Feb. 5, 2007
Stanford, Calif. -
The Cardinal women's lacrosse team opens the 2007 season on Saturday, heading to Eugene, Ore. for an 11 a.m. match-up with the Oregon Ducks.
After a landmark 2006 season, the Stanford women's lacrosse team is ready to pick up where it left off and defend its name as the lacrosse powerhouse of the west. The Cardinal made history last year, using a second-straight Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) title to propel itself into the NCAA Tournament and become the first team from west of the Mississippi to break into the field.
The Cardinal is not done making history, however, and is ready to take its success one step further in 2007. Since taking over in 2001, Head Coach Michele Uhlfelder has led the program to historical milestone after historical milestone. In 2001, her team of virtual unknowns cracked the top-20. In 2003, the team finished the season with a program-best 14 wins and a No. 15 national ranking. The following year, the team bested the mark with an appearance at No. 14. In 2006, the team beat a top-10 opponent, produced the first west coast All-Americans and made the NCAA Tournament. In 2007, Uhlfelder and her squad are eyeing a deeper run in the tournament and a chance to become the first west coast team to take home an NCAA title. With 20 returning letter winners and 11 talented freshmen, Stanford is prepared to contend with the best programs in the nation.
"We reached a milestone last year, and our program knows how fun and rewarding it is to go to the NCAA tournament," says Uhlfelder. "But last year is last year, and each year is unique. That experience is part of who we are, and part of our tradition now, but it takes a mentally tough group to put that experience in your back pocket and focus on the things that got you there. For all that will be said and written in polls and predictions, it comes down to a team's ability to reinvent themselves, integrate new talent, and develop the skills and experience of the veterans to compete among the nation's best. I think we have the discipline to not look back, and we have the excitement over new challenges and a new level of play. Our goal has always been to start where we finish, so we're focusing on starting at the level we finished last year and playing with those high expectations."
Uhlfelder, who enters her seventh season at the helm of the Cardinal, is excited about her team's potential to excel this season. Stanford has posted an impressive 72-36 (.667) mark under the Baltimore, Md. native and has dominated the MPSF, with a 43-2 (.956) record against conference opponents. Uhlfelder and her staff have set out clear guidelines for continuing the program's success this season.
"We're looking for a high level of consistency no matter the opponent," she says. "It's important that home or away, early or late, we're playing the best game that we can possibly play. We want to start out strong, take advantage of early opportunities and be a team that never looks back. Getting better everyday is hard, but we're focused on building on each experience and each game."
Stanford is led by four senior captains who provide strong guidance for the Cardinal, on and off of the field: Liz Piselli, Rachel Dyke, Bryanne Gilkinson and Michelle DeChant. The foursome brings a wealth of experience, competitiveness and leadership to the squad, and will help build confidence in a young group.
"Our captains have a lot of experience between them and complement each other really well," says Uhlfelder. "It's a team approach. Where some may be very vocal leaders, others are leaders by example. They've been around the program a long time and have seen it change and improve exponentially. During their time, they have kept their eyes wide open and have gained a lot of maturity on and off the field. There is no denying the spark that these captains can give. They will be in a number of competitive situations in which I'll have confidence in their insights, organization, and competitiveness."
Additionally, the team returns a standout junior class, which will step into a more prominent leadership role as upperclassmen this season, offering valuable experience, dedication and skills.
"The junior class in general has been a big spark to our competitiveness," says Uhlfelder. "They love a challenge and will always bring their heart and soul to a game."
For 2007, Uhlfelder has challenged her team with one of its toughest schedules, aiming to once again turn the heads of the NCAA selection committee with a top-notch strength of schedule. Stanford's challenging lineup is nothing new, however. Of the team's six losses in 2006, four were to Final Four teams, including two to the eventual National Champion. This year, the Cardinal will face six 2006 NCAA Tournament participants, including Duke (Feb. 18), Notre Dame (Feb. 24), James Madison (Mar. 9), Maryland (Mar. 28), Cornell (Apr. 15) and Boston University (Apr. 29). Additionally, the squad will face six conference champions and five squads that finished 2006 ranked in the top-10.
"The intent is always to have the toughest schedule possible," says Uhlfelder. "We stand to gain the most from our wins, and learn the most from our losses. Our team realizes that we have some great competitors on our schedule this season, and we're excited for it. Facing good competition and preparing for good competition is a good measure of where we are and where we need to go. Our schedule will give us many opportunities across the country to bring out the best in us."
The Cardinal will face 10 non-conference opponents in 2007, and has a chance to earn the program's first-ever wins against six of them. James Madison and Maryland, Uhlfelder's alma mater, are firsts on the Cardinal agenda and the squad will see Virginia Tech and Boston University for just the second time in program history.
"We have some new opponents on the schedule which is always exciting," says Uhlfelder. "We also have an influx of some exciting ACC teams and other teams that have proven to be very tough. Hopefully, those teams are names that loyal fans and newcomers in the area recognize. It's excellent for the growth of the game that many of those match-ups are at home."
