A team's success can often be traced back to the leadership that serves as the framework for the squad. If it truly serves as an indicator, then the leadership provided by the senior class on the 2011 W&L women's lacrosse roster should serve as a great gauge for an exciting upcoming season.
Head Coach Brooke Diamond, in her fourth season at the helm, is elated about the prospects of her team for the 2011 campaign. The squad enters the season ranked 15th nationally in the IWLCA pre-season poll, a year removed from posting a 14-5 overall record, capturing the 11th ODAC title in program history and advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
Boasting the largest roster in several seasons with 28 players, including 14 first-years, Diamond expects her senior leadership to take the reigns and help the young roster develop.
"This is the largest and deepest roster we've had since I've been here," remarked Diamond. "If the team continues to follow the example set by the senior class, we will be in a good place come May."
The six-member class of 2011 has been an integral part of the development of the W&L women's lacrosse program over the past three years, arriving on campus in Diamond's inaugural season in 2008. In their three seasons together, they have posted a 44-13 record, earned two ODAC titles and two NCAA Tournament appearances. She expects a lot from a group that has grown with her both on and off the field. Diamond remarked that they've shown incredible commitment and care regarding the program, while also being a tight-knit group off the field.
"The senior class represents some of the best leadership and they are committed to the direction they want the team to go," said Diamond. "We'll go as far [this season] as the senior class takes us, and they have shown great determination dating back to fall practice."
Three of the six seniors (Kate Donnelly, Katharine Farrar and Emmy Mathews) will serve as team captains, but Diamond recognizes that all six of her seniors are key components. Together, the group has set a goal of capturing not only an ODAC title, but also winning a game in the NCAA Tournament, something they have yet to accomplish.
Senior Kathy Brown will be a mainstay in the Generals' defensive unit this spring after starting all 19 games and earning Second Team All-ODAC honors as a junior. Brown led the team with 40 ground balls and 31 caused turnovers and she scooped up 21 draw controls.
"She's a scrappy defender who wins ground balls and possessions," remarked Diamond. "She is fast and makes opponents pay by capitalizing on their mistakes."
In the midfield, Diamond will look to Donnelly to serve as a vital component to the unit's success. Last season, she finished sixth on the team with 27 points (21g, 6a), while also registering 25 ground balls and 18 draw controls.
"Donnelly is a really solid midfielder, nobody works harder than her on the field," stated Diamond.
In net, the experience of Farrar as a two-year starter will serve as a solid anchor in the back and Diamond is expecting her to be even stronger this year. Last year, Farrar started 18 contests, posting a 13-5 record with an 8.61 goals-against average (139g) and a .473 save percentage (125s) en route to earning First Team All-ODAC and IWLCA All-Chesapeake Region accolades.
"Farrar is a strong communicator and great director for our defense," stated Diamond. "She is a strong shot-stopper, one of the best in the conference."
Mathews, serving as team captain, has earned the distinction for the second-consecutive season. Last year, she collected First Team All-ODAC and IWLCA All-Chesapeake honors after starting 18 games and finishing third on the team with 41 points on 31 goals and 10 assists. She also posted the second-best totals on the team with 34 draw controls and 31 ground balls. She was recognized for her accomplishments off the field as well, being selected Second Team ESPN the Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-District and garnering ODAC/Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete of the Year accolades.
"She has been a key presence in the midfield since her rookie year," stated Diamond of Mathews. "Her play appears to have elevated even more entering her senior year, and we're excited for her to have another strong campaign."
Another potent offensive threat returning this season is senior attacker Wilton Megargel, who registered a team-high 37 goals last season, concluding her junior campaign second on the team with 45 points (37g, 8a). She also added 26 draw controls and 10 ground balls and was one of just four players to start all 19 contests en route to earning Second Team All-ODAC honors.
"Megargel had a strong season last year, and is picking up right where she left off," remarked Diamond. "She has a nose for the goal and finds ways to get shots off, even in traffic."
The final senior on this season's roster is attacker Kate Speare, who finished last season with 20 points (8g, 12a) after appearing in all 19 contests with 10 starts. Diamond recognizes that Speare is a steady, dependable presence in the attack unit and has a great understanding of the game, which will help her in the role of leading the group this spring.
"She is one of the most intelligent attackers on the team in terms of game smarts," stated Diamond.
