DURHAM, N.H. – The University of New Hampshire women's lacrosse team was expected to have a rebuilding year in 2010 with a new head coach and just four returning starters. It was much more than that, however, as the Wildcats were nationally ranked (as high as No. 15) and finished with a 10-7 record.
With Michael Daly in his second year at the helm and 14 players returning – including 10 starters (two America East All-Conference First Team, two Second Team and a league-high four All-Rookie Team selections) – the 2011 UNH squad is once again expected to challenge for the America East throne and advance to the NCAA tournament.
Four of last year's top five point producers return as juniors in the 2011 season. Kate Keagins (Bay Shore, N.Y.) ranked second on the team in both assists (15) and points (40). She led the team in caused turnovers and shots, and ranked second in ground balls as well as draw controls en route to earning America East All-Conference First Team recognition. In the league, she ranked fourth in caused turnovers and 10th in assists per game. Keagins was one of two 'Cats to record double digits in goals, assists, GB, DC and CTO.
Ilana Cohen (Andover, Mass.), one of three captains in 2011, and JoJo Curro (Amherst, N.H.) were All-Conference Second Team selections a year ago. Cohen was the other Wildcat who tallied double digits in those five aforementioned statistics. She ranked third on the team in assists (15) and fifth in points (27) in addition to third in caused turnovers and fourth in both ground balls and draw controls.
Curro led all Wildcats with 30 goals in 2010 and she was fourth in points (38) as well as fifth in assists. She ranked third in shots and had a team-high shooting percentage of .566.
Hayley Rausch (Severna Park, Md.), another captain, is the second-leading returning point producer. Last year, she ranked fourth in both goals (25) and assists (14) to amass a total of 39 points despite missing four games. In America East, she was sixth in points per game and seventh in assists per game.
One of the other top returning point producers from 2010 is sophomore Jenny Simpson (New Canaan, Conn.), who tallied 18 goals and seven assists for 25 points en route to being selected to the league's All-Rookie Team. She was the team's top rookie scorer and ranked sixth overall in points.
Meghan Bridges (Sandy Hook, Conn.), an All-State selection in Connecticut and Academic All-America Team honoree, also joins the attack in 2011.
In addition to including the offensive prowess of Keagins, Rausch and Cohen, the midfield unit is anchored by the squad's lone senior – captain Allie Duclos (South Windsor, Conn.).
Duclos, a three-time America East All-Conference First Team selection, led the 2010 Wildcats in both ground balls and draw controls and was ranked second in caused turnovers. It marked the second consecutive year she ranked first or second in those three statistics.
And last season was a breakout offensive year for Duclos, whose 12 points (nine goals, three assists) was more than her first two years combined (eight points).
Casiano, another of the four 'Cats named to the 2010 All-Rookie Team, started 12 of 15 games a year ago. She was the team's second-leading rookie scorer with 12 points (10g, 2a); 11 of those points were recorded in six America East league games.
Stager, who was named to the 2010 All-Rookie Team, was one of the primary 'Cats utilized on draw controls and she ranked third on the team is draws.
Cyester saw limited action in six games last season. Kleinendorst was a midseason walk-on following the completion of the women's ice hockey season; she redshirted the 2010-11 women's hockey season due to injury but will be ready for the '11 women's lax campaign.
The young defensive unit is led by junior Erin Levesque and sophomore Casey Doyle (Ivyland, Pa.). Levesque, who saw limited playing time as a rookie in 2009, played in 16 games and was in the starting lineup 10 times in '10 as her role increased tremendously in her second year as a Wildcat. Doyle missed just one game last season and was in the starting lineup 15 times while Stager played in every game and had 14 starts.
A quartet of freshmen – Brittany Conner (Wilton, Conn.), Jamie DePetris (Radnor, Pa.), Cara Dowdle (Northbrook, Ill.) and Cori Rees (East Hampstead, N.H.) – will be immersed into game action immediately. Conner earned All-America status as a high school senior while Rees was a three-time All-State selection and Dowdle garnered All-State recognition as a senior.
UNH has two experienced returning goalkeepers with junior Kate Gunts (Wilton, Conn.) and sophomore Kathleen O'Keefe (Chatham, N.J.) in the fold. Gunts played in 11 games (seven starts) last year and she had a 5-1 record with an 8.66 GAA and .421 save percentage. In two seasons, Gunts has a 14-6 record with an 8.34 GAA.
O'Keefe, a 2010 All-Rookie honoree, went 5-6 with an 11.03 GAA and .408 save percentage in 12 games (10 starts). She saw increased playing time and more starts as the 2010 season progressed and played in 63% of the overall minutes.
New Hampshire opens the 2011 season on the road against familiar regional rivals Holy Cross (Feb. 23) and Dartmouth (Feb. 26). The Wildcats play the first of six home games March 2 against UMass at Memorial Field.
UNH hits the road that weekend with a trip to Colgate (March 5), and the following weekend the 'Cats travel to the Constitution State to play Fairfield (March 12). That game is the first of four in a seven-day span. UNH plays host to George Mason on the 14th, then goes south to battle Vanderbilt (March 16) and Presbyterian (March 18 in Atlanta, Ga.).
New Hampshire then has its longest break in the schedule before ending the month with another road trip, this time to UMBC on the 26th for its America East opener.
Four of six games in April are at Memorial Field, but the month begins at Harvard on the 1st. The Wildcats then play four consecutive league games beginning with a mid-week home matchup (April 6) against nemesis Boston University. UNH travels to Albany (April 9) before welcoming Stony Brook (16th), Vermont (23rd) and Boston College (29th) to Durham in consecutive weekends. The regular season concludes May 1 at Binghamton.
The top four teams in the conference standings advance to the America East Championship, which will be held May 6 & 8 at the site of the top seed. UNH has advanced to the tourney each of the last 13 years, which is a league record.