March 21, 2013

WD3 Notebook: Washington College Setting Course Toward Success

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Corinne Ziccardi has 14 goals and 10 assists for Washington College this season. She's part of a group of seniors at the forefront of WAC's renaissance.
© Washington College

The conventional wisdom says the Centennial Conference is a two-team league. Don’t be so Shore about that.

The Washington College Shorewomen have opened the season 6-0. If they win at Drew on Saturday, they’ll match the best start in program history. But this is just the warm up. The big prize waits next week, when the Shorewomen set sail from non-league island and go fishing for the kahunas that rule the Centennial Sea: Gettysburg and Franklin & Marshall.

“We’re getting there,” said Washington College coach Julika Blankenship. “We really, really are. For years its been Gettysburg, F&M and the rest of the pack. We want to bridge that gap. We’ve done the hard work.”

Indeed they have. Though they’ve won their six games by an average margin of seven goals, the non-league slate has included tough tests like Shenandoah, St. Mary’s and Rowan. On Tuesday they knocked off Elizabethtown, which was fresh off a win over St. John Fisher, 15-10.

Against Shenandoah, WAC’s leading scorer was carded out 15 minutes in and another top player left with an injury before the game through. The Shorewomen still won 17-9. It’s the only loss this season for Shenandoah (4-1).

“It was neat to see how well the rest of the team stepped up,” Blankenship said. “When two of your top three scorers are taken out it makes you a little bit nervous. Everybody came together, cool, calm, collected and composed.”

That attitude is reflective of a progression Blankenship has been working toward instilling since taking over before the 2010 season. That year Blankenship steered the Shorewomen to their best record since 2004. The next year they reached the Centennial Tournament for the first time since 2003. In 2012 they played in the conference championship game, though not in the manner they had hoped to reach it. More on that later.

Blankenship knows what it takes to succeed in the Centennial Conference. She played at Gettysburg in the early 2000s, when the team was growing into the national power it is today. Back then Washington College was a playoff team. When Blankenship took over head coaching duties she made it her goal to restore that expectation of success.

“I knew there was such a strong tradition and history of lacrosse here,” Blankenship said. “Truthfully it was a commitment level and a dedication that needed to be changed.”

She set to work, bringing in players who could play lacrosse, but, more importantly, wanted to succeed at Washington College, one of US News and World Report’s Top 100 Liberal Arts schools.

In the past few years the Shorewomen have brought in a bevy of talented lacrosse players, but they’ve been just as successful off the field. Players have volunteered at a local half marathon and the team “adopted” a community member who comes to Shorewomen games and is brought by team members to other events on campus. 

The current seniors, who have only played under Blankenship, have been at the forefront of WAC’s renaissance. Mollie Shipley leads the team with 21 assists and has 10 goals and Corinne Ziccardi has 14 goals and 10 assists. Goalie Stephanie Seibert has been steadying force in the cage. The team is well set up for when these stars move on. Leading scorer Emily Hubley (21 goals) is a sophomore.

But before that future happens there is the issue the of the present. The team will get see how far along they are right away. The first Centennial contest comes on March 30 against Franklin & Marshall.

It’s a game the Shorewomen have been looking to for almost a year. The two teams were set to square off in last year’s Centennial semifinals when F&M canceled its season and WAC was handed a free pass into the championship game, where it fell to Gettysburg. It was nice to reach final, but it wasn’t how they wanted to get there.

“They’re still thinking about the day we found out 10 minutes before practice that we weren’t playing them,” Blankenship said. “No one wants to get anything for free. You want to work and you want the world to know you’ve worked hard to make it.”

They’ll get that chance to prove it soon. Until then it's unchartered waters for the Shorewomen, who will just keep sailing toward their goal.

Games of Last Week

No. 3 Cortland 15, No. 7 TCNJ 13
No. 5 Gettysburg 11, No. 7 TCNJ 10

The past week had an NCAA tournament-like feel to it for TCNJ, which played two final four-caliber teams in four days. The tough losses will sting for the Lions, but shouldn’t drop them in any rankings and there’s a very good chance they’ll get a rematch with one, or both, come May.

In Saturday’s game, Cortland senior Maria Di Fato had five goals and one assist to become the third player in program history to crack the 200 career points barrier. Fellow West Genesee (N.Y.) graduate, Erica Geremia, continues to look like the one of the best freshmen in the country, scoring four goals and five assists against TCNJ.

Geremia scored her final goal of the game with 12:38 remaining, a big score for the Red Dragons as they tried to hold off a TCNJ comeback. Cortland had led 14-8 after Di Fato scored with 20:13 remaining. TCNJ answered with five of the game’s final six goals. Alex Spark led TCNJ with five goals and Lauren Pigott had four. 

