasons.  She has tallied 138 career points (90 g, 48 a) and is a two-time First Team All-ODAC and IWLCA All-Region selection.

“Britten is a crafty and smart player with great skills, and we will definitely be leaning on her to find the net and score points again this season.” said Diamond.

Freeman was an Honorable Mention All-ODAC honoree in 2009 after starting 17 games and notching 39 points on 30 goals and nine assists.  She has played in 48 career games and carries 77 career points (60 g, 17 a) into her final campaign.

“Meredith had a break-out season for us last year,” said Diamond of Freeman. “We will be looking for her to once again use her athleticism to not only spark our attack by scoring goals, but to create havoc for our opponents within our re-defend.”

Mathews and Freeman will have plenty of help in the offensive third as Diamond expects juniors Wilton Megargel (Charlottesville, Va./St. Anne’s-Belfield), Kate Speare (Wallingford, Pa./Strath Haven) and Ellie Van Sant (Chevy Chase, Md./The Taft School) and sophomores Maddie McKaig (Annapolis, Md./Annapolis) and Alli Shearin (Essex Fells, N.J./West Essex Regional) to see plenty of playing time upfront. First-years Elizabeth Bucklee (Princeton, N.J./Stuart Country Day School) and Mary Jennings Van Sant (Chevy Chase, Md./The Taft School) will also challenge for time in the unit as they have impressed the coaching staff with their development throughout the pre-season.

Megargel played in 17 games with 11 starts and finished the year with 20 points (19 g, 1 a).  Speare played in 16 games last season and totaled eight goals and six assists.  Van Sant played in all 18 games and posted seven goals and two assists, while McKaig played in just 13 games due to injury, but still registered 14 goals and seven assists.  Shearin played in eight games and had nine goals and two helpers.

“Our attack is definitely where our depth lies this season,” noted Diamond. “We are excited about having such a talented and well-balanced attacking unit as we believe a multi-faceted attack will be difficult for our opponents to solve.”

Diamond is excited by the prospect of her skilled and athletic starting midfield unit in Emmy Mathews, junior Kate Donnelly (Houston, Texas/St. John’s School) and sophomore Christina Benedetti (Derwood, Md./Academy of the Holy Cross).  Sophomores Lauren Acker (Bloomfield Hills, Mich./Seaholm) and Alexis Harrison (Rumson, N.J./Rumson-Fairhaven), and first-year Ashley Barnes (Annapolis, Md./St. Mary’s) will also compete to provide much-needed minutes in the midfield.   

Donnelly has seen action in 36 games over her first two seasons and she started six contests last year when she totaled 10 goals and five assists.  Benedetti played in 15 games with five starts during her rookie campaign, registering seven goals and 15 ground balls, while causing 12 turnovers.  Acker played in 13 games and Harrison played in five games and logged six points (3 g, 3 a).

“Our midfielders are smart, skilled, athletic competitors who play with heart and never quit,” offered Diamond. “We look forward to seeing the major impact that they will have on each game this season.”

While the attack and midfield both have depth, the defense is the unit that returns the most experience.  Junior Kathy Brown (Baltimore, Md./Catonsville) joins Cavanaugh and Gotwald as a returning starter in the defensive third.  Brown started all 18 games in 2009 and led the team in both ground balls (45) and caused turnovers (24).

“Kathy is very quick, athletic and has great instincts on the field,” said Diamond. “We will look for her to build on her success from last season as we continue to solidify our defensive unit.”

Sophomore Emily Ackerman (Malvern, Pa./Conestoga), who played in seven games a year ago, and first-year Caroline Kingsbery (Short Hills, N.J./Kent Place) will also look to make solid contributions to the defensive unit.

“Both Emily and Caroline will compete for significant playing time in the backfield,” commented Diamond. “They are smart, disciplined players and will make an impact on the defense.”

Behind the defense, junior Katharine Farrar (Lexington, Va./Episcopal), sophomore Jennifer Linder (Moorestown, N.J./Moorestown) and first-year Alex Hamill (Darien, Conn./Darien) will all compete for playing time.  Farrar has a leg up in the early season after starting 15 games last season and posting a 12-4 record.  She notched a .511 save percentage and ranked 10th among Division III goalkeepers with an 8.44 goals-against average.

“Katharine gained a lot of experience in net last year,” said Diamond. “She had some extremely strong performances for us [last season] and we expect her to continue to grow in her consistency this year. She has played herself into the starting role this pre-season and is showing a new level of confidence and maturity in net that all great goalkeepers possess. We are excited to see what she will do while leading from the back this spring.”

Linder will start the season recovering from injury, but Diamond expects her to be ready later in the spring. Last season, Linder saw action in 12 games (3 starts) and notched a 5.26 goals-against average and a .576 save percentage.

“Goalkeeping is such a key piece to any team’s success,” Diamond noted. “We are extremely fortunate to have three very capable goalkeepers on our team – it is definitely a source of strength for our squad.”

While the on-field successes have been important accomplishments for Diamond, she is also proud of the well-rounded experience that the program provides for her players.

Last season, Washington and Lee was named a Merit Squad in the IWLCA Division III Academic Squad list after finishing with the third highest team grade point average (GPA) among the 62 institutions receiving the honor. The Generals finished the academic year with a 3.438 team GPA , trailing only Vassar and the College of Notre Dame in the standings.

“We always look to be the best at everything we do,” remarked Diamond. “I believe that this attitude not only provides our student-athletes with a quality collegiate experience, but also the understanding that hard-work truly pays dividends. Such lessons are what help lead our graduates into such successful post-collegiate lives.”

And while Diamond believes she has built another championship-contending team, she knows it won’t be easy to claim the program’s 11th overall ODAC championship.

“Bottom line is that we want to be at the top of the ODAC [again],” stated Diamond. “And while we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, everything we do this season is intended to do one thing - to prepare us to bring the ODAC title back to Lexington.”