Enthusiastic Bison Women's Lacrosse Squad Opens 2009 Season Wednesday at Home vs. Wagner
Feb. 17, 2009
LEWISBURG, Pa. -- After a productive offseason, the Bucknell women's lacrosse team kicks off its 2009 slate on Wednesday afternoon at home against non-league foe Wagner. Game time is 4 p.m. at Graham Field.
The Bison return eight starters, including a pair of all-conference performers, this spring. Bucknell was picked fifth in the Patriot League Preseason Poll in what figures to be a tight conference race.
Wagner, under the guidance of first-year head coach Christina Curiale, was picked eighth out of nine teams in the Northeast Conference. The Seahawks finished 3-13 last season, including a 19-13 home loss to Bucknell. Carol Donohue set school records with eight assists and 13 points in that game.
Year one of Caline McHenry's tenure as head coach of the Bucknell women's lacrosse program saw strides made in many areas. Most notably, the Bison offense was very effective, reaching double digits 10 times in 14 games while averaging a school-record 12.8 goals per game, up almost three per contest from the previous season. While Donohue shattered the school scoring record with 71 points in just her second year in Orange & Blue, five Bison scored 20 or more goals and eight had at least 10.
That offensive prowess drew headlines on the night of March 28, 2008, when Bucknell earned one of its most impressive wins in the 31-year history of the program. That evening the Bison ventured to Columbus, Ohio and scored a thrilling 18-17 victory over an Ohio State squad that was ranked in the top 20 just a week earlier. Just a year earlier that same Buckeyes team handed Bucknell a 17-4 drubbing at Graham Field.
While the positives were significant, a thorough review of the 2008 campaign reveals much to work on for the coming spring, particularly on defense and in transition. While the Bison scored 181 goals in 14 games last season, they also gave up 181, and now they must replace three-time All-Patriot League defender Lauren Deitrich from a team that finished 6-8.
Above and beyond continuing to implement her tactical plans on the field, McHenry, a former star player herself at Duke, is working on developing a winning culture at Bucknell.
"Looking back, I think we lost some of our focus last year," said McHenry. "This year there is just a completely different feel. We have made great strides off the field, and I really feel that is going to be the foundation for better lacrosse. We had a great fall. The players are positive and excited and working hard. Everyone wants to improve on last year's record."
Goal No. 1 for McHenry and her team is to regain a spot in the Patriot League Tournament. Bucknell was 5-3 in non-conference games last season but just 1-5 in league play, although one of those losses came in overtime to playoff-bound Lehigh and another was a back-and-forth 14-12 loss to eventual champion Colgate.
"Our biggest hurdle has been winning Patriot League games," McHenry offered. "But this team has set lofty goals. We want to have a winning record both overall and in the league, which would put us back in the tournament and give us a shot at a title."
One of the keys to making that a reality is keeping the ball out of its own net. The Bison were solid on draw controls last season, totaling nine more than their opponents over the course of the year, and forced just under 15 turnovers per game, but they still yielded 10 or more goals in 12 of 14 games.
Despite the loss of Deitrich, who led the Patriot League and ranked among the national leaders with 2.21 takeaways per game, Bucknell should have plenty of experience in the defensive end of the field.
Senior defender Catherine Barry and versatile senior midfielder Bonnie Buechel will both be in their fourth year as starters in 2009, while junior defender Katie Fox, sophomore defensive middie Ashley St. John and sophomore goalie Alyssa DeLorenz are also returning starters.
"Our strength this fall was really in our defense and defensive midfield," said McHenry. "Bonnie and Barry both looked great. They are the veterans of that group, and we have some depth there that we did not have last year.
"Catherine has been tremendous in terms of her leadership," McHenry said of Barry, who is in her second year as a team captain and will anchor the close defense unit. "She has done a fantastic job as a captain, and on the field she is a strong and vocal leader."
Buechel is Bucknell's do-everything player, and another big year from her will be critical to the team's fortunes. A three-time All-Patriot Leaguer, Buechel has registered at least 24 goals and 34 points in each of her first three seasons at Bucknell. Last season she tallied 25 goals and nine assists despite being asked to play more of a defensive role. She is already Bucknell's career leader in draw controls with 117, and her 48 DCs last season ranked ninth in the nation.
"Bonnie had a tremendous fall, and she is an integral part of our midfield both offensively and defensively," said McHenry. "We are asking her to score and to defend the other team's best players. That's quite a load, but she is certainly capable of handling it."
Fox played in all 14 games and started 12 last season, although she missed the fall season while spending the semester studying in South Africa.
"Katie works hard and has a great attitude," said McHenry. "How she comes back from being away in the fall will determine where she fits in, but with her work ethic I'm certain she will be a big part of our defense again this year."