The Cardinal non-conference schedule is highlighted by a pair of matches in late February, when Stanford is slated to take on two NCAA Semifinalists in less than a week. The Cardinal will host Duke in the team's home-opener at Maloney Field on Feb. 18 before heading to Notre Dame for a Feb. 24 re-match of last year's double-overtime thriller with the Irish. Uhlfelder and her team are excited for both rivalry match-ups.
"In scheduling, we always think about having good rivalries," she says. "On top of adding to the quality of our schedule, it's certainly fun to have a longstanding rivalry with schools that are academically and athletically similar to Stanford."
In March, the Cardinal will host Connecticut (Mar. 4), James Madison (Mar. 9) and Colgate (Mar. 11) in non-conference action at Maloney Field. The team then meets Virginia Tech (Mar. 25), Maryland (Mar. 28) and Vanderbilt (Mar. 31) on a Spring Break road swing to close out the month. On April 15, the Cardinal will try to oust Cornell for the second-straight year. Two weeks later, the squad will complete the regular-season at Boston University (Apr. 29).
In MPSF action, the Cardinal wastes no time jumping into competition, as the team opens the season with two conference games in mid-February. The MPSF will present many new challenges for the Cardinal this season, as Stanford will vie for a third-straight title with five up-and-coming programs looking to break onto the national scene. Denver posted its best season in history last year. Cal has put together prominent recruiting classes, while Oregon is improving rapidly in only its third season as a varsity program. Saint Mary's has a promising new coaching staff, and UC Davis is dramatically improving its strength of schedule and recruiting efforts.
"I think the conference is in great shape," says Uhlfelder. "We are on the right track. Each year, the teams in our conference schedule tougher and tougher opponents. At the end of the day, that makes us all better. Our league, overall, has experienced tremendous growth and we have national talent, experience, coaching, and recruiting. We've established a reputation and are putting ourselves on the line against the toughest teams in the country."
Stanford will open the season with Oregon (Feb. 10) and Saint Mary's (Feb. 16). The Cardinal will see the rest of the MPSF schools in April, facing Denver (Apr. 6), California (Apr. 21) and UC Davis (Apr. 24). The MPSF Tournament will be held at Aggie Field in Davis this year, May 4-6.
Here's a look at the 2007 Cardinal by position:
Stanford returns one of the best collegiate goalkeepers in the nation in junior Laura Shane. Last year, the Cardinal netminder finished the season with one of the top three save percentages in the nation (.556) and stood as the only Division I keeper to register multiple 20+ save performances. Her 22 saves against North Carolina on April 2 tied for the top mark in the NCAA in 2006 and, as just a sophomore, she was one of 21 players and three goalkeepers named as nominees for the Tewaaraton Trophy. The Baltimore, Md. native finished her sophomore season with 205 saves, the second-highest single-season mark in Cardinal history and moved within 50 saves of a Cardinal career save record. In May, Shane and teammate Megan Burker shared the honor of becoming the first Stanford All-Americans, and the first All-Americans to represent the west coast.
"As a player, having a goalkeeper that you have confidence in allows you to take some chances," says Uhlfelder. "As a defender, you actually want your opponents to take some shots. Instead of being a defensive defender, you're allowed to be a more complete defender and our players are really excited about that. A solid goalkeeper gives us the opportunity to be a fantastic unit and feel like a fantastic unit. Laura's abilities have definitely helped us have that sense of belief."
This summer, Shane added to her honors by earning a spot on the U.S. Elite Team. Having just completed her sophomore season, she was the youngest player on the roster and one of only five current collegiate players. In 2007, the Cardinal defense will benefit from Shane's stalwart presence in the cage, and her experience facing some of the nation's top offensive players.
"Shaner's U.S. team experience has increased her confidence and really helped her develop as a player," says Uhlfelder. "She's a great competitor, but she's also performed really consistently. Other players model that consistency, which is really important for the team. Day to day, you need players that you hold in high esteem and can pattern yourself after in some way, shape or form. Shane also makes our players better and better shooters each and every day."
The Stanford back line is anchored by junior Bri Ned, who was one of the top defenders in the conference last season, earning both All-MPSF and MPSF All-Tournament Team honors. As a sophomore, Ned started all 18 games and led the Cardinal defense in caused turnovers. As a junior this season, she will bring experience and consistency to the Cardinal defense.
"Bri Ned knows the game really well," says Uhlfelder. "She's a student of the game and I think that makes her someone that her teammates really look to and trust. She's a great competitor and shows up for every game."
Senior Bryanne Gilkinson will also be a key player on defense for the Cardinal in 2007. Last season, she came off of injury and expanded her skill set to make a significant contribution on the Stanford attacking end. She finished the season with four goals and three assists, while tallying 15 ground balls, 10 caused turnovers and 12 draw controls.
"The significant minutes that Bry saw on the attacking end last year have given her a better appreciation for the game and make her an even smarter defender," said Uhlfelder.
Senior Rachel Dyke will also be looked upon as a leader on the defensive end this year, but, with the loss of starting defenders Thea Lorentzen, Kinsey Morrison and Nyerr Parham, the Cardinal will need a group of young returners to step up as well.
