By Miguel Gonzalez
After posting a 20-2 record and reaching the Elite Eight round of the NCAA national tournament last season, the Lions are setting their eyes on winning the national championship this year. In their opening regular season game at Lions Stadium, the Lions established their ambition on Saturday, Feb. 25, by devouring the Neumann University Knights, 15-3.
In less than 30 seconds, junior attacker Emily Katz hurled a shot into the Knights net for the Lions first goal of the season. Three minutes later, sophomore midfielder Kathleen Jaeger scored the Lions second goal off a free position.
The Knights were immediately overwhelmed by the speedy Lions. Junior defender Elizabeth Morrison wasted no time with pressuring the Knights, as she initiated turnovers and fed passes to either junior midfielder Amanda Muller, senior attacker Mia Blackman or Jaeger. No matter the method, the Lions always got the ball through the net.
By the eighth minute, sophomore midfielder Erin Harvey and Muller joined on the scoring blitz, hurling balls into the Knights net in back-to-back plays. Afterwards, the Knights responded as sophomore midfielder Kaitlyn Conrad scored through a free position opportunity.
The Lions offense never stopped producing, as Jaeger scored four goals, while Kratz and Blackman netted a pair of goals. By the end of the first half, the Lions sat on a comfortable 11-2 lead with another half remaining to clinch the victory.
In the second half, the Lions offense slowed down as more underclassman were introduced. Kratz and Blackman were not finished and scored more goals. Blackman finished the match with five goals, only one goal ahead of Kratz and Jaeger.
In the 40th minute, freshman midfielder Chloe Pottillo scored her first career goal as a Lion when she intercepted a pass. Although the match entered into stalemate, the Lions captured their first season win, 15-3.
The Lions are at the dawn of an enduring journey. This year’s schedule will feature a heap of top contenders in the country, such as defending champions Middlebury College.
The Lions are ranked seventh in the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association national preseason poll. The team will begin the season with six consecutive home games at Lions Stadium.
“Making it to the Elite Eight was good, but clearly something needs to change if we want to reach further into the tournament,” said Brooke Lionetti, sophomore defender. “I think developing a fluid communication style and working cohesively with each other will be key to our success.”
Many important players from last year’s team are returning. Morrison will lead the Lions defense as the reigning IWLCA Division III Defensive Player of the Year. The Lions defense will also be fortified by senior defenders LeeAnn Bak and Ellie O’Neill.
The most essential part of this year’s defense will be sophomore goalkeeper Miranda Chrone, who only permitted 4.03 goals per game last season.
Despite the Lions already stellar defense, Morrison plans to build the defense to an historic caliber.
“TCNJ had the lowest goals against average (GAA) in Division III last year, (and) the team was one goal short of having the lowest GAA in TCNJ/TSC history,” Morrison said. “This year, I would really like our team to get an even lower GAA average and have more shutouts than last year. As (United States women’s national soccer team defender) Christie Rampone said, ‘If we score, we might win. If they never score, we can’t lose.’”
Meanwhile, the Lions offense will be fueled by Muller and Kratz.
“We lost three amazing seniors last year, but have 13 freshmen to make up for it,” Morrison said. “We have a lot of big games ahead of us this season, and we plan to focus on each game as it comes.”
With the first victory sealed in, the Lions will compete against Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham on Saturday, March 4, at 1 p.m. at Lions Stadium.