Feb. 19, 2010
STORRS, Conn. - Although for some squads a primarily underclassmen roster provides a challenge, head coach Angela McMahon believes it is a strength of the 2010 Connecticut lacrosse team. Energetic and willing to learn, the team's youth favors the new mentality of UConn for the upcoming season. Striving to continue rebuilding a program that has struggled over the past several seasons, the advantage of new faces extends far beyond the sideline as McMahon enters her second season alongside assistant Melynda Zwick. Caitlin Jackson joins the team as an assistant for her first season with the Huskies a year after graduating from Northwestern, where she played four years of lacrosse with the four-time National Championship squad.
Despite the youth of the group, a pair of sophomores bring a wealth of experience with just a single collegiate season behind them in Kiersten Tupper and M.E. Lapham. Both found their transition to college lacrosse arguably seamless and will be depended upon to continue to lead the Huskies' attack.
"Lapham is most definitely playing more confident then she was as a freshman after a great freshman year," McMahon said. "She will probably be our biggest scoring threat and has been working well with Tupper who has been looking to set her up a lot."
Tupper finished the 2009 season with a team-best 29 assists, good enough for second on the Connecticut All-Time Single-Season list. Lapham finished her rookie season with 30 goals. McMahon believes their connection on the field has improved.
The sophomore class is arguably the strongest of the four and has been instrumental in the effective transition of 16 newcomers to the UConn roster this season. The invaluable on and off the field leadership of the crop of 15 returners helped meld the two large groups into what will be a unified crop of eager lacrosse players come this spring. McMahon hopes the enthusiasm of the freshman class is contagious especially as the group makes up almost half of the 2010 roster.
"They bring huge energy, every single day to practice and off the field they are so enthusiastic and excited to play lacrosse for UConn," McMahon said. "In recruiting them, our priority was to bring dynamic, fast athletes that could help bring our style of play up in terms of speed in the game."
The freshman class can often be found playing lacrosse outside of practice whenever they can and are certainly eager to get things started in February. In addition to the obvious enthusiasm of the class, there is an incredible amount of talent among the freshmen, as most have graduated as Academic All-Americans.
"It shows that we are raising the bar on the type of player that we are bringing to Connecticut," McMahon said. "We worked on building relationships in the recruiting process and Coach [Melynda] Zwick and I did our best to bring the best players we could possible get for our freshmen. I think we did just that."
Mitchelides will continue to help Tupper run the attack behind the net and looking to hit cutters through the eight. Her role will primarily be in an assisting role as a senior.
Together, they are three of the top seven returning scorers as Tupper led the way as a rookie a season ago with 51 points. Devaney and Mitchelides both contributed a season ago, though they will need to increase their impact to fill in the gaps left due to graduation.
Jillian Cerar will translate a terrific fall to an excellent spring season. McMahon looks for her to step up to have a standout junior season. Cerar will be a go-to player for the Huskies attack after displaying a knack for scoring this preseason.
"As the tallest player on the team, Devaney will be playing more of an attack role on the field as opposed to the midfield like she did last year," McMahon said. "She has really been working hard on the draws and also posting up in front of the net to utilize her height. I think Devaney will have a really good year and go out on a good note as a senior."
As far as the freshman class is concerned, McMahon believes what rookies Dorian Gilmartin-Dzitko and Chelsea Hauswirth have shown in the fall, and thus far in preseason, may earn them playing time as the season progresses.
With no starting lineup in mind, expect returnees Molly O'Brien, Stefanie Burra and Lauren Gunning to use their collegiate experience to fight for some playing time while freshman Shannon Kerr rounds out the options on attack for the Huskies this season.
Arguably the Huskies roster is deepest at the midfield position with the return of Lapham, who was the team's third-leading scorer a season ago combined with the anticipated return of redshirt junior Lauren Sparks. Sparks sat out the 2009 season due to injury and the coaching staff is eager for her leadership on the field this season as a team captain for the second-consecutive year.
