DURHAM, N.H. -- The University of New Hampshire women’s lacrosse team returns 16 letterwinners, including eight starters, from last year’s team that earned an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament and ended the season ranked 13th in the nation.
“The experience of last year is something to build upon, but we know it’s a new year and we have to prove ourselves every time we take the field,” 13th-year head coach Sandy Bridgeman said. “We know what it takes, and the mentality of making the most of every opportunity you are presented. We just have to go out and be the team we are capable of being.
“Quicker. Faster. Stronger. Our goal is to improve a little each day,” Bridgeman added.
The six-member senior class, which includes two America East All-Conference First Team and two Second Team selections from a year ago, is poised to make that happen and lead the Wildcats to another postseason appearance.
“We have a really solid group of seniors,” Bridgeman stated. “This class has contributed across the board since their freshman year. And now, this is their year.”
Michaela Hardy, a 2008 All-America Third Team selection and America East Women’s Lacrosse Scholar-Athlete of the Year, is the heart of the team at midfield. The senior co-captain exploded on the scene in ’08 to lead the ‘Cats in goals (52) and points (59), and with 22 goals in six league games, she led America East in goals per game. The fleet-of-foot Hardy proved to be more than just a goal scorer. She recorded a team-high 26 caused turnovers and ranked fourth in ground balls.
Ashley Durepo, a two-time America East All-Conference Second Team honoree, is another all-around player at midfield. The senior was one of two Wildcats to record double digits in goals, assists, ground balls, draw controls and caused turnovers in the ’08 season. She ranked second in assists (13), fourth in points (32) and fifth in both draw controls and caused turnovers.
Four freshmen also look to be part of the midfield rotation. Hayley Rausch, a letterwinner on the 2008 field hockey team, has already made a mark as a Wildcat freshman by ranking third on that team in goals and fourth in points. Kate Keagins brings quickness, speed and athleticism to the midfield and Ilana Cohen adds a dimension as a seventh attacker in the offensive zone. Erin Levesque completes the corps of midfielders.
Sarah Von Bargen, a two-time America East All-Conference First Team selection, is one of UNH’s top point producers. The senior attacker led last year’s squad in points per game with 50 (41 goals, nine assists) in 16 games. She reached both the 100-point and 100-goal milestones a year ago and enters ’09 ranked eighth on the program’s all-time goal list with 112. And with 132 career points, she is on the verge of entering UNH’s top-10 in that statistic.
Shaunna Kaplan, another speedster who garnered All-Conference Second Team accolades a year ago, is an additional dangerous attacker. The junior was the other ‘Cat who recorded double digits in five statistics as she led the team in both assists (15) and draw controls (34). Kaplan also ranked third in goals (30), points (45) and ground balls.
“Our overall team speed is very good,” Bridgeman said. “We do like to push it in transition, but we also have the ability to settle into an attack and execute.”
Sophomore attack Susie Piotrkowski gives the ‘Cats another offensive weapon. After redshirting the 2007 season, Piotrkowski proved explosive last year with a six-goal game vs. Binghamton and a six-point game (5g, 1a) against UConn. Her totals included 22 goals and 27 points, and she finished with the highest shooting percentage among the seven players who recorded double-digit goals.
Classmate Deb Dale developed into a threat as the ’08 season unfolded. She recorded half of her season totals in the postseason with three points in three games, and that included her first multiple-point game with a goal and an assist in the NCAA quarterfinal game.
Missy Hamilton, a junior who is coming off an injury-plagued 2008 season, and sophomore Allie Bratton bring experience to the attack, which also welcomes incoming freshmen JoJo Curro and Kirstin Lang. Curro, a skilled playmaker with game sense and field vision, looks to be an impact player.
“We take pride in being a solid defensive unit,” Bridgeman said. “And this year, we will be able to throw a few wrinkles in there. I’m excited about the depth we have and the flexibility that gives us.”
Seniors Kelli LaPerch, Beth Sabiston and Beth Stankus are the backbone of this formidable defensive unit that ranked #7 in the nation last season.
LaPerch, a co-captain, enters her third year as a starter, and each of the past two seasons she has been among the team leaders in both ground balls and caused turnovers. Sabiston, already with three years of starting experience, was an All-Conference Second Team selection in ’08 as she recorded double digits in ground balls, draw controls and caused turnovers. She ranked third on the team in caused turnovers. Stankus, sidelined by injury last season, immediately stepped into a starting role as a freshman and in ’07 she was near the top of the UNH leaderboard in both caused turnovers and ground balls.
In addition to the senior ensemble, junior Kellen Millard was an unsung hero a year ago, when she saw increased playing time down the stretch and into the postseason because of her efforts on the defensive end.
Allie Duclos, who garnered America East All-Conference First Team and All-Rookie Team accolades last year, is another strong defender. Despite missing five games, she tallied double digits in ground balls, draw controls and caused turnovers. In fact, she ranked second on the team in draw controls with 33.
Jess Cassotis saw limited playing time last year as a rookie and will fight for playing time in the defensive rotation. Mikki Ekfelt has seen limited action in her first two years as a Wildcat and will provide depth to the unit in ’09.
The two goalkeepers on the 2009 UNH roster have a combined total of 3 minutes, 59 seconds of collegiate experience. Sophomore Nikki Hume claims all of it, as she held nationally-ranked Vanderbilt University scoreless in a brief relief stint in the second half of the team’s 10-7 road win. In addition to Hume, freshman Kate Gunts will battle for the starting position.
The 2009 UNH Wildcats open the season Feb. 22 at home against Bryant University. That is the first of nine home games on the ’09 slate. The ‘Cats also play host to non-conference foes Yale, UMass, Vanderbilt and Cornell as well as America East combatants Boston University, Vermont and Stony Brook.
New Hampshire’s non-conference road schedule is highlighted with a trip to the University of Maryland. The ‘Cats also travel to play regional rivals Dartmouth, Holy Cross, UConn and Harvard.
UNH looks to extend its conference record mark of 11 consecutive America East Championship tournament appearances when the tourney is held April 30 & May 2 at the site of the highest seed.
“We got a taste of the NCAAs last year and we like it,” Bridgeman said. “Our goal is to get back to that level and go as far as we can.”