The women’s lacrosse team enters the 2008 season coming off of last year’s campaign that saw the team play to a 5-10 record in defense of its 2006 Ivy League Championship. Led by coach Jenny Graap ’86, this year’s squad is looking for a return to glory and has set ambitious goals for itself.
“The players set goals about effort and intensity — kind of commitment type things,” Graap said. “We didn’t want to overlook any of the real foundation principles. They were careful to set goals that they should be focusing on every day, as well as goals for winning the Ivy League and advancing to the postseason.”
“We changed so much,” said senior midfielder Katherine Simmons. “I think our senior class really came together and figured that it was going to take a lot more work to prepare for each game than we were ready to put in last year.”
Graap notes that her team is very balanced, plays with tremendous intensity and works cohesively all over the field. It is this energy, teamwork and team camaraderie that Graap points to as some of the factors that separate this team from her squads in year’s past.
This year’s attack corps is anchored by a highly-vaunted trio of seniors: Courtney Farrell, the all-time Cornell leader in assists, and co-captains Noelle Dowd and Charlotte Schmidlapp. This group of seniors is not only looked to as the team’s offensive engine, but is also expected to provide strong and steadying leadership for the underclassmen on the team.
Senior defenseman Amanda Linnertz expects Dowd to really establish herself as a premier player this year with her intense effort in all aspects of the game.
“I think obviously Courtney is our most known player, but I think Noelle Dowd has really flown under the radar the past couple of years, and does really great things for our team,” Linnertz said. “I think she deserves, and will get, a lot more recognition this year for everything that she does in the attack, midfield and defensive end.”
The attack squad will receive some talented depth from freshmen Claire Poza and Libby Johnson, as well as sophomore Kathryn Dewey and junior Halsey Diakow.
The midfield unit is the key to the Red’s transition game, which the players often point to the team’s strongest area of play. The midfielders are led by Simmons, who Graap refers to as one of the top two-way midfielders in all of the NCAA.
“Katherine Simmons is a terrific competitor,” Graap said. “What she brings is energy and passion and enthusiasm. She’s a really, really sound two-way player so she’s important for us both on the offense and the defense. In combination with Noelle Dowd… They’re both doing an excellent job.”
“Our midfield is really deep,” Simmons said. “We have players from every single class and we decided at the beginning of the year that our midfield was going o be one of our strengths.”
Simmons is joined by a pair of sophomores, Lindsey Kane and Tissy O’Connor who will be given more active roles this season. Junior Jessica Wiegand rounds out the group, coming off of an impressive sophomore campaign. Graap sees Wiegand as a solid player on both ends of the field who has the capability to finish on offense as well as the intensity and aggressiveness to win ground balls.
Headlining the defensive unit is senior co-captain Ashleigh Smith, who Graap believes is one of the team’s fiercest competitors and most active contributors. Joining Smith on the defensive end is fellow senior Linnertz, an experienced player who is also capable of playing midfield. Linnertz has been a key contributor for Graap’s squad throughout her years at Cornell, and has seen steady improvement each season.
Juniors Kelly Hansen and Deirder Lafferty will be relied on to provide added tenacity for this year’s defensive unit, and are both effective in earning ground balls and causing turnovers.
Linnertz believes that strong teamwork and familiarity with one another will be key to the team’s success on defense and all over the field.
“I think that one of our biggest strengths is just how well we all get along both on and off the field,” Linnertz said. “We have played with each other for a while now so we know each other’s tendencies.”
Last year’s defense was a young unit, and assistant coach Laurie Tortorelli DeLuca believes that the extra year of experience will be key for this year’s backfield.
“There’s honestly a world of difference between last year and this year. Last year there were a lot of new faces in the backfield and this year we’ve solidified a core group and they’ve been playing extremely well together, just learning each others’ style of play and their strengths and weaknesses.”
Most of the minutes this year at the team’s last line of defense will be given to junior Renee Hughes, who has already received acclaim this season, being named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week for two dominating performances in wins over Hofstra and Columbia early this season.
Hughes started eight games last season for the Red and saw some additional playing time off the bench as well. Hughes is the Red’s most experienced goaltender, but coaches expects her to continue to develop and improve as the season goes on.
“[Hughes] has done a great job in terms of really working hard and trying to gain the starting position,” Deluca said.
Graap has another valuable option in sophomore Kristin Hughes, who has received significant minutes in goal so far this season and will continue to see more playing time as the season and her career progress.
“…we’re trying to push Kristin so that will push Hughes,” Deluca said. “It’s a little bit difficult as one goalie to push yourself if you don’t have someone else to push you along. They’re both doing a great job for us and we’re hoping that they both continue to improve and work on their consistency.”
Cornell got off to a hot start to kick off the season, taking down Colgate, Rutgers, Columbia and Hofstra to win their first four games of the year.
Since then, the Red has fallen to 4-3 after suffering three straight losses over spring break. However, a one-goal loss to No. 5 ranked Penn in its last game leaves the Red optimistic that it will be able to return to success.
The Red knows that it will have to continue to improve if it wants to accomplish the goals that the players set out for themselves at the start of the year.
Graap explained that the primary difference between this year’s version of the team compared to years past is the formidable senior leadership, and she knows it will be invaluable as the team continues play this year.
“We are still working on making good decisions in pressure moments and playing consistently for the full 60 minutes,” Graap said.
“This year’s team is really shaped by the senior class and a lot of terrific leadership in that senior class that I think inspires all of us.”