January 25, 2010

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W. Scoop: Roger Williams' Lone Hurdle

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive

 
With Kasey Beckwith (above) among others returning this spring, all of the pieces are in place for Roger Williams to earn its first NCAA tournament bid. The only obstacle in the Hawks way is their Commonwealth Coast Conference nemesis Endicott.
© David Silverman

Every team has goals. Sometimes those goals are of the nebulous variety, such as ‘competing harder,' ‘improving every day' or ‘showing more dedication.' Other times goals are more exact, like making the tournament, finishing with a winning record or capturing the conference.

For the Roger Williams women, the season's goals are wrapped up in the accomplishment of one feat: beating Commonwealth Coast Conference bully Endicott.

All of the team objectives held by the Hawks in 2010 appear to be inextricably linked to knocking the Gulls off a perch they've sat on for the past four seasons. It is Endicott that stands between Roger Williams, a conference championship, and the Hawks' first appearance in the NCAA tournament since the program hatched in 2004.

It's a black and white issue - Roger Williams is going to beat Endicott or it's not - but there is also a mental hurdle facing the team. In the previous six years, the two teams have met 10 times, including contests in the Commonwealth Coast tourney in each of the past four years.

Roger Williams, which is located in Bristol, R.I., has placed second in all of them.

Heading into the '10 season, the Hawks will have the fortune of returning a stacked squad, with just three players missing off the 2009 edition that finished the regular season 13-2. They will, however, also have to break in a new coach. Abi Jackson, a former assistant at Plymouth St. and former goalie at Williams, has assumed the reins.

She's undoubtedly blessed to be climbing aboard a program that is on its way up, but Jackson doesn't see herself as the pivotal cog. If the Hawks are going to beat Endicott, it'll be because they want it, not something magically conjured by Jackson.

"It's not really going to have much to do with me in terms of getting up for that game," said Jackson of the Endicott confrontation. "I think they are going to be up for the game because they know they can compete and be on the same field as Endicott. It's going to be very interesting. I can't say whether we're going to win or not, but I think we can give them a game."

Jackson's primary goal will be to keep her players focused on what they do, and not get caught in the trap of countering every move made by the opposition.

"While you have to respect the other team and know how they work in their systems, you also have to focus a higher percentage of your own energy on your own systems and what you are doing as a team," said Jackson. "Your outlook and confidence level have to be the same regardless of who you are playing. I tell my players, ‘We're competing against a standard, not a team.'

"You can take out Endicott and put in Regis. You can take out Regis and put in Tufts. It doesn't matter who it is. The results might be different, but our performance should be consistent."

The reason Jackson is able to focus on her own system is due to her comfort level with the players she inherited. Impressed at the start with the athletic ability of the Hawks, Jackson likes what she has all over the field.

A former goalie herself, the new coach feels Amanda Magee (7.76 GAA, 59.6 sv%) is a perfect anchor for a defense featuring senior Jessie Alden, junior Nicole Papasergiou and rookie Jennifer Perry. Sophomore Danica Delia and freshman Dana Wilford will bolster a quick midfield while junior Claire Halliday (51g, 24a) and senior Kasey Beckwith (51g, 18a) provide punch up front.

Along with the RWU athleticism, Jackson sees a cerebral aspect of her unit that has her thinking positive thoughts.

"They are so inherently talented, it's really exciting," she said. "Powerful, smart, they are proactive on the field. Sometimes you have athletes who are great thinkers, but not naturally talented, and sometimes you have the opposite. There is definitely a good amount of players on the team who have those qualities."

All the talent and brains in the world may not make a difference in the Hawks achieving their goal. Beating Endicott will be all about heart.

Checking In: Hamilton
Now two years removed from its national title, the Hamilton women and their coach, Patty Kloidt, might be returning to a role they are better suited for.

"There is quite a difference from being the ‘hunter' as opposed to the ‘hunted,'" said Kloidt. "No one prepares you for the latter and everything that comes with it. My admiration has doubled for those teams who can win consecutive national championships."

This is not to say the Continentals aren't title contenders, but last year's team was young despite big names like Kaillie Briscoe on the roster and a run all the way to the national semifinals.

"I'm not sure many people realized how young we were last year since we had some big players returning, but at some points we did have five first-years on defense," said Kloidt. "The experience of advancing in the tournament was tremendous for our young players and it can only help them in the future, especially when we have ten first-years to welcome this season."

This influx means 18 of the 29 players (62 percent) on the roster are either rookies or sophomores. Those types of numbers usually temper a coach's optimism for the coming season, but Kloidt actually sees some of the ingredients that helped the Continentals reach the pinnacle.

"I think this fall has been the best fall in a long time in terms of communication, relationships, leadership and enthusiasm," she said. "Our veteran players have completely taken over and together we are bringing back the nuances of Hamilton lacrosse that won us the national championship in the first place."

One of the relatively young players the Hamilton staff expects to earn national recognition this season is sophomore Lauren Sokol. Kloidt described Sokol, a New Jersey product, as "one of the smartest student-athletes I've every coached."

Hamilton will need the likes of Sokol and the rest of the Continentals to ignore qualifying for the NCAA tournament and simply navigate its way out of the hyper-competitive Liberty League. The epic, 4-3 overtime win by Hamilton over league rival Union in the Liberty championship game is still fresh in the minds of both coaches and reenacting that will priority number one for the Continentals.

"We have a lot of respect for [Union]; they compete well and the game is always a chess match - I mean what women's lacrosse game has ever come down to 4-3 in OT like our Liberty League Final last year?" asked Kloidt. "Union coach Jess Critchlow and I were on the phone last week laughing about it and scratching our heads over the craziness of that game. I also asked her to not pummel us again like they did a week prior to our tournament where they beat us 15-4. I don't think she agreed to that!"

Slides & Rides
- Hamilton against Union has turned into one of the biggest conference rivalries in the country, rivaling the likes of F&M-Gettysburg and Middlebury-Amherst back a couple of years. As much as the Continentals love knocking of the Dutchwomen, head coach Patty Kloidt enjoys the rivalry for how it allows her players to grow.

"I think at the end of the day you have to have fun with each game, whether it be a rivalry match or not," she said. "Sport is one of the oldest venues we have where the character of a person is front and center due to all of the emotions and physical attributes that sport asks of us. One can not hide his/her true self on the playing field and how people handle their own competitiveness varies with personality, but it is our job as coaches to teach how competitiveness can be a good thing when handled constructively."

- Abi Jackson, the Roger Williams coach, was a three-sport standout at Williams in soccer, basketball and lacrosse. Not surprisingly, she loves the concept of the multi-sport athlete.

"I think it perfectly embodies the spirit of division III," she said. "The benefits are limitless. No matter how hard you train on your own, you can't simulate intercollegiate athletic competition. If you feel like you can [participate in multiple sports], absolutely you should do it. I know that some coaches aren't fans of the two-sport athlete. But given the time requirements and what division you're at, it is invaluable and should be taken advantage of."

- Again, just a reminder: send your press releases to news@laxmagazine.com for inclusion in our "Wire" section on the front page of the site.


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