After finishing last season with its fourth-consecutive Western Women's Lacrosse League Championship and first-ever Top-20 national ranking, the Cardinal is looking to this season to bring more success and continue working towards an NCAA bid. In her first season at the helm of the lacrosse program, head coach Michele Uhlfelder (Maryland '91) led Stanford to a record of 13-5 overall and 8-0 in the WWLL. She also helped bring the women's lacrosse team into the national spotlight, which included a three-week stay at No. 20 on the IWLCA poll. Under Uhlfelder's direction the team proved it could hold its own against some tough East Coast teams - defeating No.13 Vanderbilt 16-11, Lafayette 11-6 and Davidson 14-12, as well as going undefeated in league play.
When Coach Uhlfelder arrived on the Farm last September it was difficult to know what to expect, "for awhile practice was like a clinic everyday -- breaking old habits and building new ones," she says. But the team quickly took to Uhlfelder's leadership style and shared her enthusiasm, along with her desire to bring Stanford lacrosse to the next level. She comments that, "the players wanted their pioneer spirit to be a springboard that propelled the program on the road to a national model and a NCAA way of thinking, vs. solely a 'Best in the West' thinking." The first-year goals were pretty straightforward: to get Stanford Lacrosse on the national radar screen, to raise their level and expectations and most importantly - to set their sights on becoming capable of competing for, and winning, a national championship.
The 2001 squad graduated both captains: Katharine Barnes and Dana Katter, two outstanding leaders, on and off the field. Barnes led the team with 42 goals and 34 draw controls, and both she and Katter provided key leadership and were great role models to a team in transition. "Katharine Barnes' consistency, maturity, and her mental toughness made her a special player and losing Dana leaves a big whole in the defense, especially as an organizer and communicator." They helped get Cardinal lacrosse moving in the right direction and now it's up to this year's squad to continue building on last season's success.
On the Horizon
While last year's team goals remain strong, one big theme this year is youth. With nine newcomers and a team that is 3/4 freshman and sophomores, they will be heavily focused on utilizing the energy of the young players and helping them adapt quickly to the pace of college lacrosse. Coach Uhlfelder says that, "this year's team is more technically skilled than last year's team, which we think will give us more options in our offensive end and options moving the ball." This year's squad has some good experience in terms of their playing background - the returners played in some tough games last season and many of the newcomers have had big-game experiences in high school and one in the National Championship game. Also, important to this year's team is the strength in their balanced scoring attack - they want every player to be able to step up and demonstrate their versatility and pick up where last season left off.
Stanford returns 12 players from last year's WWLL Championship team, nine of whom started in at least one game, and all of them looking to take the team even farther this season. Coach Uhlfelder describes this year's tri-captains as the ones to look at first for the building of team chemistry. "Of the upperclassmen, the three captains have made the best overall transition to the program's national goals, in respect to their Stanford careers. They have a real passion for the goals of this program."
"Liz Britt has developed her read of the game since last year and as a result, she is playing with increased confidence and should develop into a bigger offensive threat. She has also increased her communication on the offensive end, and will be relied on to be the 'glue' for the offense. Emily Rodriguez comes into 2002, bringing the same tough work ethic, natural speed and endurance that earned her a starting position in every game last year, plus she has increased confidence in her stickwork, better decision making, more decisive communication." Both Britt and Rodriguez have started all 58 games since arriving on The Farm and combine for a career total of 66 goals, 19 assists and 163 draw controls. The third captain, Kim Cahill earned the respect of her teammates last year for her hard work and inspirational recovery from a torn ACL. "She has done a great job of handling her commitment to the team's goals while balancing her rehab" Uhlfelder says. "She is a good listener and her team has grown to trust her judgment because of this and because of her experience having seen a lot of lacrosse from the sideline last year."
Back in the cage this season is Rachael Neumann, a junior who has been a constant force for the Cardinal for two years and leads in all but one of the team's career goalkeeping records. She started all 18 games last season and posted 183 saves, finishing with a 9.26 goals-against-average. She will be joined this season by transfer Virginia Solomon, who comes to the Farm from the University of Maryland. The third keeper on the team, Christina Saikus, is not expected to see much time on the field, but is an incredible asset due to her intense dedication to the program. "Christina is one of the most special athletes that I've had the pleasure to coach. She is one of the most unselfish teammates I've coached or played with, her commitment is an example to everyone."
