April 7, 2011

Unity Key for Women’s Lacrosse

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Despite a rocky start to the 2010-11 season, the women’s lacrosse team has approached every victory with humility and viewed every loss as a valuable learning experience. The Red (3-6, 1-3 Ivy League) faces many more challenges down the road, and aims to take every chance it can to learn from mistakes and  develop greater team unity.Much like this year, in 2010 the Red had a very difficult schedule, which resulted in a 5-10 overall record with a 4-3 Ivy mark. Last season culminated in a loss against Dartmouth in the Ivy League tournament.The Red’s 2011 team is led by tri-captains senior attackman Libby Johnson,  junior attackman Jessi Steinberg and junior defenseman Cacki Helmer. With this dynamic trio at the helm, the Red has a great chance to make a lot of developments this season, according to head coach Jenny Graap.“[The captains] are doing well on the field statistically, but also doing well as emotional leaders for the team,” she said.Steinberg has distinguished herself as a clear leader this season, registering 27 points so far, scoring in all nine games that the Red has played. Recently, Steinberg was named Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week following her impressive performance against No. 14 Notre Dame, when the Red overcame the Fighting Irish in double-overtime. Last season, Steinberg was named to the All-Ivy League first-team, and ranks second in the Ancient Eight in goals per game and first in shots per game.Also dominating the offense is Johnson, who has notched 20 points thus far. Johnson also leads the Red in free-position goals. Last year, Johnson posted 11 multi-point games, and was named a second-team All-Ivy League selection. “Both of the other captains have really come out strong on the attack and have done a great job leading [the team],” Helmer said of Steinberg and Johnson.Juniors Katie Kirk and Shannon McHugh have taken charge of the Red’s offense with Kirk picking up 16 points thus far. Kirk’s hat trick against Columbia pulled Cornell ahead of the Lions, and improved the team’s standing in the Ivy League.“Katie Kirk and Shannon McHugh … have been extremely consistent for us this season … They are able to impact both ends of the field,” Graap said.Helmer leads the defensive unit, along with senior Cara Grealy and sophomore Kate Ivory. Ivory currently leads the Ivy League in ground balls per game and turnovers caused per game. “Caroline Helmer and Kate Ivory have been standouts on the defense,” Steinberg said.Junior goalkeeper Kyla Dambach anchors the Red defense. She has played in all of the Cornell’s contests this season. Dambach became a starting goalkeeper last season, when she started in 10 games for the Red. “Kyla Dambach has really turned a corner, particularly over Spring Break … She’s coming into her own and her performance has definitely elevated, which has put our team in a position to win some tough games,” Graap said.This season the Red welcomed eight new freshmen to the squad; however, Cornell currently has only two seniors on the roster. Johnson asserts that this can be seen as both a strength and weakness.“We have a young team, which I think is good because everyone’s still excited about competing, but sometimes it can be challenging from a senior point-of-view,” Johnson said.This season, the Red started off on a low note, falling to Rutgers in its first match. Though the team was able to slide past Colgate for a win the following weekend, it ultimately fell to conference rival Harvard soon after.Last month, the Red earned its first Ivy League victory over Columbia, and subsequently beat Notre Dame for the first time since 2005. But the celebration was short-lived, as the rest of the Red’s Spring Break series proved a challenge; especially brutal was Cornell’s loss to Penn. Just last weekend, the Red fell to Princeton, shrinking its conference record to 1-3.The Red’s strength, according to the captains, lies in the team’s chemistry both on and off the field; however, the fact that the team cannot always tap into this connection has become a major issue.“Sometimes we don’t use [our team unity] to our advantage, and we have to if we want to have a strong season,” Helmer explained.One thing is crystal clear: the Red’s ultimate goal is to compete nationally. Cornell hopes to excel in conference games in particular, in order to play in the Ivy League tournament in May. The winner of this contest gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.Ultimately, the hope of the season is to continue improving and building team unity.“The goal is to … understand and harness the power that [the players] have and then translate those strengths into hard-fought victories,” Graap said. “We want to make the most of our competitive experience and certainly want this team to continue to march down the path of improvement.”

Original Author: Alane Trafford