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2019 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Preview: Senior-Dominated Terps Will Be In National Title Hunt … Again

February 21, 2019
At the Terrapins' first meeting before practices began in January, Maryland women's lacrosse head coach Cathy Reese honored her four lacrosse players who posted perfect 4.0 grade-point averages last semester. It was the first step in an annual process Reese has nearly perfected.

For a team that has been to 10 straight Final Fours, won three of the last five national championships (the most recent in 2017) and went 20-2 in 2018, it might seem odd to flip the focus in such a way on the eve of a new season. In fact, the exact opposite is true.  

"It's fun to win everything, but I think especially in our program it's really important to take a step back and celebrate all the little successes as we go," said Reese, who has a 248-21 record with four national titles during 12 years coaching her alma mater.

The Terrapins, who lost in the NCAA semifinals to Boston College last year, are hoping there's a bigger celebration on the horizon, particularly for nine seniors who have posted a 65-3 record to date. Of course, top-ranked Boston College, defending national champion James Madison and talented North Carolina may have something to say about that matter, too.

"We kind of expect that of ourselves," said Reese of the perennial pursuit of perfection. "The program has such a history and tradition of excellence and outstanding teams. … Each year is a different journey, but we really have a seasoned group. Last year we were really young."

Reese can now rely on nine seniors, including four All-America starters and incoming Canisius College graduate transfer Erica Evans, another All-American. All told, nine Maryland honorees dotted Inside Lacrosse's preseason All-America team, the most for any program in the nation for the second straight year. It again puts a target on Maryland's back.

Reese thinks her most tenured Terrapins are up to the task. 

"Every class has its own identity. There might be [senior] classes with more numbers, but this class really has personality. They're just really fun. They really enjoy each other, a lot of fun to be around, a lot of fun to coach, and they're really strong lacrosse players. That's a plus with their leadership and chemistry."

Defender Julia Braig (St. Paul's) is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and she'll contend for that honor nationally. Versatile attacker/midfielder Jen Giles (Mt. Hebron) was third in the Big Ten with 31 assists and third on the team with 52 goals. Attacker Caroline Steele (Severn) had 59 goals and has been on the last two Big Ten All-Tournament teams.

Megan Taylor (Glenelg) was the conference's Goaltender of the Year and led the league with 189 saves. She is perhaps the heart of the squad, though each of the seniors brings something to the table for the talented team. 

Evans, Canisius' all-time leading scorer, has fit right in, too. The Ottawa native is a member of the Canadian national team. She has experience at the highest levels, and her fast-breaking game fits right into the Maryland midfield, though she is just now recovered from a knee injury that sidelined her all of last year.

Shelby Mercer (Century) slid into a more prominent role last spring and will be a defensive starter with Braig and junior preseason All-America choices Lizzie Colson and Meghan Doherty. Junior attacker Kali Hartshorn and sophomore midfielder Grace Griffin (Liberty), were also national preseason honorees. Griffin is coming off a Big Ten Freshman of the Year campaign as well.

"Everybody brings something different, and that's what makes this group unique," Reese said of her seniors. "Last year, Jen Giles and Julia Braig were two of our captains as juniors, and they were selected by the team. That speaks volumes about them, but whether they're captain or not doesn't define our leadership. Every senior brings something and all the pieces of the puzzle fit together to give us a strong identity."

The Terps will play home contests at Maryland Stadium on the weekends this season while midweek matches go to Ludwig Field. The Maryland Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex is undergoing renovations.

Reese and the Terrapins are optimistic construction is just about complete on another national championship-caliber team.

Johns Hopkins (2018 Record: 10-9; 3-3 Big Ten)

Issue 251: Johns Hopkins Women's Lacrosse: Miranda Ibello
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Athletics
The Blue Jays' historic Homewood Field is the hub of women's lacrosse in 2019. Hopkins is hosting the Division I national championship May 24-26 in addition to the Big Ten tournament May 3-5.

Preseason No. 24 (Inside Lacrosse) Johns Hopkins is a dangerous dark horse with 10 starters back for a team that is coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance. Dispatched by Navy in the first round last spring, the Blue Jays could be a tougher out this year. They were tabbed fourth in the Big Ten preseason poll with defending champ Maryland a unanimous choice to repeat.

Senior Miranda Ibello leads the way for Hopkins on offense. She had a career-best 64 points and earned all-region honors after coming back from knee surgery. The Maryvale Prep graduate will pace a balanced attack that also includes juniors Maggie Schneidereith and Mackenzie Heldberg, who combined for 80 goals. Heldberg had a breakout sophomore campaign with a team-high 41 goals.

Head coach Janine Tucker's defense came on after starting the year with a new goalkeeper (now-senior Haley Crosson) and two freshman starters, Jeanne Kachris and Trinity McPherson. Kachris and All-Big Ten freshman Shelby Harrison, a midfielder and draw specialist, joined Heldberg on the Big Ten's preseason watch list.

Johns Hopkins hosts five straight games starting Feb. 16, part of a regular-season slate that includes 11 home contests, and then, the Jays hope, several more in the postseason.

Loyola (2018 Record: 16-5; 9-0 Patriot League)

Issue 251: Loyola Women's Lacrosse: Taylor VanThof
Photo Credit: null
Two seniors, midfielder Taylor VanThof and defender Kristen Yanchoris, lead the Greyhounds, the preseason Patriot League favorite. That duo helped spark Loyola to a perfect regular season in the league for the fifth consecutive year and the program's seventh NCAA Tournament berth in eight seasons.

