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2017 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Preview: Johns Hopkins Makes Move To The Big 10

January 16, 2017
The Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse program joined the Big Ten Conference prior to the 2015 season while the Blue Jay women's team, which left the now-defunct American Lacrosse Conference after the 2014 campaign, elected to become an independent. 

For two seasons, the Blue Jays competed against many of the nation's top programs, making a successful run against an independent schedule and earning berths in the 2015 and 2016 NCAA Division I tournaments. 

But after two seasons as an independent, Johns Hopkins elected to join one of the nation's most competitive conferences. The Blue Jays will make their Big Ten debut March 19, when they visit NCAA runner-up Maryland. 

"The timing was interesting,” head coach Janine Tucker said. "We saw the conference realignment that was going on, and we had to make decisions that were the best for our program. We saw the professional way that our men's team was treated by the Big Ten, and we were all in. We couldn't be more excited about the move.” 

Tucker prepared for the move by playing several Big Ten squads during Johns Hopkins' independent seasons, including Maryland, Northwestern, Penn State, Ohio State and Rutgers. With an experienced offensive unit and a strong goaltender, Tucker believes Johns Hopkins is ready for a difficult 2017 slate that also includes nonconference matchups against regular NCAA tournament participants in Loyola Feb. 22, Penn Feb. 25, Georgetown March 11, Stony Brook April 11 and Towson April 30.

"There are two things we want our program to be: tough and consistent,” said Tucker, whose team opens its 2017 campaign at American University Feb. 15. "We are completely aware of the challenge that is ahead of us, and it is very energizing.”

The Blue Jays will have to replace leading scorer Dene DiMartino (46 goals, nine assists) and Jenna Reifler (17 goals, 16 feeds), but they will return four of their top six point-getters from last year's 11-8 squad. Junior midfielders Shannon Fitzgerald (35 goals, seven assists) and Emily Kenul (31 goals, 12 feeds) headline the list of experienced returnees. Senior midfielder Haley Schweizer (34 goals, four assists) should be a catalyst for the formidable Blue Jays offense. 

"All three players had outstanding fall seasons,” Tucker said. 

Senior goalkeeper Caroline Federico, who allowed 8.55 goals per game during the 2016 season, will lead the Blue Jays' defense. The return of senior defenders Maddie Bodden and Nevi Fernandez will help ease the loss of the graduated Josie George and Kirsti Paavola. 

"Having Caroline to anchor that defense and getting Maddie and Nevi back is pretty exciting,” said Tucker, who is 260-137 during her 23 previous seasons at Johns Hopkins. 

Loyola (2016 Record: 14-6)

With four of their top five scorers returning, the Greyhounds are well-armed for a run at their seventh consecutive NCAA tournament bid. Loyola, which won its third straight Patriot League championship last year, lost leading scorer Maddy Blakeman (39 goals, 23 assists). But head coach Jen Adams will welcome back a strong attack unit led by sophomore Hannah Powers (33 goals, 23 assists), junior Frankie Kamely (37 goals, eight feeds) and senior Cami Whiteford (20 goals, seven assists). Junior Sabrina Tabasso (25 goals, 19 feeds) will anchor the midfield. 

The defensive unit will have to fill two significant holes. Maddy Lesher, a three-time All-American and three-time Patriot League Defender of the Year, and four-year starting goalkeeper Molly Wolf have graduated. A solid returning defensive core, including seniors Bailey Mathis, Amy Abdalla, and Taylor O'Connell as well as sophomore Kristen Yanchoris, will be a key for Loyola, which hosts Johns Hopkins in its Feb. 22 season opener. The Greyhounds will begin Patriot League play March 18, when they travel to league runner-up Navy. 

Maryland (2016 Record: 22-1)

For most programs, the loss of a three-time Tewaaraton Award winner and the nation's top defender would signal a rebuilding campaign. But it doesn't work that way at Maryland, which is expected to contend for the 2017 NCAA title despite the graduations of the nation's best player, Taylor Cummings (60 goals, 19 assists) and defensive stalwart Alice Mercer. 

Under the direction of 10th-year head coach Cathy Reese, the Maryland program has won three NCAA championships. The Terps have played in four consecutive national title games, winning championships in 2014 and 2015 and finishing as the runner-up in 2013 and 2016. 

Five of the top six scorers will return for Maryland. Junior Megan Whittle (76 goals, five assists), senior Caroline Wannen (18 goals, 29 assists), sophomore Caroline Steele (38 goals, seven feeds) and junior Taylor Hensh (27 goals, four assists) will make Maryland's attack unit one of the nation's most formidable. Senior Zoe Stukenberg (49 goals, 16 assists) and sophomore Jen Giles (27 goals, three feeds) will lead the midfield. The return of sophomore goalkeeper Megan Taylor (6.78 goals-allowed average), seniors Nadine Hadnagy and Morgan Torggler and sophomore Julia Braig will help ease the loss of Mercer at the defensive end. 

