By George Tatoris
Lacrosse is looking to qualify for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championship for its 32nd consecutive year and to go further than they did in 2015.
Last season, the Lions returned from Hartford, Conn., empty-handed after a loss to top-ranked Trinity College in the third match-up of the tournament, 10-5, only a game away from being in the final four.
The No. 7 Lions held their own — they led the Bantams in shots, 21-19, and had fewer turnovers. But that wasn’t enough to send the Lions to the final four.
“Last year was disappointing, falling one game short of the final four,” sophomore defender Elizabeth Morrison said. “But I think that really motivated everyone that played that we need to (go) back there.”
The season kicks off on Saturday, Feb. 27, with the Lions facing State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia at neutral Montclair State University. Both teams were shut out of the final four last year.
Decorated head coach Sharon Pfluger returns this year after breaking an NCAA record for the most wins while coaching two teams. She boasts a career record of 1,012-152-10 (.864) and has led the women’s lacrosse team to 11 NCAA championships and the field hockey team to nine NCAA titles over the 29 years she’s been at the College.
Pfluger will be honored by the Princeton YWCA on Thursday, March 3, at the 33rd Annual Tribute to Women, which aims to recognize women who excel in their field in the Princeton area.
The Lions are already on stronger footing than they were at the start of the season last year. This year, they were placed fifth in the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Division III preseason poll with 309 points, two places higher from where they were last year. In the preseason New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) poll, they were picked to win the whole thing.
By the time they face SUNY Fredonia next week, they will have six weeks of preseason training.
With almost as many freshmen as there are sophomores and upperclassmen, this season will demonstrate how the team will play in the coming years. Morrison, who was in the same shoes as the 10 freshmen coming in last season, is optimistic about the younger team.
“We have a large freshman class and some great potential that I think is going to blend well with the returning players on the team,” senior forward Cortney Natalicchio said.
New faces allow returning players to play the mentor role this season, Morrison said. The team’s seniors, Natalicchio, midfielder Megan Devlin and graduate student Erin Waller will play a crucial role in team dynamic.
“This year, our seniors, Cortney, Meg and Erin Waller, are creating an intense environment at practice,” Morrison said. “We are constantly pushing each other to run fast, shoot harder and play better. The team is very close this year and I think that will help us work together to achieve our goals.”
Natalicchio was pivotal for the Lions’s attack last season — she scored a total of 56 points, averaging 2.67 points per game — and Devlin’s 19 season turnovers, 40 ground balls and 70 draw controls were vital to the Lions’s defense, which only allowed an average of 5.25 goals per game.
Morrison will also be important, as she led the conference in ground balls and had an impressive 40 turnovers, the third highest in the conference. She was named Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year by the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
But in the end, there’s only one way to approach the season: game by game.
“Every day we practice knowing we are ultimately preparing for post-season, but first we need to focus on our conference and region games, and most importantly our game against the defending national champions, Cortland,” Morrison said.
The Lions will play SUNY Cortland on Saturday, March 26, on home turf.