Feb. 22, 2008
One need not have looked far to measure the steps taken by the Villanova women's lacrosse program in 2008. It was noticeable in the scoring column, where a balanced attack featured six players with 10 or more goals for the campaign. It was apparent in front of their own goal, where the `Cats cut their season goals against by 55 goals from 2006.
Most of all, the gains were visible in the win column, where VU collected its most wins in six years, posting a 7-9 finish.
Now, with only a handful of personnel losses to graduation, Villanova is poised to continue its improvement in 2008.
"The credit goes to the players who have bought into the team concepts we have preached," notes head coach Jebb Chagan, who also points to the long hours of tutelage assistant coach Kate Henwood has provided. "In each of the last two seasons we have had six or more players in double digits in goals scored. This shows a great unselfishness among our players to help put their teammates in situations to be successful. Our improvements defensively also show a desire among our players to work hard in the `non-glorified' areas, with things like groundballs and hustle.
"The fact that the players have bought into the offensive and defensive packages we started to install two years ago is starting to show. Hopefully, our underclassmen will help to bring our younger players along as they learn our offensive and defensive sets."
The 2008 marks Chagan's third at the helm of the program and fourth as a member of the coaching staff (he served as goalie's coach before taking charge in 2006).
"We went through an early transition," he says. "When we started last season we were still at the point where we were learning how to win. A lot of the credit for us taking that step goes to the upperclassmen, the juniors and seniors who had been through some tough times. This year, I think we have another tremendous senior class that has experienced some of the lows and has been a large part of the strides we have made. We will be counting on our five seniors to be leaders for us."
One area that is especially deep is the attack. The Wildcats have assembled a diverse group of athletes who figure to apply plenty of offensive pressure on the opposition in 2008.
"We're a little top heavy there," notes Chagan. "There will be a lot of competition for playing time."
Senior tri-captain Stevie McFadden will be a linchpin up front. Last season, she wound up third on the club in scoring with 17 goals and eight assists. Over the course of her first three seasons, the native of Reiserstown, Md., has been a steady force on the attack.
"We are looking for Stevie to run the attack for us," Chagan says. "We need her to be our quarterback out there and it's a role she understands. She does a good job of knowing when to push it or slow it down. This is Stevie's second year as a captain, so she will be an important leader for our team."
Another proven forward is junior Taylor Lucy. The product of Ocean View, Del., started 15 games last season with 12 goals and five assists. In two seasons at Villanova, she has accounted for 28 goals. Lucy spent the fall semester studying in New Zealand and did not play in the fall. Yet the coaching staff believes she can quickly regain the form displayed the last two years.
"We have high expectations for Taylor," states Chagan. "She has to make up for the time she lost when she was abroad in the fall but she certainly has the ability to do it. Taylor was really impressive as a freshman and solid last year as a sophomore. We look for her to make an even larger impact this season."
Junior Katie Stone scored five goals in the early portion of the 2007 campaign and appeared poised for a strong season. However, injuries curtailed her efforts, limiting her to nine games. She returns ready to play a role on the attack after spending the fall semester studying abroad.
"Part of the story with Katie is just her coming back healthy," notes Chagan. "Having the extended time away from the game should really help her. Katie finishes well around the cage and we look forward to having her available to us this season."
The coaching staff hopes that freshman Nora Wallace will provide a boost as well. Wallace earned a roster spot with a strong fall effort.
"She has terrific speed," says Chagan, "and is a good athlete. Nora does a nice job of finishing plays around the net. The next step for her is to develop confidence in her ability to create her own footprint here."
Wallace will be joined by several other newcomers with the skill to make an impression in their first seasons in the program.
Sarah Burger spent a year at Hofstra before transferring to the Main Line.
"This is a really hardworking young lady who is very quick around the cage," says Chagan. "She's coming into a new environment and faces the challenge of adapting to a new system and style of play. I know she expects a lot from herself and we are excited to have her with us."
Maggie Breslin is a freshman who hopes to use a strong fall campaign as a boost to the regular season.
"She comes from a very athletic family, which is always a good sign," states Chagan. "Maggie has grown up around the sport and you can see that by watching her play. She plays much older than your typical freshman because of her knowledge and understanding of the game."
Julie Shelman is another intriguing new addition who demonstrated a knack for production during her high school career.
"Julie is blessed with exceptional quickness and speed," Chagan states. "She is very comfortable using her left or right hand and finishes well around the cage. At this point Julie probably needs to let the game slow down a little bit. Once she does that, I think we'll see a terrific young player."
Carly Miller and Kyler O'Shea complete the group of candidates on attack.
"Carly is blessed with good size," notes Chagan. "She can go to her left or right and knows how to finish around the net. She will definitely compete for playing time on the attack."
O'Shea is in her second season with the Wildcats. As a freshman, she scored seven goals.
"The thing that stands out with Kyler is that she is a very smart player," Chagan states. "She has very good size and it seems like she feels much more comfortable in our system than she did last year. We also appreciate the fact that, even though she is just a sophomore, she is a good mentor to some of our younger players."
In the midfield, Chagan and Henwood will select from a talented core of athletes.
Meredith Kolmer started 15 games in the midfield after transferring to Villanova from George Mason in 2007. She contributed three goals and three assists along with 25 groundballs.
"We think Meredith can be an impact player for us," says Chagan. "It took her some time to get comfortable in the midfield but when that happened she was incredibly impressive. She had a tremendous fall season, probably the best of anyone we have."