"I think our defense is fairly unproven," says Uhlfelder. "They are an extremely coachable group and all on the verge of being able to make a difference. A lot of our young defenders from last year have had the opportunity in the off season to step up and therefore are starting in a much more experienced place than they otherwise would have. Each has made a commitment to improving her individual defense. The unit is working hard to gain chemistry and learn how to limit our opponent's scoring threats and momentum runs."
Juniors Ariana Parasco and Katharine Fox, who both made significant contributions for the Cardinal last season, will look to take on even bigger roles this year. In addition, junior Alicia Soto and sophomores Polly Brown and Melissa Vogelsong will vie for time on defense for the Cardinal.
"Our goal is to be fairly interchangeable," says Uhlfelder. "No matter who's on the defensive end, we want to preserve our toughness. We're very much a team defense, but I think this year's players bring a better understanding of the game and better individual skills. Top to bottom, we have more depth than we've ever had."
Veteran Liz Piselli will lead a young Stanford midfield in 2006, as the senior returns for her third year in the starting lineup. Last season, Piselli was the team's fourth-leading scorer with 28 goals and 41 points. She was second on the team with 13 assists and brings valuable scoring experience to the Cardinal lineup. One of three returning All-Conference honorees, Piselli will be a primary leader for the squad this season.
"Piselli is a really hard worker," says Uhlfelder. "She has the team's respect for that and has been instrumental in developing our team's work ethic, expectations, and chemistry. On the field, she's a power player, and uses her speed to gut things out. Using these tools is a great example to set for a really young midfield."
In addition to Piselli, returners Maris Perlman and Jamie Nesbitt will be vital to the Stanford midfield in 2007, having seen significant time on the field during last year's campaign. Sophomore Bess Siegfried will also return for the Cardinal after redshirting the 2006 season due to injury.
A significant portion of this year's Stanford midfield, however, will be comprised of well-credentialed newcomers, who, as a class, boast five First Team All-America honors, six Honorable Mention All-America honors and nine Academic All-America honors. The strong freshman class, which includes seven midfielders, will have the opportunity to make an immediate impact for the Cardinal.
"Our midfield this year is going to be a combination of new talent and returners who are stepping up and expanding their games," says Uhlfelder. "We are a much more fit, fast team than last year and our midfielders set that tempo. Our style will revolve around their speed and the opportunities that they create for our team in terms of fighting for loose balls, chasing people down, bring the ball up field and setting the pace. Since it is said that the game is won between the 30's, the midfielders have the opportunity to set the tone."
Veteran attacker Daphne Patterson will pace the Cardinal offense in 2007, as the junior boasts more scoring experience than any player on the squad. In her first two years on the Farm, the New York, NY native scored 62 goals and added 10 assists. Last year, she was the team's second-leading scorer, racking up 41 goals. One of the top offensive players in the conference, Patterson brings valuable consistency, having scored in 17 of 18 matches last season. The junior also brings the ability to step up in big games, as shown in the team's NCAA debut last season when Patterson netted the team's first three goals.
"Daphne is definitely a competitor and we can rely on her experience, consistency and ability to be mentally tough each game," says Uhlfelder. "She's a smart player who can pick up on the tempo of a game and know if it needs to be slowed down or kicked up. Daphne is a person who really likes to handle the ball, and puts her heart into every game."
The Cardinal attack will likely be the most seasoned unit on the field in 2007, but will need to step up and fill vacancies left by two of last year's top scorers: Megan Burker and Sarah Bach. Two veteran attackers, junior Megan McClain and senior Michelle DeChant, started all 18 games last year and combined for 42 points. Junior Anna Brown and sophomore Bis Fries will be looked upon to step up this season after seeing quality time on the field as reserves last year. Brown was the most accurate shooter on the Cardinal squad, sending eight of her 14 shots to the back of the net. Fries had a fast start to her rookie campaign, and scored five times in her first four collegiate matches. Four members of the top-notch freshman class will round out the Cardinal depth on the attacking end.
"I think our attackers bring out the best in each other," says Uhlfelder. "Their job is to be confident ball handlers, skilled shooters, and find many different ways to score. We also love the attacker who can chase the ball back down and win it back after a missed shot or turnover. We'll look to our attackers to start the press and create a few more possessions in a game. If we continue to learn and improve at the pace we've been keeping in the off-season, we'll be very competitive this year."
Uhlfelder and her squad have high hopes for the 2007 season, including reaching new milestones. The squad will look to be productive on offense, stingy on defense, and create more fast break opportunities. The challenge to peak at the right time and get into a competitive zone has the 2007 squad ready to go.
"You've got to love a team that loves competition," says Uhlfelder. "You've got to love a team that is excited for each season and enjoys being with each other. You've got to love a team that celebrates when somebody does something good, and is there for somebody when they stumble. We've been ready to go since we ended our First Round NCAA Tournament game last year, and we're still ready to go. Add 11 new faces to that enthusiasm and this team is excited for the season, but they're also smart enough to know that they need to take one challenge at a time."