Fresh off the Cornell women’s lacrosse team’s first NCAA trip since 2006, the women look to keep the momentum rolling as the 2017 campaign kicks off at Villanova this Saturday at 3 p.m.
Last season was one for the record books. With a 14-5 record, the Red hosted the first and second round matchups of the NCAA tournament, but following a 7-6 loss to UMass in the second round, the Red’s magical season came to a brisk end.
The team did not take the offseason as a break from the sport. Cornell played in tournaments against Division I competition and had the annual alumni game in September. As fall moved along and new players were added to the team, there were many tournaments that acclimated the new class to playing lacrosse at the collegiate level.
With any new season and new wave of talent, a big focus is always creating team chemistry and cohesion. Head coach Jenny Graap ’86 tried to accomplish that with off-the-field work, such as community service and charitable fundraisers.
“The offseason was about team building and leadership development for all of our squad,” Graap said
The team had to work hard this offseason to start their journey of achieving bigger goals than last season. Once the chemistry was built, getting into shape followed.
“This offseason our team worked with our strength and conditioning coach, Erika [Rogan], to make sure we were hitting weights and in good lacrosse shape,” said senior co-captain Catie Smith. “Erika is awesome and is always making sure that we are pushing ourselves in the offseason to make sure we are ready the second the season rolls around.”
Seven new freshmen were added to the team this offseason, following an eight-member now-sophomore class. New additions include midfielders Caroline Allen, Taylor Lis and Lucy Pedlow, goalkeeper Katie McGahan, defender Mary Kate Bonanni, attacker Isabel Zachara and utility player Alex Monello.
After losing a handful of seniors last season, the team looks to their young players to step up and stand out from the get-go.
“All seven freshmen are doing well and seem to be adjusting nicely to Cornell and to our Big Red lacrosse program,” Graap said.
“Our freshmen are awesome,” Smith added.
Even with the influx of new talent, the Red also welcomes back five of its top seven scorers from last season. Junior attack/midfielder Amie Dickson and classmate Taylor Reed combined for 70 points last season, and are sure to be key players in the 2017 campaign yet again.
There are also new three co-captains this season, all of whom hail from different spots on the field. Forward Catherine Ellis, midfielder Kristen Gilbert and the defenseman Smith will lead the Red in the quest for another NCAA-bound season.
“I think it’s a huge privilege [to be a captain of this team],” Gilbert said.” When I think about it, I think about the captains who came before me, and those are all people that I looked up to. So, to get this nod last year when I found out that my teammates voted me in, it was a great honor.”
Two new faces will join the coaching staff this year, after the additions of assistant coaches Bill Olin and Margaret Corzel were announced in August. The team looks to utilize the knowledge of these newcomers to strengthen its performance on and off the field.
“Both Olin and Corzel have been terrific additions to our staff [and] bring tremendous passion and knowledge to our program,” Graap said.
Although the Red had great success last season, it wasn’t enough for their liking. The team is always looking for how it can improve, but does not want to occupy itself with the past.
“I do think it’s important to stress that last year is over, and we begin anew starting this coming Saturday at Villanova,” Graap said.
“I think we were very successful last year winning the [Ivy] tournament, but this year we want to win the regular season as well as the [Ivy] tournament,” Ellis said. “We aren’t satisfied with just one.”
The Red looks to work even harder than last year to achieve redemption in the NCAA tournament. Cornell set many goals at the end of last season and is going to work towards achieving them. In addition to new coaches, players and captains, there is also a new component to the game the team must adjust to: the shot-clock.
“The big [addition] this season is the shot clock,” Gilbert said. “We get 90 seconds every possession as does the other team, so I think that’s going to be a big challenge and a big adjustment to the rules this year, and it will definitely affect the way we will play.”
Going into the game on Saturday against Villanova, the Red looks to start the season on a high note. Villanova ended last season with a 4-13 record, which gives the Red an advantage on paper.
Last season the Red came out on top of Villanova, winning 7-6 in the first regular season game. Cornell was up 4-1 at the end of the first half, and staved off a Villanova comeback to begin the season.
“Our goal for Villanova, especially because it’s the first game, is to play well in all three phases: offense, defense and midfield,” Gilbert said. “[The second is] to get the younger players who haven’t seen significant time in games to relax and calm their nerves. But the end goal is to win the game.”
“We need to take all that we’ve learned in the past few weeks and put all of that knowledge into the game,” Ellis added.
Just like any year, it’s going to be a tough season, but there are clear signs that the Red has hustled and worked hard during the offseason. This season Cornell is looking to have more heart than Villanova and any other team it plays, which the team hopes will lead to yet another deep run.