Wednesday was an even tougher pill to swallow for TCNJ, as Gettysburg’s Kelsey Markiewicz delivered her third goal of the day to make it 11-9 with 3:31 remaining. Spark scored on a free position with 1:11 remaining to cut the deficit to one but Gettysburg held on. Spark again led TCNJ with four goals and goalie Kelsey Zinick made 12 saves.

It gets easier for TCNJ, which plays at Eastern (0-4) on Saturday and won’t face another ranked opponent until Franklin & Marshall on April 6.

No such breathing room for Cortland, which heads to 3-1 St. Lawrence and No. 14 Ithaca this week. Red-hot Geneseo, Oneonta and the rest of the SUNYAC await after that.

Gettysburg heads to Haverford (5-1) on Saturday and hosts No. 4 Middlebury (3-0) on Monday.

Looking Ahead

No. 4 Middlebury at No. 5 Gettysburg, Monday

There will be one less undefeated team in Division III after this one. Middlebury (3-0) jumped Gettysburg (6-0) in the rankings this week despite the fact that Gettysburg hasn’t lost. Gettysburg gets a chance to prove the voters wrong. 

There’s even more at stake than rankings. Middlebury ended Gettysburg’s chance for a repeat in last year’s NCAA tournament, knocking the Bullets out with a 15-9 victory in the quarterfinals.

This will be the first ranked opponent of the year for Middlebury, which heads to Stevens afterward then begins a run of five straight games against ranked NESCAC opponents.

Game Balls

Marissa Cussins, Fredonia: Cussins had two assists and seven goals, including the game-winner in overtime, in Fredonia’s 14-13 upset win at No. 14 St. John Fisher on Friday. The winner came with 59 seconds remaining in OT on the Blue Devils’ only possession of the period. The junior from Corning, N.Y., then added three goals to help Fredonia (3-0) stay unbeaten in Saturday’s 14-11 win at Nazareth.

Ashton Marshall, Christopher Newport: Marshall, the defending USA South Player of the Year, became the fifth player in CNU history to crack the 150-goal mark, pairing five goals with three assists as the Captains put away Greensboro, 21-4, on Sunday. The junior out of the Foxcroft School (Va.), is just the second Captain ever to reach 150 goals before her senior season. 

Shelby Vakiener, RIT: Vakiener, a senior from nearby Fairport, N.Y., gave two Massachusetts teams a rude welcome to western New York this week. On Friday Vakiener had five goals and five assists as the unbeaten Tigers (5-0) dispatched Western New England, 20-8. Two days later, she chipped in six goals and two assists in RIT’s 15-10 victory over perennial Commonwealth Coast champion Endicott.

Miscellaneous

For the second year in a row Oneonta (5-1) stunned Hamilton, this time on the Red Dragons’ home campus in Central New York. Hamilton led by one with just under 13 minutes remaining, but Oneonta scored the game’s final four goals and won 16-13. Caroline Tulley led Oneonta with four goals and two assists and Kiera McNally had four goals for the Red Dragons, who head to No. 19 St. John Fisher (4-2) on Saturday... No. 8 Franklin & Marshall (4-1) bounced back from its first loss of the season with a 12-7 victory over No. 14 Ithaca on Thursday in Florida. The Dips kept right on rolling with another tough game on Wednesday, downing Messiah, 8-7. Emily Everdell delivered the game-winner on a free position with three minutes remaining to stop a 3-0 Messiah run. F&M had led 6-2 at halftime...  Ithaca (3-2), which moved up one spot in the poll despite losing to F&M, bounced back from its first loss in a big way, handing Buffalo State its first loss, 19-5, on Tuesday. A home game against Cortland looms on Saturday... Susquehanna opened 2012 with 11 straight wins and the Crusaders are more than halfway toward matching that start in 2013. With wins over Alvernia and Lycoming this week, the 13th-ranked Crusaders are now 8-0. Emma Ehler has piled up 39 goals so far this season for Susquehanna, which heads to McDaniel on Saturday... Piedmont’s impressive inaugural season continues. The Lions defeated Randolph and Berry as of Thursday are Division III’s only 9-0 team... The NCAA title game won’t return to Montclair State this year, but the Red Hawks look like a good bet to return to the tournament. Montclair State is 5-0 after a 17-1 victory over Old Westbury on Saturday. Tierney Conlon had four goals and four assists in that game and leads the Red Hawks in assists (19) and points (31) through five games... Speaking of Old Westbury, the new program on Long Island won its first game ever on Tuesday, taking down Merchant Marine, 18-7. Anna Noens and JoAnna Kettell each picked up four goals and one assist for Old Westbury (1-5).

Mark Macyk has covered NCAA Division II and III women’s lacrosse for Lacrosse Magazine since 2011. He can be contacted at markmacyk@gmail.com.


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