May 5, 2011

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Denison's Never-Say-Die Season Goes On

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com


UNBREAKABLE SPIRIT

Denison captain Lulu Carter plays with a modified cast on her broken right hand, symbolic of the resolve of the NCAC champion and NCAA tournament-bound Big Red's senior class.

Someone was testing the Denison women's lacrosse team's faith.

On March 27, a team that didn't have a coach until after the new year, that was told by the conference it would finish sixth and then was told by doctors its team captain would miss the season -- a team that had played and lost in monsoon conditions the previous day -- was about to drop its fourth game in five tries. The fog was so thick, players could barely see the sticks in front of their faces. Denison lost 12-8 to Sewanee.

"We'd cheer the draw and after that, you didn't know," said interim coach P.J. Soteriades. "You literally couldn't see the goals at the end of the field. We probably shouldn't even have played."

That's the funny thing about goals: even when you can't see them, they're still there. Sometimes a team just needs to play through the fog.

Fast-forward a month. The skies were clear Saturday and Denison (13-4) saw its goal clearly. The Big Red capped an undefeated conference season, downing Wooster 10-9 in the NCAC final, Denison's first title since 2006.

"I think vindication is a great word for how we felt after Saturday," Soteriades said. "Never doubt us. Don't rank us second-to-last in the conference. To not only win the championship, but go undefeated, that was full circle for them. They did not lose one game on their home field. An amazing way for the seniors to close out."

The forecast was foggy for senior captain Lulu Carter. Carter, All-NCAC in 2010, broke her hand going for a ground ball just before spring break. At the hospital she was told to consider her season done.

"She didn't like that," Soterides said.

Carter saw a specialist who said she could potentially break her hand again, but that she could put off surgery. She returned wearing a modified cast for the conference opener against Wittenberg, two days after that foggy afternoon in Sewanee, and scored two goals in a 9-7 victory, Denison's first since St. Patrick's Day. It was the start of a 10-game winning streak for the Big Red.

The streak has not ended yet.

Despite missing five games, four of which were losses, Carter has 23 goals and six assists and leads the team with 48 ground balls. She leads a senior class that includes Jenny Starthern (team-high 43 goals and 63 points) and Phoebe Myhrum (team-high 24 assists) that never even sniffed the NCAC title game and is now heading to the NCAA tournament.

Juniors Carly Tschantz (105 draw controls, tops in Division III), Alex Thurner (32 goals, seven assists, 15 ground balls) and OliviaShiland (30 goals, eight assists, 22 ground balls) are also there ensure this won't be a one-shot deal.

Denison beat defending conference champion Kenyon for the first time since 2006, ended a three-game losing streak against Wooster and reversed an overtime loss against Allegheny. In the NCAC semifinals against Wittenberg, Tschantz hit Myhrum for the game-winner with less than a minute remaining in regulation for a 12-11 victory. In Saturday's final, Denison rallied from a three-goal second half deficit and took its first lead since 4-3 when Molly Sbrega fed Strethern with 4:36 left.

"I could talk about them all," Soteriades said. "It's just a testament to these kids and what they wanted to get out of this season. They knew they were in a tough spot. They united under adversity. "

"I think vindication is a great word for how we felt after Saturday," interim coach P.J. Soteriades said after Denison beat Wooster for the NCAC title. "Never doubt us. Don't rank us second-to-last in the conference."

Soteriades said she doesn't plan to shed the interim tag next to her name. She coaches Denison's field hockey team, and even now admits she has spread herself too thin. Denison may want to keep her. There's a bit of a legend in Central Ohio about the multi-sport coaching abilities of Soteriades' family. Her mother coaches Ohio Wesleyan's field hockey team. In 2008, she stepped in and coached the Bishops' lacrosse team for a year, led them to the NCAC title and NCAA tournament.

"The running joke within in the school is, 'What team do you want to coach next?'," Soteriades said.

Soteriades had previously served as an assistant for the Bid Red lacrosse team. The current senior class arrived in her final season before devoting herself fulltime to field hockey. She received a call on Christmas Eve morning to be the coach and accepted the job Jan. 10.

"I played one year of high school lacrosse," Soteriades said. "Let's be real, everyone was underestimating their talent and potential. They united and rose to the occasion. Did I expect it? No. Did I know they had the potential? Yes. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to bookend these seniors' career. They're going out as champs and having fun doing it. For me, it's like closing a perfect chapter."


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