The sophomore class was truly here from the very beginning of the new program, and they have grown with it. "This is a class with significant field experience, Noor Dawood, Larissa Conte, Katie Grube, and Abbi Hills found themselves starters in every game, playing the balance of most every game. Larissa and Katie were key anchors in the defensive end last year, and I anticipate that they will continue to be the vocal leaders," Uhlfelder comments. Noor Dawood started 17 games and led the team with 14 assists, including recording 4 goals and 2 assists to seal the Cardinal's victory over California in the WWLL Championship game. Larissa Conte was one of only seven players to start every game for the team last season and she added at least 1 ground ball or caused turnover in all but one game. Katie Grube also started 17 games, on defense, and posted 14 draw controls, which places her at 10th in the team's season records. Abbi Hills stepped up into the role of freshman phenom for the team last season, starting every game and recording a team-high and season record high 101 shots, along with 34 goals, 33 groundballs and 20 draw controls. Coach Uhlfelder describes her as, "one of the strongest and most versatile athletes on last year's team. She provided a huge spark in the offensive end and she has one of the most powerful shots on the team."
Two other sophomores who should have key roles on the field this year are Jess Scott and Tiffany Chao. "Jess is an attacker who can score in tight and is developing an awareness needed to run a good motion offense. I also expect that she will be a tough attacker to mark. Tiffany is a player with good instincts who is committed to learning the game. She has been a spark for the team in terms of controlling ground balls and causing turnovers with her hustle," Coach Ulhfelder says.
New Coaches/New Players
Joining Head Coach Uhlfelder and Director of Lacrosse Operations, Liz Kittleman (Union '98), Stanford welcomes two new assistant coaches to the program: Quinn Carney (Maryland '01) and Amy Harms (St. Mary's '01). Carney, a two-time All-American and All-ACC player, was a four-year starter for the seven-time National Championship lacrosse team at Maryland. In addition, she played for the US National team in World Cup competition this summer and scored three goals to help lead the US to victory over Australia. Harms, a defensive force at St. Mary's was one of the team's strongest players her senior season, putting in 10 goals and adding 10 assists. She also played with the US West lacrosse team in Japan, Prague, England and Wales and is in training to make the US Team.
Along with the new coaches the team also welcomes nine new players, eight freshmen and one key transfer, all of whom will be expected to quickly find their place on the field and step up to the Cardinal's level and expectations. Coach Uhlfelder comments that, "At any given time we could have upwards of seven freshman in our starting line up. It has always been a priority to help young players play beyond their experience level and to create a practice environment that is similar the pressure that we'll see from opponents."
Among the newcomers is Virginia Solomon, a transfer who spent the last two years as a back-up goalkeeper for the National Champion Terrapins. At Maryland she played in 14 games, made 37 saves and ended her two-year career with a 6.55 goals-against-average. In addition, Kelsey Twist, considered one of the most sought-after recruits this season, brings championship experience to the squad after competing at midfield on the World-Champion U.S. U-19 team in 1999. Of the eight freshmen this year, many have displayed instant transitions to the college game. Twist and Nina Pantano are expected to fill key midfield positions and increase the midfield depth due to their commitment to fitness and overall field sense. "They have the ability to be mature players early on due to their experience and skill," coach Uhlfelder notes. Also distinguishing themselves early have been defender Anthea Tjuanakis, who has proved very tough in practices and exhibition games, along with attackers Alessandra Salatti and Julia Calzonetti & Claire Calzonetti. "All three are experienced attackers, Ali and Julia look to be a big scoring threats and Claire a good feeder."
After the close of last season Stanford withdrew from the WWLL and joined UC Davis, California, St. Mary's and Denver in forming the Mountain Pacific Lacrosse League (MPLL). This helps the team increase the strength of their schedule and ensures that they will face only other varsity programs. Because they are in a league, not a conference, the MPLL championship will not result in an automatic NCAA bid, but the Cardinal will still be in competition for an at-large bid. And after last season's success, it is clear that within the next few years the dream of receiving a bid will surely be a reality.
The Cardinal opens their home season hosting the first annual deBeer's East/West Challenge, where they will face the Orangewomen of Syracuse. The Orangewomen finished second in the Big East last season, and were picked No. 10 by Lacrosse America's preseason poll. In addition, the team will face Notre Dame, (who finished in the Top 20 last year), Brown, Vanderbilt and Boston University (preseason No. 20). On the schedule Uhlfelder explains, "this year's schedule represents an increase in the strength of schedule from last year - something that will continue. It will be challenging for our young group, but we look at each game as an opportunity to improve and demonstrate what we commit to each day in practice. We appreciate each opponent for the role they will play in helping us reach our goals."