Courtesy of The Dartmouth
For the News’ Ivy League preview of the 2016 women’s lacrosse season, click here.
Thirty-one players, six returning starters, six incoming freshmen and three new coaches — including head coach Erica LaGrow — are set to embark on the Yale women’s lacrosse program’s 40th season.
In addition to the seven fellow Ancient Eight members on the schedule, the Bulldogs will also face eight non-league adversaries. This year, a third of those 15 opponents are teams currently ranked in the top 20, according to the most-recent IWLCA coaches poll. Throughout the 2016 campaign the Elis will encounter No. 8 Stony Brook, No. 9 Boston College, No. 12 Princeton, No. 14 Penn and No. 20 Albany. However, the competition against the ranked teams does not begin until the beginning of March.
“This is the last season I’ll have the opportunity to wear the Yale jersey, stand beside my teammates and compete against some of the top teams in the country,” captain and defender Kate Walker ’16 said. “We have every intention of winning more games than we have in the three previous seasons and we plan to make it to the Ivy League tournament. I’m looking forward to celebrating those moments with my team.”
The eight Ivy teams will compete to be one of the top four squads to move on to the Ivy League Tournament on May 8, an event first established in 2010, to battle for an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Yale has never appeared in the tournament. The last time that the Bulldogs finished in the top four in the league was in 2008 under head coach Laura Field who led the Elis to a 4–3 conference record.
Yale, which won conference championships in 1980 and 2003, is coming off a 7–8 season that included a 2–5 mark against league competition.
“I think the team has come a long way through the offseason,” attacker Keeneh Comizio ’18 said. “[We have been] improving and working hard for the season, and I am excited to see the results of all our hard work in the upcoming games.”
To be successful this season and ultimately earn a spot in the final Ivy tournament, however, Yale needs to compensate for some notable losses from the 2015 class, including a pair of second-team All-Ivy selections.
Four of the Bulldogs’ top five goal-scorers and top five assisters have since graduated. Additionally, goaltender and All-Ivy honorable mention selection Erin Mullins ’15 left her defensive circle after a career-best 45.2 save percentage, which was fifth best in the Ivy League.
Nevertheless, the Elis still have capable offensive weapons in attacker Tess McEvoy ’17, midfielder Maggie Pizzo ’18 and attacker Hope Hanley ’17, who totaled 23, 14 and 13 points respectively, who were all among the top seven Yale contributors. Attacker Nicole Daniggelis ’16 will look to return to form after an injury-plagued junior season, as she earned All-Ivy First Team honors as a freshman and sophomore. On the other side of the field, defender Victoria Moore ’17 is the lone returning 2015 all-conference selection, after earning a spot on the All-Ivy Second Team.
“As much as we will miss our graduates, we have a team full of talented players ready to take the field,” Walker said.
Beyond the players on the turf, Yale will also rely upon a new coaching staff. In the summer of 2015, three new coaches were hired after the departure of former head coach Anne Phillips.
LaGrow and two new assistants, Alyssa Murray and Sloane Serpe, are all members of the millennial generation, with LaGrow the most senior at 30-years-old. LaGrow enters her first official stint as a head coach for a collegiate team. From 2007 to 2012 LaGrow was a midfielder for the U.S. Women’s National Team, where she won gold in the Women’s World Cup. She also made four national quarterfinal appearances playing for the University of North Carolina and was named first team All-ACC in her senior season.
“We are so excited to start our first season with our new coaches,” attacker Kelly Anne Sherlock ’16 said. “Preseason has been awesome — we are really focusing on fundamentals and improving every aspect of our game. We are looking forward to big things this season.”
Murray and Serpe do not fall short of LaGrow’s accomplishments. At Syracuse, Murray appeared three times in the NCAA Tournament, and twice in the NCAA championship game, as a three-time first-team All-American attack who graduated eighth on the NCAA all-time career scoring list with 362 points. Serpe, who earned first team IWLCA All-American honors twice, helped her UNC team win an NCAA title in 2013. Both Murray and Serpe are currently on the U.S. Women’s National Team.
“I am thrilled to see what we can do this year because we have a new staff of very talented, experienced coaches who I think will make a huge impact on our game,” Comizio said.
According to Walker, the new coaches have an incredible lacrosse IQ, and because of that, they are able to give the Bulldogs a whole new insight into the sport.
Though 2016 will mark the coaches’ first chance at a successful season, for Walker and the seven other seniors, this year will be the last — something Walker has not forgotten heading into her final season.
“There isn’t a single moment that I’m not looking forward to,” Walker said. “I’m soaking up every minute.”
Yale hits the road for its season opener against Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on Sunday at 1 p.m.