VanThof won 119 draws last year and tallied 49 goals. She became just the third player in Patriot League history with more than 100 draw controls in multiple seasons. Yanchoris (Century) was the league's Scholar-Athlete, Defensive Player of the Year and a key part of a defense that ranked 15th nationally, allowing just 9.76 goals per game.

Senior Hannah Powers completes the senior triumvirate. She had 48 goals and 30 assists last season, continuing a 32-game point streak and earning a spot on the Tewaaraton Award Watch List. Patriot League Rookie of the Year Livy Rosenzweig led the Greyhounds with 55 goals and 47 assists, the first Loyola player -- male or female -- to reach 100 points in a single season.

The Greyhounds are 11th in Inside Lacrosse's preseason poll and 12th in the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I top 20 rankings. They need to get out of the gates quickly with a schedule that starts with six straight nationally ranked foes, including the opener at Johns Hopkins Feb. 16. 

Navy (2018 Record: 18-4; 8-1 Patriot League)

Issue 251: Navy Women's Lacrosse: Kelly Larkin
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Navy Athletics
The Mids are coming off a second straight Patriot League championship, after which they advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals for the sixth time in the program's 11 seasons. Veteran coach Cindy Timchal's team lost six starters and must rebuild on defense.

All-American Kelly Larkin became the first player in program history to tally more than 100 points during each of her first two seasons. She'll be asked to do even more now with the graduation of the high-scoring Collins twins (Jenna and Julia), who accounted for 160 goals last year. The junior should be up to the challenge after netting 62 goals and 55 assists.

Larkin will get a lot of help from senior All-Patriot midfielder Andie O'Sullivan, who had 25 goals in 2018. Senior defender Marie Valenti, another all-league selection and the team's best on-ball defender, is back to anchor the Navy defense.

The Mids were tabbed No. 13 in the Inside Lacrosse poll and No. 16 in the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Women's Top 20. Navy plays five ranked teams this year, including Towson Feb. 23.

UMBC (2018 Record: 11-6; 3-4 America East)

Issue 251: UMBC Women's Lacrosse: Lauren McDonald
Photo Credit: Gail Burton/UMBC Athletic Communications
Seventh-year head coach Amy Slade has eight starters back, including graduate attacker Lauren McDonald (Catonsville) on offense and seniors Kayla Renehan (Glenelg) and Jenna Baverman on defense.

McDonald had a UMBC-record 62 goals in 2017 and notched 38 more last year to earn second-team all-conference honors in back-to-back seasons. Renehan was first-team all-league in 2017 and is a two-year starter adept at racking up turnovers and ground balls. 

Hofstra transfer Baverman started all 17 contests. Originally from Baltimore, Baverman has played internationally with the Israeli national team and has been selected a UMBC captain along with senior Catherine Sims (Howard), a two-way threat in the midfield.

All told, the Retrievers have eight seniors on a team that hopes to give perennial America East powerhouse Stony Brook a run. The Retrievers play three teams that competed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, including a big showdown with No. 2 Maryland Feb. 27, the Terrapins' first trip to UMBC Stadium in six years.

Towson (2018 Record: 16-5; 5-1 Colonial Athletic Association)

Issue 251: Towson Women's Lacrosse: Olivia Conti
Photo Credit: Kevin Tellekamp
There aren't many players in the country better at wreaking havoc on opposing offenses than Tiger defender Olivia Conti, who averaged 2.48 turnovers caused per game. That's the fourth-highest returning average in the country.

Conti, a preseason All-America pick and reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Year, teams with fellow junior Sami Chenoweth (Manchester Valley) to disrupt offenses. Chenoweth, who was honorable mention All-America, rounded up 51 ground balls and forced 44 turnovers to rank among CAA leaders as a sophomore.

If opponents do somehow escape from Conti and Chenoweth, then they have to deal with junior goaltender Kiley Keating, another preseason All-America pick. Keating posted a gaudy .474 save percentage, held foes to single digits in 12 games and won a school-record 16 games with her 9.36 goals-against average.

Head coach Sonia LaMonica's team finished No. 9 in the coaches' poll, Towson's highest final rank since 2010. The Tigers are preseason No. 10 in the Nike/US Lacrosse rankings.

Division III

Stevenson (2018 Record: 8-10; 5-3 Middle Atlantic Commonwealth)

Issue 251: Stevenson Women's Lacrosse 2019: Sarah Roerty
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/Stevenson Athletics
The Mustangs are a perennial contender in the MAC Commonwealth but need to figure out a way to get past Messiah, which has eliminated Stevenson from the postseason for four consecutive years.

Head coach Kathy Railey has eight starters back, including the one-two offensive punch of juniors Carly Bowes and Kiely Bunce, who combined for 70 goals. Thirty-eight were scored by Bowes, a second team all-conference choice. Bunce led the team with 20 assists.

On defense, two-time all-conference defender Sarah Roerty is back after leading the team with 57 ground balls during her sophomore season. Junior goalie Mack Ferguson, a second-team all-conference pick last year, was fourth in the conference with a .480 save percentage and fifth with a 10.06 goals-against average.

Look for Lindsay Seipp (Manchester Valley), who had 20 goals as a freshman, to play an even larger role this season. The Mustangs, picked third in the preseason MAC poll, open this season at Salisbury Feb. 16. 

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics, Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Athletics, Larry French/Loyola Athletics, Courtesy of Navy Athletics, Gail Burton/UMBC Athletics, Kevin Tellekamp, Sabina Moran/Stevenson Athletics

Issue 251: February 2019 

Originally published Feb. 15, 2019