The Keene State College Women’s Lacrosse Team has some high expectations to live up to with the 2013 season right around the corner. Although their season ended at the first round of the NCAA tournament, with a 19-1 loss to Amherst College, the Owls did clinch their third Little East Conference title in four years.
The Owls defeated Western Connecticut State University, 13-7, in the LEC championship last season.
But after graduating three seniors, including Sammi Benson (25 goals, 24 assists last season), the Owls are looking to fill those gaps with players old and new alike. The team also lost Sarah Valacer on defense.
But senior captain Nicole Curry said that the Owls defense looks the strongest so far this season. Curry has been a member of two Little East Conference championship teams now.
Curry said, “We have a couple of new defenders who are loud and big and that’s going to help us a lot.”
Adding to a young, loud backfield is senior Kristen Schmidt. Schmidt joined the team her sophomore year and according to her teammates, she will be a key part to this year’s team. Fellow senior Lauren Brown said, “Kristen has a good voice on the field and that’s really important.”
Curry added, “Kristen Schmidt looks like she is going to do good things on defense for us this year. Eliza Witherbee and Lauren Brown are back and they were our two leading attackers so they will be big.”
Lauren Brown returns to the Lady Owls after a spectacular junior season, leading the team in goals scored with 53. Brown was sixth in the Little East Conference for goals per game, averaging 2.9. She was also named second team All-LEC, along with Nicole Curry.
Although the team is looking to maintain the same success as last season, Brown said that they are still trying new things. “We are making new plays, trying new defensive line-ups. We want to be the team to beat,” Brown said.
Along with Lauren Brown, junior Eliza Witherbee returns to the Owls attack, also hoping to maintain some of the success she had last year. Witherbee was the leading point scorer for the Owls with 46 goals and 16 assists. Witherbee said her teammates and her are looking to get another Little East Conference title.
“We need to keep up what we’ve been doing. We need to mesh well, especially because we have a lot of new attackers. We need to be able to connect quickly,” Witherbee said.
According to Witherbee, junior goaltender Erin Taylor will also be a crucial returner this season. “She [Taylor] has another year with us but even over these past two seasons, she’s improved a lot.”
Taylor was third in the Little East Conference last season for save percentage (.521) while playing 18 games.
The Owls started outdoor practice on Jan. 28 at the Owl Athletic Complex. They are one of two spring teams that have already taken to the outdoor fields, the other being the men’s lacrosse team. Nicole Curry said, “It’s very cold when the sun goes down. The turf literally turns into an ice skating rink. But it benefits us because it’s so different breathing in the outside air and using the full size field we have.”
Lauren Brown added that the team has only practiced inside once since Jan. 28. She said, “It was tough after the storm [Nemo] hit. There was one or two days where we were trying to figure out what to do.”
The Owls hope to warm up with a Spring Break trip to West Palm Beach, Fla. where they will play RPI and St. Lawrence University on March 11. Lauren Brown, Eliza Witherbee and Nicole Curry agreed that the Spring Break trip will be a big test for the Owls. Witherbee said, “That’s when we really start to mesh as a team and get to know each other.”
Curry added, “We know everything about each other after Spring Break.”
Last season, the Owls split their trip to West Palm Beach, Fla. They dropped their first game to Brockport State, 16-10. But won the second game, 20-11, over Mount Saint Mary College of New York.
Integrating the freshmen into the Owls close knit squad will be a challenge the team hopes to overcome on Spring Break, according to Lauren Brown.
But Brown added that she sees significant promise in freshman, Kailtin Nolan. Nolan hails from Mahopac, N.Y. According to MaxPreps.com, in her senior season at Mahopac High School, Nolan had 32 goals and 15 assists.
Nicole Curry said, “Kaitlin plays high attack and she can put the ball in the back of the net. In fall ball and preseason, she’s been doing real well. Hopefully that will continue into the season.”
Nolan and her freshmen counterparts will be put to the test, along with the rest of the Owls, when they open their season against Springfield College at home on Monday, March 4 at 4 p.m.
Michelle Berthiaume can be contacted