DURHAM, N.H. – The University of New Hampshire women's lacrosse team is on the threshold of more than a new season – it's a new era for the Wildcats under the leadership of first year head coach Sarah Albrecht. And it all begins Feb. 16 (11 a.m.) when UNH plays its 2013 season opener at Hofstra University.
Albrecht, an active seven-year player on the U.S. women's national senior team, directs a UNH team comprised of 19 letterwinners, including nine starters, and six newcomers.
Simpson, an attacker, is the team's second leading returning scorer – she produced 30 points on 24 goals and six assists, and earned America East All-Academic Team recognition for the second consecutive year in 2012. She led the 'Cats in shooting percentage (54.5%) and scored a goal in 13 of 16 games with five multiple-goal efforts as part of seven multiple-point games.
O'Keefe saw action in 10 games (seven starts) a year ago and played 416:56 of a possible 960 minutes in goal. In four games in the month of March, she recorded a .468 save percentage and her goals-against-average improved each month with a season-best 10.99 in three April games. O'Keefe is an athletic goalie who has a penchant for stepping out of the crease to intercept passes.
The third team captain is defender Casey Doyle (Ivyland, Pa.), who has started 48 of 49 games in her three-year career with 16 starts in '12. She became a leader of UNH's defensive unit last season, when she ranked fourth on the squad in caused turnovers and fifth in ground balls. One year earlier as a sophomore, Doyle was also among the statistical leaders in ground balls (third) and caused turnovers (fourth).
Sophomore midfielder Laura Puccia (Fairport, N.Y.), a 2012 America East All-Rookie Team selection, led the 'Cats in goals (34), points (41) and shots (65) a year ago. She was the first UNH freshman to record 30-plus goals and 40-plus points since 2006 and the first rookie to lead the Wildcats in goals since 1988.
In other stats, Puccia ranked second in draw controls and shooting percentage (.523) as well as fifth in assists. She ended the year with a 10-game goal-scoring streak and scored a goal in 15 of 16 games overall with nine multiple-goal efforts as part of 10 multiple-point performances.
New Hampshire will also receive offensive production out of the midfield from seniors Amber Casiano (South Windsor, Conn.) and Chelsea Cyester (Parker, Colo.) as well as sophomore Rachael Nock (Severna Park, Md.).
Casiano started 14 of 16 games a year ago and has 42 starts in 48 career games. She ranked third among returning Wildcats in both goals (20) and points (24) in 2012. In other stats, Casiano was second overall in ground balls and third in draw controls, as well as fifth in shots and fourth in shooting percentage.
Cyester was on the verge of a breakout year in '12 when she incurred a season-ending injury during the seventh game. Before then, she recorded a four-game point-scoring streak in which she tallied 10 points on eight goals and two assists.
Nock played in all 16 games and was in the starting lineup nine times last year as a freshman, when she tied for second in assists with nine and also netted nine goals for a total of 18 points. She tallied a point in 11 of 16 games with six multiple-point efforts.
The midfield also includes junior Molly Gaffey (North Hampton, N.H.) and sophomore Brooke McGillis (Berwyn, Pa.). Gaffey appeared in 13 games last year and emerged as a starter late in '12, when she was in the lineup three of the last six games. McGillis played in every game and was in the starting lineup 15 times last season; she ranked third in caused turnovers and fourth in ground balls.
Other than Simpson, the attack is young. Sophomore Kayleigh Hinkle (Glenelg, Md.) is the next top point producer. Hinkle recorded 13 goals and nine assists for 22 points in 16 games (11 starts). Classmate Becca Graves (Rowley, Mass.) saw limited action last year in eight games and tallied one point on an assist. Emma Kriss (Rockville Centre, N.Y.) sat out the 2012 season after transferring from Old Dominion University, where she played 15 games (10 starts) with four points (3g, 1a) as a freshman in 2011.
Incoming freshmen Nicole Grote (Ellicott City, Md.), Laura McHoul (Westwood, Mass.) and Trinity Scanlon (Upton, Mass.) have the opportunity to make an immediate impact. Grote amassed 198 career points on 85 goals and 113 assists. McHoul compiled 453 career points (210 goals, 243 assists) and was an UnderArmour All-America Team honoree as a senior in 2012, when she led Westwood to the state title with 75 goals and 96 assists.
In addition to Doyle, the defensive unit has a wealth of experience in returning veterans Brittany Conner (Wilton, Conn.), Jamie DePetris (Radnor, Pa.), Cara Dowdle (Northbrook, Ill.) and Cori Rees (East Hampstead, N.H.) – all of whom are juniors. The lone new defender is freshman Gen Eby (Towson, Md.).
Conner was in the starting lineup seven times last year as a sophomore and played in 14 games overall; she has appeared in 25 games with 12 starts in two years. DePetris was selected to the 2012 America East All-Academic Team; she started the same number of games as Conner and played in every game, while Dowdle started five of the 14 games in which she played. Rees is a cornerstone of the defensive unit, as she has 25 starts in 33 career games and she ranked fifth on last year's squad in caused turnovers.
Sophomore Taylor Hurwitz (Holland, Pa.) is the other goalie on the roster. She played the same number of games as O'Keefe but Hurwitz had one less start and played 100 fewer minutes.
Following the Feb. 16 season opener, UNH will play its first of seven home games Feb. 23 against the University of Massachusetts at Memorial Field. The Wildcats open the America East portion of the schedule March 24 (at Albany) as they look to return to the conference tournament, in which the 'Cats made a record 14 consecutive appearances spanning 1998-2011.