With fall break beginning and five Harvard athletic teams arriving for weekend competition in Ithaca, it is understandable that many Cornellians do not know about the women’s lacrosse exhibition game against Penn State tomorrow at 1:30 p.m on Alumni Field. While the contest is a tune-up for the spring season, tomorrow’s game may be one of the Red’s most important. Coming off its second ECAC championship in four years, the Red looks to replace its six graduating seniors from last year.
“It’s always tough to replace senior leadership,” said head coach Jenny Graap ’86. “Women that dedicate four years to their sport at Cornell, by the time they reach their senior year, they’re really just so valuable to the program.”
The Red’s biggest loss is Sarah Averson ’03. She led the team in goals with 47 last season, earning first team All-America honors — only the third women’s lacrosse player to do so at Cornell.
“Averson got some tremendous accolades during her career,” said Graap, “and was arguably one of the best players to come through the Cornell program.”
The Red recruited 13 players to help fill the gaps created by having an older team. The team, however, looks towards its rising upperclassmen to make up for the departing seniors.
“Numerically, you replace them with freshman,” said Graap, “but you can’t really replace a lot of that leadership and knowledge that they accumulate over their career.”
Three players that are hoping to step up into leadership positions are juniors Lindsay Steinberg, Annie Berkery, and Julia Hughey. Steinberg was second on the team in goals last season with 36, and she looks to add to her status as an offensive power in the absence of Averson. Berkery returns as the Red’s only defensive starter. As a junior, she will be relied on to lead the defensive unit. Hughey is coming off a season where she started in the midfield, after seeing little playing time as a freshman.
“Julia Hughey looks outstanding,” said Graap. “She looks like she is ready to make a jump as far as making an impact on a national level. She’s tremendously fit and playing with a lot of confidence in the midfield.”
According to Ivy League rules, teams are not allowed to have to have additional dates of competition beyond the traditional schedule. The Red will actually play one less game in the spring in order to accommodate its fall exhibition. Its opponent, Penn State, is not subject to Ivy League regulations and has already played in a tournament this fall.
“I expect Penn State to come out at the beginning of the game and be a little more cohesive,” said Graap. “Our objective is really to watch our own squad, to really pay attention to the details of the game, not so much as to always worry about the score.”
The Red was ranked No. 12 in the nation last year, a notch higher than Penn State, with an 11-5 overall record. The team finished fourth in the Ivy League (4-3) behind a three-way tie for first place between Princeton, Dartmouth, and Yale. While the women’s lacrosse team, like every other team at Cornell, aspires to win the Ivy League, it also hopes for success on the national scale with a berth into the NCAA tournament.
“In women’s lacrosse, different than a lot of sports here at Cornell, the Ivy League is a dominant league in the nation,” said Graap. “To say you are going to win the Ivy, you might as well say you are going to win the national championship.”
The Red’s regular season begins Feb. 28 at Georgetown, a rematch of the 2002 NCAA semifinal game won by Georgetown in overtime, 12-10. While the contest should be a heated battle, the team is not worrying about it at the moment.
“Right now we’re concentrating on our goals in the fall,” said Graap, “which is to really get the freshmen acclimated to the program and to work on our team chemistry and getting everyone into a cohesive unit.”
Archived article by Dan Carroll