Feb. 12, 2009
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The Navy women's lacrosse team hosts a fellow second-year program in Presbyterian College in its 2009 season opener on Friday night, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The Midshipmen, who won an NCAA record 13 games for a first-year program in 2008, bring back six starters and eight letterwinners, including three of their top five scorers from the second-most prolific scoring offense in NCAA history.
NAVY BY THE NUMBERS
1 - With 349 wins, head coach Cindy Timchal ranks as the
winningest coach all-time at the Division I level.
2 - Navy's begins its second season of Division I competition in 2009.
Navy had been a club power for years, with a 111-22 record from 2000-07.
11 - Consecutive home victories by Navy, the second
longest active streak in the nation entering the spring.
14 - Number of freshmen on Navy's 2009 roster.
16.65 - Number of goals per game scored by the Navy offense,
ranks second all-time in NCAA history.
24 - Total number of freshmen and sophomores on the 2009 Navy roster.
229 - Goals scored by Navy underclassmen last spring,
80.9 percent of its total goal scoring.
281 - Goals scored by Navy in 2008, a total which shattered
the previous best of 240 set by an NCAA-bound Holy Cross squad in 2007.
As they say, you only have one chance to make a good first impression. After a historic inaugural Division I campaign last spring, the Navy women's lacrosse program has left little room for interpretation.
In 2008, the Midshipmen women laid the foundation for sustained future success in Annapolis, setting an NCAA record for wins by a first-year program with 13 and earning their first Patriot League Tournament appearance - all while fielding one of the most potent scoring offenses in the history of the sport.
With another year of experience and its second recruited class now in the fold, the conventional wisdom says that Navy's meteoric rise up the collegiate ranks will continue in '09. In spite of the rising expectations, this spring's Midshipmen squad knows it has its work cut out to ensure that the program's early returns are lasting.
"We had a breakout season last spring," said head coach Cindy Timchal. "To win that many games right off the bat, certainly was a great accomplishment. But it's a new season and we know we have to be better if we are going to take the next step as a program because everyone else is pushing the envelope as well."
For the second straight year, Navy will rely on a bevy of talented underclassmen as it once again will field one of the youngest teams in the country with a total of 24 freshmen or sophomores and 17 newcomers.
With 60 percent of its scoring back from a unit which produced at the second highest clip in NCAA history (16.65 g/gm) a year ago, the Mids appear well-positioned to make a run at a Patriot League crown and their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
The numbers don't always tell the whole story, however; having seen enough games to know what separates the good teams from the great, the sport's all-time winningest coach remains cautiously optimistic.
"We will be a far more seasoned team and we have some terrific young talent, but in the end it's all about confidence," said Timchal. "It's like the old adage: `Do you have what it takes when it matters the most?' When the game is on the line, we want our girls craving the ball."
Last spring, the Mids got a first-hand taste of the pressure and intensity of Division I lacrosse. And while the team's unprecedented first-year success was widely celebrated, the team knows there is plenty of room for improvement.
One of the team's goals is to improve its toughness, particularly on the road. While much of Navy's success was fueld by its undefeated 11-0 mark at home, the Mids' poise was put to the test outside Annapolis, where they finished just 2-4.
"We have continued to instill the confidence necessary to succeed every time we take the field - no matter where we play," said Timchal. "I have no doubt you will see us display that winning mindset and continue to make great strides this season."
This spring, four of Navy's top seven offensive players are back from 2008's record-setting group, led by First-Team All-Patriot League selection Erin Rawlick.
Rawlick exploded onto the national scene a year ago, racking up 91 points (67 g, 24 a) and concluding the year as the nation's second leading scorer and the top sophomore with 5.35 points per contest.
The 5-foot-8 midfielder was the catalyst for a Midshipmen offense that produced more goals (283) than any team in the 18-year history of Patriot League women's lacrosse. A terrific dodger who will challenge both up-top and from behind the cage, she scored at least twice and had three points in each of the team's 17 contests.
"Erin came here without the expectation of playing Division I lacrosse and now that she has gotten that opportunity, she certainly has flourished," said Timchal. "She gets better every time she plays and there is no doubt in my mind that she has the ability to play with some of the top players in the country."
