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2018 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Preview

February 4, 2018
After Historic Season, Navy Again Poised To Be National Contender 

For all of its success under head coach Cindy Timchal, the Navy women's lacrosse team had one major hurdle it couldn't overcome until the 2017 Patriot League championship game.

When the Midshipmen finally cleared that obstacle, defeating a Loyola University team that hadn't lost a conference regular-season or tournament game since entering the league in 2014, it was like an enormous weight had been lifted.

After capturing the league title and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth with a 15-5 victory last May, the Midshipmen continued to raise their level of play. They went on to earn the program's first victory against a ranked team by beating No. 7 Penn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, knocked off UMass in the second round and stunned second-seeded and defending national champion North Carolina in the quarterfinals to become the first women's service academy team to advance to a national semifinal.

"Loyola is always a very tough team," said Timchal, who has guided the Navy program since its inception in 2006 and is the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse all-time victories leader with 491 in 35 years as a head coach. "They have an excellent coaching staff and draw amazing athletes to play in a wonderful venue. It took us some time once they entered the league to adjust to their level of play. There were times we were beaten badly and times we were right in there but they broke away. It was always a little disappointing to us how we played against them. Maybe it was the intimidation factor, but sometimes they were just flat-out better than us."

Navy ultimately fell to eventual national runner-up Boston College, 16-15, in the semifinals to finish the year 18-5 and ranked fourth in the nation. 

It was the first time in program history the Midshipmen had earned a national top 10 ranking, and they also earned the respect of the lacrosse world. 

With All-Americans Jenna Collins and Kelly Larkin returning, Navy is ranked seventh in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll. Collins, a senior, was a second-team All-American and the Patriot League Midfielder of the Year. Larkin, a sophomore attacker, was named the Division I Rookie of the Year by Inside Lacrosse and the Patriot League Rookie of the Year. 

Collins is joined for her final season by her twin sister Julia, who is an attacker. Jenna recorded 72 goals and 42 assists last year to lead Navy in scoring, with Julia ranking fourth on the team in scoring with 48 goals and 27 assists. Larkin ranked second with 54 goals and 54 assists. 

Despite losing Morgan Young (79 points last season) and Patriot League All-Tournament defender Meghan Hubley to graduation, Navy returns 85 percent of its goals, points and assists and appears primed to again be a national contender. Goalkeeper Ingrid Boyum returns to anchor the defense after setting the school record for victories with 18. 

"We will miss Morgan Young and Meghan Hubley, our senior co-captains and four-year starters," Timchal said, "but we will try to fill those spots with some promising young players. This happens every year in college sports, and it's always exciting when young players come in and amaze the coaches."

Exciting seems to be the buzzword around Navy women's lacrosse, and Timchal will continue to challenge her team with a schedule that, in addition to 23rd-ranked Loyola, features No. 4 Boston College, No. 5 Florida and No. 13 Virginia, as well as Big Ten foes Ohio State and Michigan. 

"We're going to have to be prepared to compete hard every time we step out on the field," Timchal said. "It's always been a battle against Loyola, and it will be a battle again this year, but the Patriot League is more than just us and Loyola. We barely beat Boston University up there last year, and they have a great young team. BU and Lehigh are both strong. Sprinkle in Army now, and on any given day we all know what can happen with the Army-Navy rivalry."

Maryland (2017 Record: 23-0; 6-0 Big Ten Conference)

Coming off its 14th national championship (the Terps beat Boston College, 16-13, for the title), Maryland spent most of the fall figuring out how its 11 newcomers will fit into the lineup as the Terps try to replace 2017 Tewaaraton Award recipient and National Midfielder of the Year Zoe Stukenberg and National Defender of the Year Nadine Hadnagy. Despite the losses, Maryland enters the season ranked fourth in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll. 

Two of the newcomers for head coach Cathy Reese -- midfielder Meghan Siverson, a transfer from Louisville, and defender Kathy Rudkin, a transfer from Syracuse -- figure to see plenty of playing time. Senior Megan Whittle returns to lead the offense after capturing a bronze medal with England at the 2017 FIL World Cup. Whittle led the team in scoring a year ago with 71 goals and 16 assists. 

National Goalie of the Year Megan Taylor also returns for her junior season, while classmate Julia Braig will anchor the defensive corps. 

Loyola (2017 Record: 11-8; 9-0 Patriot League)

The Greyhounds enter the 2018 campaign ranked 23rd in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll and with their 34-game Patriot League regular-season winning streak intact despite falling to Navy in last year's conference title game. Head coach Jen Adams' Greyhounds face their usual daunting early-season schedule, taking on No. 25 Johns Hopkins, No. 5 Florida, No. 6 Penn State, No. 24 Towson, No. 11 Princeton and No. 13 Virginia before getting into Patriot League play.

