As the Keene State College Women’s Lacrosse team enters the 2016 season as defending Little East Conference Champions, the Owls look to defend the title with greater expectations.

Owls Head Coach Katie Arsenault said that although the team won the majority of  conference games last season (5-1), they are not taking any opponents lightly this season.

“It’s not like anything was handed to us,” Arsenault said, as the Owls margin of victory in four of their six conference games last season came from two goals or less.

With a new mind-set and an emphasis on improving from a season ago, Arsenault said, “We know we have a bullseye on our back. We finished well last year, but I think we’ve set a higher standard for ourselves so we’re just looking to meet that more so than anything else.”

Arsenault has had an impressive tenure at the helm with three LEC Tournament Championships and two LEC Regular Season Championships. She also said she wants her team to improve by winning not only its in-conference games, but it’s out-of-conference games as well. The Owls opened up to a 0-8 losing streak last season and Arsenault said her team looks to get out to a much faster start as well.

Senior and captain Kaitlin Nolan said, “We had a rough start to our season last year and we were really the underdogs. I think this year, coming off of a conference win is huge, and it’s motivation for us to want to get there again, but we have our own goals set that we want to accomplish in and out of conference.”

Arsenault and Nolan both said last year was somewhat of a transitional year where players were still getting used to playing together as the team only had two seniors. This season, though, the Owls seem to have a much more experienced group with 13 returning upperclassmen, including Nolan, who had 46 goals last season and accounted for 65 points for the Owls.

Fellow senior and defensive player Natalie Barnett said Coach Arsenault has stressed to the team to remain humble and prepare for the new challenges to come this season.

Barnett said, “Just because we’re returning LEC Champions doesn’t mean we’re not going to work just as hard to get to where we were last year if not harder.”

When asked what another LEC Championship would mean to the senior class, Nolan quickly said, “Everything.”

“This really is it,” Nolan said. “You play for your team, you play for yourself, you play for your coach and you play for everyone who has gotten you this far…It would mean a lot to go out on top.”

But Nolan and Barnett said they have also made efforts to incorporate the underclassmen as well and know how important the entire team being involved is to success.

Barnett said, “I really feel like we’ve done a lot to incorporate the freshmen with what we do whether that’s in practice or out of practice.”

Barnett also said that things such as team bonding off the field and positive encouragement on the field keep them together as a unit.

“We have each other’s backs,” Barnett said.

Nolan said, “We’ve come together pretty easily and the chemistry is always just there.”

When asked what makes this 2016 women’s team unique from other squads she has coached in the past, Arsenault said their mentality separated them from the pack.

“This years’ group has a different mental game to themselves,” Arsenault said. “They just don’t compare themselves, they just know they need to go out and play and they need to play hard.”

Arsenault described how off-season preparation has been for the squad and said her team “has been on board since day one”

“We’re going to have some bumps without a doubt, but this group is definitely different, it’s more focused,” Arsenault said. “They have a good time, they have fun but they are just a more competitive and mentally strong team.”

Along with the many adjustments and challenges any sports team will face over the course of a season, the Owls will have to adjust to a new set of rules. The NCAA is set to enforce new rules regarding pace of play and making the game faster for both the women’s and men’s lacrosse seasons in 2016. Although the rules themselves were not specified, Arsenault said her team should adjust well to the new rules because of their team speed.

“The speed of the game will be a lot faster now which will be more entertaining,” Arsenault said.

The Owls will play their season opener on Tuesday, March 2, at Emerson College.

Nick can be contacted at ntocco@kscequinox.com

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