As a freshman Erica Rybinski arrived with a decorated high school resume that suggested an immediate impact. Rybinski became a key part of the midfield from her first day of practice and ended the year among the nation's leaders in groundballs with 2.8 per game. Even more notable is the fact that Rybinski was hobbled over the final two games of the season by a torn knee ligament that was subsequently repaired by surgery.
"Erica missed fall ball with her rehab and the big thing for her right now is to get healthy," Chagan states. "She is a tremendous player and great in transition. The other thing that makes Erica special is that she is always looking to get better. She is one of those kids who always wants to stay after practice to work with the coaches."
Taryn McKenna will also be in the midfield mix. McKenna, a junior, is Villanova's leading returning scorer with 19 goals and three assists for 22 points.
"Ever since she came into our program, Taryn has been one of our leading scorers," notes Chagan. "She has worked hard on developing her skills. You could say she is one of those kids who is a pure scorer."
Sam McKillip and Alyssa Mahoney are two more holdovers who will be a part of the midfield. McKillop, made five starts last season and contributed seven goals and two assists. Mahoney contributed a goal and an assist.
"Sam is a very good athlete," states Chagan. "She came back with an even stronger commitment and confidence in her own abilities this fall. She has worked really hard to get better, especially at the defensive end."
"It is obvious that Alyssa worked very hard on her game during the off-season," Chagan states. "She had a great fall season and is now making a push to get significant time on the field."
The incoming recruiting class will make an impact in the midfield.
Kim Wisniewski, a freshman from Long Island, is among those most likely to see the field early in her career.
"Kim is an outstanding young lady," says Chagan. "As her career here progresses, we envision her as one of our great leaders. She asks a lot of question and is dedicated to being the best player she can be."
Allie Whelan comes to Villanova from Massachusetts on the strength of a strong high school career in Dover. It is expected she will push to be a factor in the midfield.
"Allie is one of the first Massachusetts kids we have had here and she had a very good high school career," states Chagan. "She has very good speed and now it's just a matter of her developing the confidence to play at this level. The coaching staff certainly knows what she is capable of."
Rachael Ponge will vie for playing time too in her debut campaign.
"I would say that Rachael is probably more comfortable on the attack side than midfield at this stage of her career," says Chagan. "But we think her skills fit well in the midfield. We're asking her to be more aggressive and bring some of the confidence she showed in her last two years of high school ball to our program."
Another possibility in the midfield is Rachel Lasda.
"We've added some players in the last two seasons from powerhouse high school programs and Rachel is one of them," notes Chagan. "The midfield may be a little out of her comfort zone but we like the fact she is a tremendous athlete and a hard worker. We think she will be a terrific player over the course of her four years here."
Perhaps the most notable midfield newcomer is Mia Naccarato, an All-American at Fairfax (Va.) High School.
"She is a tremendously coachable kid and an accomplished player," says Chagan. "Mia sees the field very well as a young player and comes with a solid set of defensive skills. We expect her to have an impact on us right away."
On defense, freshman Amy Jackson and junior Justine Feinman are ticketed to share one spot.
"We expect Amy to see substantial playing time right away," notes Chagan. "She brings great vision as a young player and makes so few mistakes you barely notice she's out there."
"Justine was a walk-on as a freshman who has steadily grown. She worked tremendously hard this off-season to prepare and her transition game has improved. The other thing about Justine is that she is a real smart player."
The anchors defensively will be the squad's other tri-captains, seniors Nikki Bell and Laura Garrett. Bell is a four-year starter from Glyndon, Md., while Garrett has logged major minutes in each of the last two campaigns.
"Unless it was a situation where we were trying to get a young player on the field late in a game, Nikki has rarely been off the field for us," says Chagan. "She has always been a very consistent and bright player. Now we are asking her to add the new piece of leadership to all she does for us."
"Laura battled through some injuries earlier in her career to become an important part of our defense. We feel very comfortable with her in front of our net."
Freshman Jackie Peloquin is in the defensive equation as well.
"Jackie is a very confident player and that's nice to see in a freshman," says Chagan. "She has a very imposing presence back there. It will be hard not to find playing time for Jackie."
One area where change is imminent is in goal. Jess Brozena started 42 games over her four seasons and there is little experience on hand now that she has graduated. It figures to be a three-way battle for time between veterans Lauren Latchford, Cassie Eure and newcomer Maggie Langan.
"We are looking for someone to step up and be an impact player in net," Chagan says.
Latchford appeared in three games last year with a 3.79 goals against average.
"Lauren has seen some playing time in spots for us and now she gets a chance to assert herself," states Chagan. "She has worked hard on her game."
Eure saw spot duty in relief of Brozena last season as well as a freshman. Now she is in her second season and eager to stake a claim to playing time.
"Cassie is a very good athlete," Chagan notes. "She had a very good fall. The key for her is to establish consistency."
Langan arrives with a portfolio of high school achievements. She was an alternate for the national 19 and under team last summer.
"This is a very hardworking, coachable player," Chagan states. "Maggie had a very impressive career in high school and she will be in the mix competing for the starting spot."
The coaching staff believes it has the ingredients now in place to take another step forward in 2008.
"One of our strengths is the closeness of this group," he says. "We have worked hard to bring in individuals with a lot of character, people who want to work hard at improving their own game and are eager to be part of a team. I think we have increased our team speed - this will be the fastest team we have had here.
"We're excited to get started."