After outscoring its opponents 73-22 in the final four games, the 15-1 women’s lacrosse team finished the regular season ranked as the nation’s fourth best squad. And yet, despite that impressive feat, none of it truly matters if the women do not continue their intensity come playoff time.
Luckily for the Lions, however, there is a lot of familiarity with its first round opponent.
After soundly defeating a gritty Kean University team 18-8 Saturday, April 26, the women have just four days to prepare for a rematch in the first round of the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) tournament. Despite their previous success, the women cannot take their opponents lightly. In the playoffs, anything is possible.
“We want to improve even more and play at a higher level and hold ourselves to higher standards when we do play them again,” junior attacker Ava Fitzgerald said. “(It is also good for us) to be able to come back out and get a second chance against them to play even better and eliminate any mistakes that we might have had in the first match between us.”
In the first game against Kean, the women jumped to an early 4-0 lead. The Cougars were resilient, however, and stormed back by scoring five consecutive goals.
“I think we were reacting to a different type of attack that was being played against us, and we were adjusting our defense in order to combat that attack,” Fitzgerald said. “We are a team that responds really well, and we have a lot of character and composure. I think that we are able to rally together as a team and pick each other up, which is really important as well, and that definitely showed in the Kean game.”
After regrouping quickly, the women once again took command and headed into the second period on top with an 8-5 lead.
“When we met at halftime, we were really able to focus in on the little things that would make us better and that we would grow from, playing that team,” the team’s leading scorer said. “We were able to really narrow in on key elements that were causing us to lose possession or play a lot of defense, and we were able to strengthen those in particular. Everything else around that kind of fell into place once we were able to do that.”
There was no letting up in the second half as the women took advantage of turnovers and outscored their opponents 10-3. While every game is different, the Lions will look to replicate their second-half performance.
“It was a big learning experience for us, and I think it is fuel for us to (decrease) their amount of goals as well as increase our amount of goals and decrease our mistakes,” Fitzgerald said. “It is a key thing we look to do after every game, no matter what the score is and no matter how far we pull away from them. I think decreasing our unforced turnovers and our errors is a really big thing for us (because) we focus more on how to grow our game, rather than on our opponents.”
While the expectations are high for one of the nation’s top teams, Fitzgerald understands that they cannot get too carried away.
“We are a team that can go really far in the playoffs, which is something really exciting,” she said. “We need to come out (strong) right from the start. We need to really make sure that everybody is on the same page and that everyone brings their A-game.”