May 6, 2010

Three Years In, Navy on Doorstep of NCAAs

by Patrick Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Club team holdover Erin Rawlick has been a part of a lot of Navy firsts. The senior can lead the Mids to another first, the NCAA tournament, with a victory Saturday over Sacred Heart in a play-in game.

It took all of three years for the Navy women’s lacrosse program to vault from newcomers in the sport to Patriot League champions.

Now, the Midshipmen need just a single victory to secure another program first -- a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Navy (16-3) locked up the Patriot League tournament with an 11-9 victory at Lehigh on Sunday, a win that set off a celebration and set up a date with Northeast Conference champ Sacred Heart (14-4) on Saturday in Annapolis.

Navy coach Cindy Timchal won eight national championships earlier in her career. This, though, was another sort of accomplishment.

“It is a different kind of cool,” Timchal said. “ At some level we knew we could win the Patriot League championship, but then there’s that level that holds you back saying ‘Are we good enough? Can we really do this?’ Once we really bought into the team concept, and then see it all unfold on the field  and then to see the reactions of the players when we were victorious, it’s really priceless.”

And the Mids aren’t done yet.

Progress came in steps. In 2008, the program’s first season, Navy reached the Patriot League semifinals. Last year, the Mids made it to the title game before falling 17-4 to Colgate.

“We kind of came into the season with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder,” said sophomore Danielle Vivonetto, who has 59 goals this season. “We got to the championship [last year] and had the whole disappointment in the last game. So it’s like we had something to prove the whole season.”

But it was also the final shot for a senior class that didn’t even know there would be Division I lacrosse at the academy when they decided to attend the institution.

Erin Rawlick was much more invested in soccer than lacrosse in high school, but joined Navy’s club team as a freshman. She remained a prominent player after the program was elevated to varsity status, and followed up a pair of 90-point seasons with 105 points (and counting) as a senior.

“I never expected any of this to happen, so seeing all of this evolve has just been an amazing experience -- especially for the club players never having expected to play Division I at all,” Rawlick
said.

Or the NCAA tournament, for that matter. But a strong weekend in Bethlehem, Pa. -- aided by strong bonds between teammates -- sent Navy into a play-in game, just 60 minutes from the postseason.

The Patriot tournament meant more than three days away from the academy, never the worst occurrence so late in a semester. There was Ultimate Frisbee, team skits and also the continuation of a team tradition: the pregame dance party, a warmup before warmups when coaches clear out and leave players in a loud and boisterous locker room.

“The team really connected,” Vivonetto said. “There was just really good team Chi. It’s true. Really positive energy and lots of fun.”

And lots of winning, too.

Navy is 42-12 over the last three seasons, but victory No. 43 might have the greatest meaning of all if it is earned Saturday. The Mids are back in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the final time this season, and a possible trip to a national power -- Maryland, North Carolina and Northwestern are among the potential postseason destinations with a victory -- lends even more energy to Navy.

“It’s the farthest we’ve ever been and it’s so exciting,” Rawlick said. “I think people actually are going  to have to pay to come watch us play, which has never happened for us. It’s so huge, especially because  I thought my last home game was gone. Now I have another one.”

But it’s also a reflection of the Mids’ long-term potential. Timchal described the process of building Navy’s team as “refreshing and rewarding,” but what is remarkable is she hasn’t brought in her fourth recruiting class yet.

Rawlick was part of all of the program’s firsts -- first practice, first game, first win, first conference title. She could add another first to the list this weekend, but she knows there will be plenty
more in the years to come.

“I don’t feel like Cindy comes to a program to just have it be mediocre,” Rawlick said. “You just look at her past, and I know that even after I leave, this program is just going to continue to get better and get better because that’s how Cindy Timchal works, I guess. It’s like anything she touches turns to lacrosse gold.”

Three years in and only a victory from the NCAA tournament, it’s already worked out that way at Navy.


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