Joining Speare on the attack unit will be three returnees and five first-year players, led by junior Maddie McKaig, who was the team's top scorer a year ago with 46 points (32g, 14a). Her 14 assists were a team-best and she also contributed 22 draw controls and 13 ground balls in being named to the 2010 ODAC All-Tournament Team. McKaig had off-season surgery, but Diamond is confident she will make a strong return this spring.
"She had a strong junior year and we are hopeful that she will continue to build on the success of last season," mentioned Diamond.
Fellow junior Alli Shearin will also look for extended playing time with the attack unit after appearing in 10 contests last season, scoring 15 goals and adding nine assists.
"Shearin is a sneaky, quick attacker that has a strong understanding of how to read a defense and exploit it by cutting," said Diamond.
The final returnee for the attack unit is sophomore Elizabeth Bucklee, who finished her rookie campaign with 16 points (10g, 6a) in 15 appearances. Diamond expects her to build on a solid first-year campaign and provide the team with strong minutes.
Providing depth and options at the attack will be five first-year players. Katie Hagen, Kerstin Hjelm, Margaret Klein, Paige Pearson and Greta Witter have all joined the unit, and Diamond expects the pentad to challenge for significant playing time right away.
Returning to the midfield in 2011 are junior Christina Benedetti and sophomore Ashley Barnes. Diamond remarked that both players have been impressive during preseason practice and she expects both to have big seasons.
Benedetti finished last year ranked second on the team with 31 ground balls and she also collected 25 draw controls in 16 starts in earning Second Team All-ODAC honors.
"She focused more on the defensive side last year, doing the little things that helped us win games," said Diamond. "This season we are looking for her to have a strong season on both sides of the ball."
Barnes will look to work into the mix after playing in 15 games with one start last year. She finished her rookie campaign with seven goals, three assists, 22 draw controls and 10 ground balls.
"Barnes looks great in practice this year," stated Diamond. "She came in with a new sense of confidence and has been using that to be incredibly explosive during practice."
Four first-year players are expected to challenge for significant playing time in the midfield right away, including Meade Brewster, Kelsey Cotter, Meredith Lavin and Alex Van Horn.
"Our midfield is deep and we look forward to using that depth to push our players to play their best while they are on the field, knowing there is someone there that can give them rest," Diamond offered.
On the defensive unit, returnees Lauren Acker and Caroline Kingsbery will look to build on the success of last year when the Generals ranked 18th in Division III in scoring defense with an 8.00 GAA.
Acker returns after a strong sophomore year when she appeared in 18 games with 17 starts. Diamond noted that she has stepped up as a vocal leader on the defense, and also brings athleticism and speed that "can be dangerous out of the back".
A sophomore, Kingsbery saw time in 13 contests with six starts during her rookie year, collecting 14 ground balls and causing 12 turnovers. Diamond expects for her to see increased playing time this season, while filling additional "special roles" on the field.
Joining the defensive unit are first-years Shelby Barada, Leanne Stone, Olive Waxter and Taylor Zusi, a group of athletic and skilled defenders looking to add minutes right away.
Additionally, Diamond will have two options backing Farrar in net with sophomore Alex Hamill and first-year Katie Bennett ready to step up when called upon.
"Both have been solid in practice and will provide us with depth at the position," noted Diamond of her reserve keepers.
And while this year's roster sports a youthful look, Diamond is confident that the 14-member first-year class will be immediate contributors as they learn and adapt to the Generals' system.
"We have a strong senior class working with the first-years, helping them understand the program," remarked Diamond. "Some coaches may look at the roster and be concerned about the youth, but I am confident in our group due, in large part, to the senior leadership."
She is also excited about the depth the 28-person roster provides, noting that she expects to play at least 20 women per game, taking advantage of "the luxury of having a deep and talented team."
The squad will be tested early in the season, facing five ranked opponents in its first eight contests, including No. 16 Mary Washington to open the season. The schedule also includes matchups against Salisbury (No. 1), Franklin & Marshall (No. 3), Cortland (No. 6) and Catholic (No. 13).
"Opening at Mary Wash is a big game," noted Diamond. "And the schedule doesn't get much easier after that, but we know that it will only help us prepare for the ever-strong ODAC schedule."
Ultimately, Diamond knows that the definitive goals for her and her team are to remain atop the ODAC, collect its second-consecutive conference title, make another NCAA Tournament appearance and advance past the first round.
W&L starts its journey on Feb. 20, traveling to No. 16 Mary Washington for a 2:00 pm contest.