Joining Rawlick upfront is classmate and close friend Mary Ruttum, one of four Mids to go for 50 or more points with her 37 goals and 17 assists in 2008. A former basketball player with terrific field sense, Ruttum gives Navy a different look as one of only a select few southpaws on its roster. She is terrific scoring off-ball and is an integral part of the team's tremendous success on the draw.
In 2008, the Mids' offensive pedigree was rooted in their success in the center circle, where Navy led the nation in draw controls with 17.12 per game.
"Mary is one of our smartest and most experienced players," said Timchal. "She has great vision and we will look to both her and Erin to once again lead us in the circle and help control the midfield."
Also returning for the Mids is third-year attacker Brittany Amerau, who scored 14 goals in 14 games as a sophomore. Amerau is adept at finding the seams in opposing defenses and has proven to be one of the team's most proficient finishers, converting 70 percent of her shot attempts last season.
While Navy's second incoming class will undoubtedly yield several valuable contributors this spring, the crown jewel amongst the Mids' 14-member freshman class is unquestionably attacker Dani Vivonetto.
Although yet to play a game, Vivonetto, a two-time All-American at Rocky Point High School on Long Island, has already emerged as one of the team's go-to players in the preseason. A three-time captain, she played five years with the varsity program while at Rocky Point, leading her team to four league and Suffolk County titles and an overall mark of 68-10.
"Dani is focused, she works incredibly hard, she is relentless on both ends of the field - she really has it all," said Timchal. "When she is going hard it is very difficult to stop her. Her willingness to go all-out to the net is something we were really looking for this season and I know we've found it in her."
Coming off terrific rookie seasons, sophomores Katrina Nietsch and Caitlin Mandrin Hill are back and will be relied upon at both ends of the field for Navy.
As one of the conference's top rookies, Nietsch earned second-team all-league laurels after a 47-point season (40 g, 7 a) last spring. She was one of three Mids to score 40 or more goals, produced multiple points in 14 contests and was an integral part of Navy's success in its clearing game.
"When you look at Katrina's game the first thing that jumps out is her speed," said Timchal. "She is one of the fastest girls in our conference. She excels at pushing the ball into the offensive end and she is always adding to her game."
One of six Navy players who stand 5-foot-10 or taller, Mandrin Hill is an imposing presence in the defensive midfield. Seeing time primarily out of the back a year ago, she ranked 11th nationally in ground balls per game (3.24) and led the Mids in caused turnovers.
Often tasked with marking the opposition's top offensive threats, Mandrin Hill possesses a great motor and the ability to be a factor anywhere on the field.
"Caitlin is a player who just gets better every single day," said Timchal. "Although only a sophomore, she is already someone the team looks to as a leader. Both her and Katrina are really positioned to do some great things in their second year."
With the addition of freshmen Madison Bell and Kierstin King, the Mids have brought in two young players who are expected to develop into steady contributors in their first seasons - much in the same way as their midfield counterparts did in '08.
Both Bell, who projects as an offensive middie, and King, who is more suited in a defensive role, had terrific preseasons and come in with the opportunity to start.
While its record-setting offense stole the headlines, Navy's defense quietly made great strides in 2008. By year's end, the Mids owned the Patriot League's least-scored upon backline unit and had limited a total of seven opponents to 10 or fewer goals.
With its corps of defenders remaining intact from a year ago and the addition of several talented newcomers, the Navy backline, formerly an area of concern, now figures to be one of team's deepest and most-improved units.
"We're already ahead of where we were last year in the back," said Timchal. "We have filled in some critical spots, we are more athletic, we're faster and we have a depth of players that we are confident can get the job done."
Navy brings a wealth of experience and veteran leadership to the defensive end, as all five Midshipmen seniors, including team captain Lauren Gillam, will reside behind the restraining line.
Gillam saw significant playing time a year ago, earning the starting nod in each of Navy's final nine games. This fall, she has fully embraced her role as team captain - a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by the Mids' coaching staff.
"We are thrilled to have Lauren lead this year's team," said Timchal. "She is well-respected in the locker room, she works hard, she's very approachable and above-all, her goal is to win. We have terrific team chemistry and she undoubtedly has played a major part in facilitating that."
