Feb. 3, 2009
STANFORD, Calif. -
Promise. Potential. Possibilities.
When the new Stanford women's lacrosse coaches describe the landscape that brought them West, those were the thoughts that made the job so enticing.
Stanford has had its share of success. The Cardinal is a four-time defending Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament champion. It reached the NCAA tournament in 2006. It's ranked No. 18 in the national preseason coaches' poll and is playing one of the toughest schedules in the country, one that includes seven Top-20 teams and three East Coast trips.
But it's the allure of what has yet to be achieved that's so compelling. The reason: Because at Stanford it's possible. History proves it.
Nineteen of Stanford's 35 sports have combined to win a total of 109 national team championships; the school has won 14 consecutive Director's Cups symbolic of the nation's best overall sports program; and, as Northwestern has shown, lacrosse championships can be won outside the strongholds of the Eastern-dominated sport.
"We're trying to find those players that will help us build a national championship team," said assistant coach Brooke McKenzie, who accompanied head coach Amy Bokker from George Mason. "A lot of programs say they're capable of doing that, but we're one of the schools that can. People understand and respect the type of potential that Stanford represents."
So, where does Stanford begin? How about March 9, 2008?
That was the day Stanford stunned visiting Penn, 10-8, to complete its second upset of a top-10 team within a week. Earlier, Stanford beat Notre Dame, 13-9. The significance grew as the season wore on. The loss was the only one for Penn until the NCAA championship game. Notre Dame also went on to the NCAA tournament.
For a Stanford team that returns 21 of its 29 players and six starters, those victories from a 12-8 season may provide a lasting effect.
"They put themselves on the map," Bokker said. "And I feel a high level of confidence. Our players want to be established as a top team, and to be recognized nationally as so many of the teams at Stanford are."
A new coaching staff that also includes Jaime Sellers, a standout at William and Mary last season, spent a large amount of its fall efforts getting to know what it had. That meant evaluating players, solidifying defensive principles and techniques, and determining the styles that work best for its personnel.
What they discovered was a versatile team with good instincts, scoring ability, solid goalkeeping, athleticism and depth. With those attributes, the team will play a high-paced style that features defensive pressure to create turnovers and trigger fastbreaks.
"We couldn't hold them back," Bokker said proudly. "I feel like they were busting at the seams to really start showing what they can do."
Now, comes that chance.
The following is a position-by-position breakdown of Stanford's team:
Sophomore Annie Read, a backup last year to second-team All-America Laura Shane, proved herself with a series of outstanding performances during the fall season and assured her coaches that the position is in good hands by taking on her role with confidence and poise.
"Annie has shown that she is a shot-stopper," Bokker said. "What I'm looking for in a goalie is to make saves that you should make, while also making a couple of big saves each game. Annie has shown she can do that, and more."
Most of the early coaching emphasis was placed toward the defense, which has made great progress and continues to improve. Because of graduation and injuries, the unit is young and will look toward co-captain Melissa Vogelsong and fellow senior Maris Perlman to be the "backbone" of the defense that will play mostly man to man, and switch to zone in certain situations.
"What's nice about those two is they play very differently," Bokker said. "Voges is a thinker, directing traffic. She's the core of our zone. Maris is super quick, very feisty and has really good hands to check. It's nice to have that balance."
Senior Vikki Fanslow had been slowed by injuries, but has quickly added herself in the mix, and junior Eleanor Foote and sophomore Ashley Aruffo will man lower defensive spots. Sarah Blahnik has made a smooth transition from attack to defense, and the defense also gets a boost from freshmen Paige Farmakis and Catherine Swanson, with Caroline Smith providing depth to the unit.
The team's deepest and strongest unit features versatile players that are willing and capable of moving into the defense or attack.
Bokker believes scoring will be a strength, mainly because it can come from a variety of players and positions. Dana Lindsay is perfect example. The attacking midfielder is the team's top returning scorer, with 31 goals and 16 assists last season.
All-MPSF first-team choice Julie Christy, co-captain Bess Siegfried and sophomore Karen Nesbitt scored a combined 44 goals in 2008. Christy scored three, including the eventual winner, in the 9-8 tournament final victory over Denver.
In addition, Lauren Schmidt, a full-time starter as a freshman in 2007, returns after missing last season with a knee injury. And Leslie Foard and Jamie Nesbitt are expected to be key contributors.
"What's nice about our midfielders is that a lot of them are willing to take the risks defensively that initiate the type of offense we like to play," Bokker said. "All of the midfielders have the ability to make a difference at both ends, which ends up being a huge advantage because there aren't any holes."
Freshmen Anna and Emilie Boeri bring another fresh set of legs and great stick skills to the midfield.
Stanford's offense will run through junior Claire Hubbard and sophomore Sarah Flynn. In essence, they are the point guards of the team.
"They're controlling tempo, they're deciding when we're going to push the fastbreak and deciding when we need to settle it down," Bokker said. "The two are really heads-up players and have good recognition of momentum in the game."
Attacking midfielders Maggie Sachs, Amanda Schwab, and freshman Ilyssa McIntyre look to be strong scoring options, as does Charity Fluharty, who scored two goals in the epic victory against Penn. Freshman Maria Fortino could also provide an offensive spark.
Overall, "I have pretty high expectations," Bokker said. "Their energy is high. They want to own the MPSF. This year, I expect to contend for an at-large bid to the tournament, and we have the schedule that allows us to do that."
Thus, Year One of a new era of Stanford lacrosse begins.
"They're hungry for success and willing to embrace the challenges that come with it," McKenzie said. "Because we're starting with a strong foundation, the potential that we have to achieve that success is huge."