Women’s lacrosse gathers strength for 2006 season

Frozen hands hid in the warmth of gloves and blankets, seeking refuge from the chilly wind. Headscarves, hoods, umbrellas and winter coats thwarted the icy sleet, protecting the soft flesh underneath. The men and women, however, as if oblivious to the inclement weather, did not cease to yell and cheer with electrifying zeal. No, they were not trekking somewhere in the heart of the Canadian north. They had risen early last Saturday morning to attend the Quakers’ Lacrosse Challenge – the Guilford women’s lacrosse unofficial season-opener – which marked of the beginning of the team’s 10-week Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) campaign.

The Quakers are hoping to improve on last year’s 5-9 (2-6 ODAC) record with nine returning letter-winners and seven first-years hailing from 12 different states. Head Coach Matthew Grosso is hoping to build a competitive program as his young team, which has only two juniors and no seniors, grows in size and experience in the years to come.

“We are definitely better talent-wise than we were last year,” said Grosso. “We are deep at every position, which is a good thing. The big fear when you have a young team is always: are they going to play like a young team or are they going to play with poise and discipline?”

Women’s lacrosse has not had a winning season since 1997, and was ranked seventh in the preseason conference poll.

“We always finish seventh, but I think this year we have a really good chance of finishing fourth or fifth,” said sophomore defender Jennifer Maynard. “Either way the ODAC is a tough conference.”

Last season, Guilford did not qualify for the ODAC championships after losing a contested head-to-head decider game to Roanoke College in their last game of the season. However, despite the long-term losing record, Grosso has kept his rising expectations.

“Honestly, our goal every year does not change,” he said. “Our goal is to play for the ODAC championship, which means that we are going to be there at the end of the season. . That will always be our goal; that game will always be what I measure our success against.”

Foreseeing improvement in multiple aspects of the game with the maturing of last year’s squad, the addition of key new players, and superior facilities and fields, Grosso fashioned a much tougher schedule for the 2006 season, with Guilford playing three nationally-ranked teams.

“It doesn’t do us any good to schedule easy teams out of our conference and rack up a bunch of easy wins,” he said. “Even if we lose some of those games, playing against that tough competition is going to make us better. And when it comes down to playing the teams in our conference, we will beat more of them because of it.”

According to Maynard, focus is the team’s biggest problem. “We have the talent, we have the athleticism, but we are young . we lose focus a lot.”

Grosso believes that if the team plays with poise and up to their talent level, they are capable of some major surprises and will probably win more than they lose, despite of their inexperience and short roster.

“The great thing about freshmen is that they just want to play and prove themselves,” Grosso said. “I don’t ever look at things as limitations. They are just different kinds of challenges. . You do the best with what you have.”

Caryn Stone, midfielder and junior, is optimistic about the team’s future. “I think we have a lot more talent out there than we did last year,” she said. “We want to get out there and play harder and win as many games as we can. I just want us to play as a team and kick other teams’ butts.”

Grosso hopes the team will average more than 12 goals a game, compared to fewer than nine last season. “This year we are going to make people run and we are going to make people have to outscore us,” he said.

Midfielder and sophomore Mary Hutchins returns as the Quakers’ leading scorer with 30 goals and 21 assists, which gave her an All-South Atlantic selection, alongside forward Jordan Clodfelter, who tallied 24 goals and 6 assists last season.

Grosso, however, expects the whole team’s contribution. “I think we have the ability to score in a lot of different ways, which will cause problems for the opposition,” he said. According to Grosso, the most important thing about a preseason game like Saturday’s is the competition the team sees.

Despite the fierce weather, first-year Benjamin Strope, a lacrosse player, was among the few Quakers’ supporters to attend the scrimmage. “I am surprised at how well they pass the ball,” he said. “It is a lot harder to catch and pass the ball with this stick than with a guy’s stick.”

“You have to be ridiculously in shape to play this sport,” said Leah Stettner, midfielder and first-year. “As a midfielder, you can run five-to-six miles a game. No wonder it is called ‘the fastest game on two feet.'”

“Lacrosse is a bit of a sport that people have not seen,” Grosso said. “They come out and see these girls are flying up and down the field, throwing the ball around, shooting it at 40-to-60 miles per hour.”

“There is no professional women’s lacrosse and probably never ever will be,” he said. “This is probably the last time some girls will play competitive sports for the rest of their lives.”

Guilford women’s lacrosse will launch into the 2006 season with an away game at rival Greensboro College on Feb. 25. The Quakers return to Guilford for their first conference encounter on March 1, hosting Hollins University.