Steady goalkeeping will also be an important factor for the Bison defense. The team had just one goalie on the roster last season, and it was a freshman at that. DeLorenz was solid in that unenviable role, averaging 9.5 saves per game while playing every second in the crease. This season she will have some competition in newcomer Jenna Wadsworth, who backstopped Severna Park High School to a couple of Maryland state titles.
"That had to be tough on Alyssa last year," said McHenry. "It was not easy for her to be put in that position, and she handled it very well for a young player. She still has some technical things to work on, but she had a very good fall and the competition from Jenna has been good for her. She has good quickness with both her feet and her hands, and she is vocal in the cage."
Another player to watch on defense is junior Kendall Thibeault, who was named a co-captain along with Barry in the offseason. Thibeault has not played much on game nights yet at the collegiate level, but that will likely change this spring.
"Kendall has really developed into a leader," noted McHenry. "She really handles herself well and will be an integral part of our defense. She has a great stick and has become a presence on the field."
Like Buechel, St. John is a talented two-way player who will be relied upon on both halves of the field. She started all 14 games as a freshman a year ago and was one of the team's top players in the fall.
"Ashley is going to be huge for us in the midfield this season," McHenry said. "She had a tremendous freshman year, when she came in and made an immediate impact. She works hard and has a great attitude, and she has really taken her game to a new level."
Up front at attack and attacking midfield, Bucknell returns much of the firepower that contributed to its record-setting offensive year in 2008. Heading the list is Donohue, who had a monster sophomore season last spring. Donohue tallied 35 goals and 36 assists for 71 points, smashing school records in assists and points. She ranked in the top five nationally in those two categories and had an absurd 13 points in a win over Wagner late in the year. The question now: what can she do for an encore?
"We just want Carol to keep doing what she did last year," said McHenry. "She is a very humble person who I think was honestly surprised by her success. She a true team player who wants to win games above any personal goals. She has great stick skills and amazing vision. The ball will be in her stick a lot and she will be our offensive engine, but we have others who can score too."
Among those others are Buechel, junior Chelsea Peters and sophomores Julia Braun and Becca Devine. Peters had a 30-goal season as a freshman and followed it up with 17 more last year. Braun was all over the field as a rookie in 2008, stuffing the stat sheet with 22 goals, seven assists, 40 draw controls and 20 ground balls. Devine also came on strong, tallying 10 goals as a freshman, including four in a 15-14 win over Robert Morris.
"Chelsea is hungry and excited after going abroad (to Switzerland) in the fall," McHenry commented. "We expect her to be a major contributor. Julia had a fantastic freshman year, and we are going to rely on her heavily in the midfield. She is one of the most athletic and talented players on the team. With a year under her belt she has a chance to be even better. Becca had a really good fall and became one of our vocal leaders on offense. She is doing a great job leading and directing everyone. You can tell she is playing with confidence."
Other returning players to watch include junior midfielder Stephanie Stevens and sophomores Laura Van Schaack, Michelle Milot, Lauren Peyser and Andi King. Of that group Van Schaack saw the most field time last season, playing in nine games with a couple of starts, and she is coming off a very productive offseason.
McHenry says Milot has bounced back well after a tough freshman year spent adapting to the collegiate game. A strong player with good dodging and shooting ability, Milot could be ticketed for more playing time in 2009.
Peyser has made a position shift since last year, moving from defense to offense. Her contributions will likely depend on how quickly she adapts to the offensive system.
Stevens and King have endured injury-plagued careers thus far, but both have shots to contribute this season if healthy.
While careful not to place the team's fortunes on the shoulders of the freshman class, McHenry is pleased with the progress the crop of newcomers made in the fall, and Bison fans can expect to see at least two of the five in significant roles in the spring.
Middies Jenna Lotkowictz and Ryan Gribbon both stood out in fall ball. Lotkowictz tallied 70 goals and 100 points last season at Skaneateles High in upstate New York, and McHenry is quick to laud her speed, stickwork and scoring instincts. A standout for powerful St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School in Virginia, Gribbon is a two-way middie with an energetic and upbeat personality.
Kelly Castafero is working with the attack unit and coming along nicely after a strong career at Conestoga High, the same school that produced Ashley St. John. Defender Allie Mongan, whose sister Megan is an All-Patriot League swimmer at Bucknell, had a terrific fall and is one of the most athletic players on the team, although she is trying to battle through some injuries as the spring season approaches. Her size and strength should pay off in the near future.
Wadsworth enters the spring as the backup to DeLorenz in the goal, and she has shown steady improvement throughout her short time at Bucknell.
"This team has a lot of potential," McHenry predicted. "We are young on offense and still working to mesh everything together, and our transition defense has been a concern, but I think the chemistry we have developed since the end of last season is going to pay off for us. The progress we have made off the field, as teammates caring for one another, is great to see as a coach."