Senior Margaret Gardner, another returning defensive starter, will also play an important role in steering traffic away from the cage. Gardner made 12 starts and played in every game last spring.
Although still a relative newcomer to the game, junior Tori Weidmeier, a former high school hockey standout and Navy's most aggressive defender, is back with another year of experience and will see an increased role after appearing in eight games a year ago.
After having her spring season cut short due to injury, Navy sophomore Baileigh Kimball returns and will be looked to for some valuable minutes.
Further bolstering the Mid's backline is the influx of nine talented newcomers, including six freshmen, who will all vie for time in the defensive rotation.
Both Tennessee native Abby Ellis and classmate Laura Nevin have stood out early in the preseason amongst the incoming freshmen and project to be consistent and steady contributors in the starting 12.
The Mids also stand to benefit from the services of a pair of senior soccer stalwarts in Kristen Laraway and Jenn Dunbar. The battle-tested duo joined the lacrosse program this winter following a standout four-year run with the Mids' soccer team, which included a pair of NCAA Tournament trips in 2006 and 2007.
Navy will present a new look in the cage this season where heralded freshman netminder Elaina Ponchione assumes the starting role and will see a majority of the playing time for the Mids.
Ponchione comes to the Academy from a strong Our Lady of Good Counsel program where she was a three-time All-WCAC selection and led her team to four-straight conference titles and its first national ranking in Montgomery County lacrosse history in 2007.
After an impressive fall ball season, Coach Timchal is keyed up and confident that her rookie keeper will find success this spring.
"Elaina possesses tremendous poise for a first-year player," said Timchal. "She does a great job on close-range shots, she's not easily rattled and her athleticism will really help to open up things for us in our clearing game."
While the last line of defense is not a position of depth for Navy with the loss of its senior starting keeper to graduation, behind the talented Ponchione a very capable back-up has emerged in freshman Morgan Williams.
The 5-foot-10 Williams, who was recruited as a defender, has filled in admirably during the preseason in a position of need for the Mids and proven herself to be ready and able to step in when called upon.
The Mids kick off the second season of Division I lacrosse at the Naval Academy on February 13 when they host fellow second-year program Presbyterian.
A total of 10 home dates at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, including the program's first nationally-televised contest, highlight Navy's 17-game regular season slate.
Last spring, there was no doubt that playing at one of college lacrosse's premier venues proved to be a large part in the team's unprecedented first-year success. The Mids established a definitive home-field edge, outscoring visitors by more than nine goals per contest and finishing the year unbeaten in 11 contests.
Navy at Home in 2008 Longest Active Home Winning Streaks
Overall Home Record 11-0 1. Northwestern 44
Patriot League Home Record 3-0 2. Navy 11
Goals Scored Per Gm 17.8 3. Fairfield 8
Goals Against Per Gm 8.3
Scoring margin +109 (9.5 g/gm)
Following its opener, Navy will host DI upstart Detroit Mercy on Feb. 22, before taking to the road for four of their next five contests. The Mids' lone home game during that stretch is the team's conference opener against Lafayette on March 7.
The brief pit stop in Annapolis precedes a three-game, eight-day road stretch that begins at 2008 MAAC runner-up Canisius and ends with the team's first Patriot League road test at Holy Cross on March 21.
Just seven days later the Mids will host defending league champion Colgate on March 28 in a much-anticipated matchup that will be televised nationally by CBS College Sports Network. A year ago, the Raiders, who have made three NCAA appearances in the last five years, dealt Navy its first loss of the season with a 19-10 win in Hamilton, N.Y.
The mid-season contest should serve as strong litmus test for the Mids as the 2008 league champs once again figure to be a top title contender.
On April 1, the Mids open a busy month of action against American. The two teams split their two meetings in 2008 with the top-seeded Eagles using a furious second-half rally to notch a 17-15 win in the league semifinals.
Navy will look to build upon that experience and once again be one of the four squads vying for the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament in the league's four-team playoff set for April 24 and 26.
"We are looking forward to what should yet again be a challenging Patriot League schedule," said Timchal. "I was very encouraged with what I saw during the fall and now in the preseason. With our second recruited class here, we are looking to build on last year and make a run for the league title."
### GO NAVY! ###