The Greyhounds will have to replace two-time first-team All-Patriot League defender Bailey Mathis but return second-team All-Mid-Atlantic Region attacker Hannah Powers, who led the team in scoring with 45 goals and 28 assists, as well as second-team all-region midfielder Taylor VanThof, who ranked fifth on the team with 23 points, 17 goals, and recorded 146 draw controls. Kady Glynn, last year's starter in goal, returns after posting an 11.71 goals-against average and .470 save percentage.

Towson (2017 Record: 12-7; 4-2 Colonial Athletic Association)

The Tigers return seven starters from last year's team that earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. With four of its top five scorers back along with three defensive starters, head coach Sonia LaMonica's Tigers enter the year ranked 24th in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll.

Sophomore All-American Olivia Conti anchors the defensive unit after becoming the first freshman to be named CAA Defensive Player of the Year. Conti set school and conference records by causing 49 turnovers and ranked among the nation's top 10 in turnovers caused for much of the season. She is joined on defense by senior Tianna Wallpher, an All-Mid-Atlantic Region selection who caused 38 turnovers. 

Junior attacker Natalie Sulmonte, another all-region pick, was an offensive catalyst in 2017, finishing second on the team in goals (45), assists (22) and points (67). She also led the team and the CAA with 90 draw controls, the second-best single-season total in program history. 

Senior all-region midfielder Kaitlyn Montalbano also returns after spending last season on the Tewaaraton Award Watch List and being named the CAA Preseason Player of the Year. She ranked fourth on the team in scoring with 45 goals and 13 assists.

Johns Hopkins (2017 Record: 11-7; 3-3 Big Ten Conference)

Janine Tucker's Blue Jays return eight of 12 starters from last year's team that advanced to the Big Ten semifinals. Johns Hopkins enters the season ranked 25th in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll.

In addition to the eight starters, 13 of 15 players who scored for the Blue Jays return, and those players accounted for 75 percent of the team's goals and 85 percent of its assists a year ago. Defensively, Hopkins graduated four starters, including goalkeeper Caroline Federico, from a unit that ranked second in the Big Ten and 30th nationally in scoring defense. 

Senior attacker Emily Kenul leads the returners on offense after earning All-Big Ten and IWLCA All-Mid-Atlantic Region honors last season. Despite missing four games because of injuries, she led the team in draw controls (39), ranked third in goals (26) and assists (16) and was fourth in points (42). Leading the midfield returners is senior Shannon Fitzgerald, who was second on the team with 33 goals to go along with 10 assists and 26 ground balls. Senior Emily Verica is the lone returning starter on defense. 

UMBC (2017 Record: 11-6; 4-2 America East)

The Retrievers return nine starters from last year's team and feature a nice mix of youth and experience, with six seniors joined by a promising freshman class of nine. 

Sam Nolan's 78 points will be missed, but the Retrievers return their next six top scorers. Leading the way among that group for head coach Amy Slade is junior attacker Sara Moeller, who finished with 38 goals and a team-best 35 assists. Moeller was followed by junior midfielder/attacker Lauren McDonald, the team leader with 62 goals to go along with six assists, senior midfielder Carolyn Jamison, who recorded 39 goals and 22 assists, and junior attacker/midfielder Payton Van Kirk (29 points). 

UMBC will look to replace goalkeeper Ashley Peacock, who made 15 starts a year ago. Junior Carly Tolino appeared in six contests, starting twice, and posted a 10.26 goals-against average. 

Division III

Stevenson (2017 Record: 10-8; 6-2 Middle Atlantic Conference)

The Mustangs will try to reach their sixth consecutive MAC Commonwealth final after falling to fourth-ranked Messiah for the third straight year last May. 

Stevenson head coach Kathy Railey will have to replace the team's top four scorers, including Olivia Monteiro, who became the fifth player in program history to record 200 points, and Brady Heher, who concluded her career with 95 goals.

All-conference selections Sarah Roerty, Jamie Bittner and Mack Ferguson all return to help ease those losses and anchor a strong defensive unit.

Roerty, a sophomore defender, was a first-team all-conference pick after leading the conference in ground balls per game, pacing the team with 57 ground balls and causing 28 turnovers to tie for the team lead. Bittner, a senior, is a two-time second-team All-MAC defender who tied Roerty in caused turnovers. Those two teamed with sophomore goalkeeper Mack Ferguson to bolster the defense. Ferguson was an honorable mention All-MAC pick who recorded six games with 10 or more saves.

Sophomore attacker Kiely Bunce is the returning scoring leader, having ranked fifth on the team last year with 25 goals and eight assists.

Photo Credit: Phil Hoffman/Navy Athletics

Issue 241: January / February 2018 

Originally published Jan. 19, 2018