navigation-background arrow-down-circle Reply Icon Show More Heart Delete Icon wiki-circle wiki-square wiki arrow-up-circle add-circle add-square add arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up calendar-circle chat-bubble-2 chat-bubble check-circle check close contact-us credit-card drag menu email embed facebook-circle facebook-square facebook faq-circle faq film gear google-circle google-square google history home instagram-circle instagram-square instagram linkedin-circle linkedin-square linkedin load monitor Video Player Play Icon person pinterest-circle pinterest-square pinterest play readlist remove-circle remove-square remove search share sign-out star trailer trash twitter-circle twitter-square twitter youtube-circle youtube-square youtube

You have to have a valid membership to attend this event

You have to have a valid membership to attend this event

Defense Once Again The Calling Card For Towson Women's Lacrosse

May 10, 2018
As the Towson University women's lacrosse team prepares to host the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament, defending home turf shouldn't be an issue. 

While the seventh-seeded Tigers (15-4) have a balanced and talented offensive attack that features three players with 40 or more goals and five players with 40 or more points, it's the swarming, turnover-generating Towson defense that often sets the tone.

"We've been quite opportunistic on the offensive end," said Towson head coach Sonia Lamonica, who has led the Tigers to six NCAA appearances during her eight seasons at the helm. "We've got a lot of threats. We love to play fast and push the transition, but there are times when you need to adjust the tempo, and that's something we're focusing on right now going into tournament play. The defense does allow us to do that, and they've certainly come through and given the offense opportunity after opportunity. That's a great thing to have."

The Tigers host Wagner for their opening NCAA Tournament game at 3 p.m. May 11. If sixth-ranked Towson beats Mercer, it'll face the winner of No. 7 Northwestern (13-5) and Richmond (16-3) at noon May 13.

Towson boasts a mix of seasoned youth and veteran experience on the defensive end, with three all-conference sophomores joining senior captain and mentor Tianna Wallpher (Mount Hebron) -- also an All-Colonial Athletic Association selection -- to lead team's nationally ranked defensive unit. The Tigers rank eighth in the nation in scoring defense (8.95 goals allowed per game) and eighth in caused turnovers per game (11.42).

"We have really high expectations," Lamonica said of the Tigers' defense. "As a program, we've had one of the more respected defenses in the country for some time, and that's been a product of some great goalies that we've had as well as some outstanding defensive players and the schemes we've been putting in. This year we have even more talent."

The defensive talent starts with sophomore Olivia Conti, who recently was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Year for the second time. Strong, athletic and aggressive, Conti is tied for the team lead in ground balls with 46, is first in caused turnovers with 49 and ranks second in draw controls with 41. She ranks seventh in the nation in caused turnovers per game at 2.58.

Towson Women's Lacrosse 2018: Olivia Conti
Olivia Conti
Photo Credit: Kevin Tellekamp/Towson Athletics

"She's got such a competitiveness to her play," Lamonica said of Conti. "She's opportunistic, and she's exciting to watch because of her athleticism and her physical stature. She's strong, she transitions the ball and she's not afraid to get out and up in people's faces." 

Complementing Conti is her tenacious classmate, Sami Chenoweth (Manchester Valley), who is tied with Conti for the team lead in ground balls and tied with Walllpher for second in caused turnovers with 40. Chenoweth was a second-team All-CAA pick this year. 

"You can always count on Sami to either turn over the ball or pick up the ground ball," Conti said. "Her stick is like a magnet."

But the defense can't always be perfect, especially facing a schedule that includes five top-10 teams, and sophomore first-team All-CAA pick Kiley Keating has been that rock in goal for the Tigers. Keating ranks seventh in the nation in goals-against average (8.94) and 16th in save percentage (.497). 

Towson Women's Lacrosse 2018: Kiley Keating
Kiley Keating
Photo Credit: Kevin Tellekamp/Towson Athletics

"She's awesome," Conti said. "If the defense is having a bad game or maybe makes one or two bad plays, she just steps up. It all comes from her. It generates mostly from the goalie -- pretty much any defense can say that. She'll step up at times when no one else is stepping up, and we can always count on her to dig us out of a hole."

While the younger Tigers have gotten a lot of recognition, junior Meg Lynch (Roland Park), the other starter, and senior Eva Torncello have provided a steadying veteran influence. They've combined for 44 ground balls. 

But it's the captain, Wallpher, who has been the glue to hold the group together. The first-team All-CAA selection leads by example on and off the field and has provided support and encouragement for her younger teammates. She is tied with Chenoweth for 16th in the country in caused turnovers per game (2.11).

"Coming in I had great leadership coming from the older defenders," Wallpher said. "I just took what they did for me and was hoping that I could do that for Liv and Sami and whoever else. I just try to be there for them to answer any questions and to help with their confidence, because that's always the toughest thing when you come in as a freshman." 

Wallpher's leadership is appreciated by the younger players.

"I was really nervous for my first game here last year," Conti said. "Having someone like her and being able to look up to her as a leader out there on the field really helped. I can look up to her on and off the field, and I think she's really helped me become the player I am now. Having her demonstrate her hard work and how she gives 100 percent on the field every day has helped me. She has transformed me, and how I work is a demonstration of her leadership."

Even with so many talented pieces, there is no guarantee that a defense will gel as a unit with different levels of ability and different personalities coming together from varying lacrosse backgrounds. For Towson, though, the defensive group has pulled together to help make the Tigers a national championship contender.

"As opposed to a defense that's run based on individuals, I think our individuals work together as a team," Keating said. "That's why we're so good, because we trust each other and we're not selfish players. Everyone works to help each other out." 

Photo Credit: Kevin Tellekamp/Towson Athletics