After a concussion that forced her to miss the season, Sparks has looked amazing this fall according to McMahon with the speed and endurance necessary to hit the ground running this spring. Sparks fluid transition to playing shape has been a pleasant surprise for the coaching staff after being limited to what she could do during her season on the sidelines.
"She is really a leader on the field," McMahon said. "Sparks has the ability to lead without really saying anything."
Leaders on the field have not been that hard to come by for the Huskies despite the relative youth of the team. Sparks, as a two-year captain, will definitely make an impact on the midfield this year.
"Laura Eichert is by far one of the fittest players I have ever seen," McMahon said. "She is so athletic and fit. She competed in and finished second in a triathlon this summer."
Eichert's dedication to fitness has been contagious and McMahon sees that it has helped the entire team embrace the importance of strength and conditioning. She has been a tremendous leader in terms of fitness and definitely brings that to the field.
"Catherine Gross, Jordan Christopher and Morgan O'Reilly have all been working on draws, which would be huge for our team," McMahon said. "Mackenzie Rainone is a scrappy player on the circle for draws and groundballs."
McMahon expects the addition of Christopher and Gross to be immediate and recognizable this season. As freshmen, these two have the significant potential to be impact players.
Hailing from the west coast, where lacrosse is still new, Kacie Lewis and her passion for the sport is contagious.
"She brings such a passion, intensity and love for the sport that rubs off on our other players," McMahon said. "Lewis is making the most of her experience playing at UConn and is probably one of the hardest workers. She is one of those girls who is always outside playing."
That hard work and dedication could potentially get her some playing time this year.
"I think Jessica Mucci is going have a huge year on defense, I think she could be one of the best defenders in the league," McMahon said. "She has been doing a really good job of being a leader in the backfield."
Although one should expect Megan Lally to see significant playing time. Lally is a face guarding, shutdown player, who McMahon expects to be matched up with the oppositions strongest attacker.
"Stephanie Norton has really picked up her game and has improved so much in the last six months," McMahon said. "She will definitely compete for playing time on defense, which is awesome because she was a walk-on."
In addition to the increased level of play Norton brings to the field, her intangible of communication and leadership to the backfield is immeasurably important to a youthful group.
"Kaitlyn Aldrich and Kelsi Tucci have been doing a great job meshing with some of the upperclassmen that are returning on defense," McMahon said. "Aimee Capps has been working really hard and has the potential to see time."
Aldrich and Tucci are noteworthy players on the UConn defense and will make a noticeable impact to the backfield as rookies. They have stepped up their play in the preseason with the benefits of hard work that will pay off come this spring.
Colleen DeRonda, a transfer set to play her first season of collegiate lacrosse with the Huskies, brings a tremendous amount of passion to the game. McMahon feels she has adjusted well to the high-pressure style of play UConn is implementing and could certainly see playing time.
The last line of defense is still undecided with Jenna Moulton looking to start in the cage for her final season. Together with a pair of freshmen, Lauren Hayes and Brittney Testa, the trio will backstop the Husky defense this season. Moulton is undeniably the seasoned veteran among the goalies this season and she will depend upon experience to earn and maintain a starting spot.
"All three competing for the starting job and all had positive experiences in our fall scrimmages, everyone has really stepped up," McMahon said. "It will probably be a game time decision for a starter."
The environment created by a pair of rookie goalies has been beneficial for the Huskies, as both are battling each other and forcing each other to raise their level of play in anticipation for the start of their first spring season of lacrosse at the college level.
"I think everyone's attitude is really optimistic and positive; people might look at our record from last year and think that it was a bad year. If you are just looking at numbers, it wasn't the greatest. In terms of the transformation that our team went through, the improvements that we made, the amount of games that we were in that we lost by one goal. I think they started seeing that transformation and the hard work was paying off. Hard work will continue to be our motto going into 2010."