April 5, 2012

W. LACROSSE | Red Focuses On Creating Solid Unit To Improve Dominance

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Cornell women’s lacrosse began this season with exciting success, displaying winning habits and overcoming diverse challenges.  One such habit has been an ability to win on the road, as the team has five victories away from Schoellkopof. The Red (7-2, 3-1 Ivy League) has also been victorious in  Ivy League contests against Harvard, Princeton and Columbia, propelling the team into third place in the Ivy League standings with six games left to play. A unique mixture of talent, senior leadership, chemistry and confidence makes this squad dangerous for opponents to face. And — while it is pleased with how the season has progressed thus far — the Red has high hopes for achieving even more as the season continues.

“There have been many positives so far this season,” said head coach Jenny Graap. “We feel good about the fact that we are continuing to improve.  Hopefully the best is yet to come for this team. We just need to keep our focus on one game at a time, and continuing to stay true to the things that we hold dearly, like our work ethic, our attitude and our mental approach to practices and games.”

Continual improvement is far more than an encouraging trend. According to Graap, since Ivy League universities start the season later than other Divison I conferences and have less practice time before the season, being able to adjust and improve throughout the season is essential in order to achieve success.

“Improving is perhaps the most important factor in a season,” she said. Because of the late start date, and the way the Ivy League sets things up with little practice time, it becomes necessary that we get stronger throughout march and April.”

The strong senior leadership consists of nine seniors who lead the team both on and off the field.  They have spent their entire college careers at Cornell and are using the experience factor to help younger players and to benefit the team.

“It’s something really special that not only are there so many seniors, but we’ve all played together since we came in as freshmen,”said senior attacker and forward Jessi Steinberg. “Being able to spread our wisdom to the underclassmen, take them in under our wing and show them how dedication has made the program into something special, is really awesome. All nine seniors do a really good job of checking in and making sure everything is doing well, which takes alot of pressure off of the captains.”

The seniors’ play has improved throughout their time at Cornell, but they have never had a team with as much talent and potential as this one, according to Steinberg.

“Since I’ve been on the team this is the first year that our confidence has been through the roof,” she said. “We have so many talented players and it all stems from knowing that every girl on the field is contributing in some way. Knowing how talented we are and how well we work together as a team is really something special.”

According to senior midfielder and captain Katie Kirk, the seniors are friends both on and off the field, and shared motivation to succeed has made the friendship even stronger.

“We’re not only good friends on the field, but we support each other off the field as well,” she said. “Being determined, focused, and having our number one goal as having a great season has brought us together.  We have strived to be good all three years, but this year we realize that it’s our year and we want to make a statement.”

This friendship and unity is not limited to the seniors — it is a defining characteristic of the entire team.  Both the players and coaches value this unity and fully appreciate the ways in which it benefits the entire team.

“One of the main reasons I wanted to come to Cornell was because of how close the team was, ”Steinberg said. “How close we are off the field and how much we genuinely care about each other really translates to our play on the field.”

According to Graap, the team’s coherence also serves to build leadership, character and mutual understanding of each individual’s unique personality and capabilities.

“Our team embraces the idea of taking care of each other and supporting each other off the field,” she said. “We take alot of pride in that. We spend alot of time in the offseason together doing things like community service, the Hoffman Challenge Course, and different leadership exercises.  We get to know one another other off the field so we can get a sense of the strength, character and leadership that each individual brings. This team can embrace each other’s differences and uniquenesses and really support each other.  There are always differences between people, so it’s nice that the players feel good about being themselves and being unique.”

Many factors have contributed to the Red’s success. The team has benefited from contributions from a wide range of players, and it has executed a strategy of commanding, aggressive play.  It has also been supported by quality netminding.  However, two concepts dominate the team’s preparations and meetings, according to Graap.

“We frequently stress discipline and communication,” she said. “Discipline on the offensive end of the field is getting the personnel at the right spots to run your best scoring looks. Communication is to make sure everyone knows what to do and is willing to help each other.  It’s the same on the defensive end.  Continuing to communicate is important because adjustments are needed and it’s a fast-paced, free-flowing game. Our players need to be so prepared at practice for all of these changing situations, like if an official calls a foul, you have to be resilient and be able to manage those changes. That’s one of the beauties of lacrosse. You can prepare your unit in practice so that practices are so intense that on game days you’re ready and don’t have to be overly thoughtful. You can just allow yourself to be an athlete and react to the situation because you’re prepared for it.”

The immediate goal for the Red is to finish in the Top 4 in the Ivy League standings, which guarantees a place in the Ivy League playoff tournament.  The winner of that tournament is automatically selected for the national NCAA tournament.  Belief in each other and on-field success have made the team confident that it can achieve that goal, according to Steinberg.

“I feel so confident about our players and coaches,” she said.  “Every single person on the field is a threat. It’s awesome that from the freshmen to the seniors, everyone is so talented and is really stepping up. But it’s also nice to know that there is so much room for improvement, so if we keep on improving and keep playing well, the sky’s the limit.”

Original Author: Ben Horowitz