Maryland, which will open its 2017 campaign at William & Mary Feb. 11, hosts defending NCAA champion North Carolina Feb. 25 in a rematch of the 2016 title game won by the Tar Heels, 13-7. The Terps will begin defense of their Big Ten championship March 19 against visiting Johns Hopkins. 

Navy (2016 Record: 13-6)

The Midshipmen put together another solid season in 2016, finishing with a 7-2 Patriot League mark. But a loss to Loyola in the league title game ended Navy's quest for its first NCAA tournament berth since the 2013 campaign. 

Head coach Cindy Timchal, whose 473 career victories are the most in NCAA history, will have to replace graduated offensive standout Katie Gallagher (31 goals, 16 assists) and close defenders Lizzy Rullan and Molly Doyle. But a solid returning core should put Navy in the running for a conference title and NCAA berth this season. Navy welcomes back its top scorer, junior midfielder Jenna Collins (44 goals, 24 assists). The Midshipmen attack will feature senior Morgan Young (34 goals, eight assists) and junior Julia Collins (29 goals, 11 feeds). Junior goalkeeper Ingrid Boyum (8.49 goals-allowed average), along with senior Meghan Hubley and junior Blake Smith, will guide the defensive effort for Navy, which hosts Longwood in its Feb. 5 season opener and welcomes defending Patriot League champion Loyola for its March 18 conference debut. 

Towson (2016 Record: 16-4)

The Tigers, who went 9-9 during the 2015 season, bounced back strongly last spring. Towson finished with a 5-1 Colonial Athletic Association mark and earned its fourth conference championship during the last five years. The Tigers defeated Old Dominion in an NCAA first-round game before falling to Penn. 

Head coach Sonia LaMonica has a wealth of returning talent. The Tigers will be guided by junior midfielder Kaitlyn Montalbano, who led the 2016 squad with 36 goals and 23 assists. Sophomore Natalie Sulmonte (31 goals, five assists), junior Emily Gillingham (26 goals, nine assists) and senior Samantha Brookhart (nine goals, 21 feeds) complete a productive Towson midfield. Sophomore attack Carly Tellekamp contributed 22 goals and three assists during a fine freshman campaign.

Despite the loss of defenders Emily Roth and Nadia Podo, the Tigers should be solid at the defensive end. Sophomore goalkeeper Angie Benson (6.93 goals-allowed average), senior Kelly McQuilkin and junior Tianna Wallpher will lead the defensive effort for the Tigers, who will open the 2017 season against visiting Stony Brook Feb. 4. The league opener pits Towson against host James Madison April 1 in a rematch of the 2016 CAA title game.

UMBC (2016 Record: 9-8)

The Retrievers will try to build on their first winning season since 2011. UMBC closed with a 3-3 America East mark during a season that ended with a loss to Albany in the conference semifinals. 

The Retrievers will return their top two scorers, junior midfielder Carolyn Jamison (51 goals, 10 assists) and senior attack Sam Nolan (37 goals, 22 assists). UMBC lost Marissa Davey (32 goals, 12 assists), and the Retrievers will rely on the sophomore duo of attack Payton Van Kirk (14 goals, two assists) and midfielder Lauren McDonald (13 goals, six assists), along with senior midfielder Jennie Milligan (11 goals, five assists) and junior midfielder Caitlin Miller (nine goals, six assists), to make up for Davey's absence. Senior goalkeeper Ashley Peacock is also back for head coach Amy Slade's Retrievers, who will begin against visiting Towson Feb. 15 and travel to Albany for its America East opener March 25. 


Stevenson (2016 Record: 10-9)

The Mustangs should score plenty of goals during the 2017 campaign. Head coach Kathy Railey will welcome back four of Stevenson's top five scorers from the 2016 squad, which finished with 7-1 MAC Commonwealth mark.  

Stevenson lost Carli Bafford (26 goals, three assists) to graduation, but returns its leading scorer, senior midfielder Olivia Monteiro (32 goals, 12 assists). Monteiro will get plenty of help at the offensive end from a talented trio of attackers, including seniors Brady Heher (31 goals, 10 assists) and Tori Bruno (20 goals, four feeds) and junior Hollie Larrimore (23 goals, three assists). 

The Mustangs will have to replace graduated goalkeeper Maggie Lawder and defender Kellie McLaughlin. But the return of senior Rachael Akshar and juniors Hana Tankersley, Lauren McDevitt and Jamie Bittner should help offset those defensive losses. Stevenson, which starts its 2017 campaign at Salisbury Feb. 18, hosts defending conference champion Messiah in its league opener March 25. 

A previous version of this article incorrectly started head coach  Cindy Timchal's win total. PressBox regrets the error.

Issue 229: January 2017