October 13, 2013

Teams Use Maryland Fall Ball to Tune Up

by Joe Atmonavage | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

There is a reason they do not keep score or have a record in the fall. It is preseason; a time to try different lineups, experiment with strategy, and get new players acclimated. That was a reoccurring theme from each coach at the play day at University of Maryland on Sunday, which Maryland, Syracuse, Rutgers, San Diego State, and Loyola all participated in. Each time played each other once, except for Syracuse, who only played two games.

Coaches use the preseason and play days such as this one to figure out how they are going to attack the spring season and get an overall feel for their teams.

As important as it is for the coaches, the preseason is a great opportunity for players to show their coaches what they are capable of doing on the field.

"It allows every one of them to get on the field and get a chance to play," Syracuse head coach Gary Gait said. "It allows them to go out there and get opportunities to make plays."

Coaches see it as a time to do a little teaching and skill work because once the season begins there is not enough time to teach things because of traveling and preparing for opponents.

"It is definitely paramount in the fall that we get out and individually work with our girls so they feel confident and bring all those elements of skill into the team structure," Loyola coach said.

The preseason is especially important for teams like Maryland, who lost a lot many key components from their national championship runner-up team last season and will rely on some freshman to step up and be key contributors.

"We have really been testing the waters without a lot of our new freshman and getting them incorporated in our system," said Maryland coach Cathy. "Our fall has been skill building and trying to get everyone on the same page."

It was clear that the teams were trying out new things and lineups. Offensives were out of sync occasionally. Defensives had trouble communicating and executing slides from time to time. However, all of the teams showed promise. All the teams did various things well, but as the fall season wraps up and the spring season begins teams will be much farther along then they are right now.

Maryland

It is never easy replacing players that graduated the previous year. It is especially hard when two of those players are two of the best players in your program's history. Those two players are Katie Schwarzmann and Alex Aust.

Schwarzmann was a two time national player of the year while Aust was the national attack of the year last season. They combined for 210 points last season and leave behind a big offense of gap to fill.

However, coach Cathy Reese believes players like star sophomore midfielder Taylor Cummings, who missed today's play day for a Team USA obligation, and midfielder Brooke Griffin are capable of leading the offense.

Griffin, whose speed and athleticism were on display Sunday, knows they will not be able to replace Scwarzmann and Aust, but that a team effort will be needed.

"You cannot replace them," Griffin said. "We are a really young team. We just need to step up and work together as a team."

The Terps also lost starting goalie Kasey Howard to graduation and have no set starter for goalie as of right now, but Reese has confidence in both of her options.

"It is exciting. Both of them are doing great," Reese explained. "The freshman, Emily Kift, is doing well. She is really athletic and active in there. We have Abbey Clipp who has stepped up so far this year as a senior. She is making saves and is really confident back in the cage."

They both saw a lot of action on Sunday and will continue to as the fall season wraps up. The two are splitting time all fall, according to Reese.

The Terps will certainly miss key players from last year's team, but Reese always reloads the team and has them ready for the spring. If Sunday indicated anything, they will again be a team with fast midfielders, who will push the tempo on opponents.

Loyola

Annie Thomas has always been a talented player, but Loyola coach Jen Adams said she saw a much different Thomas so far this fall.

"She just brings a whole other depth of athleticism to her game this year," Adams said. "She has worked really, really hard on that side of things. She is coming out to practice with just a different focus and intensity then we have ever seen."

Loyola likes to operate their offense mostly from behind the cage with Thomas, being a goal scorer as well as a distributor.

"We run a composed offense and we like to go through behind," explained Thomas. "It keeps the offense under control and work with everyone. It is really nice to have teammates that work well with everyone."

They did this often Sunday and Thomas looked extremely comfortable in doing so. She hit cutting teammates for goals and scored around the crease. Thomas is a player destined to have a breakout season in the spring. A knee injury hindered her play last year, but she worked hard this summer to put herself in position to be the best player she could be.

"I was at summer school so I worked a lot with our trainer," Thomas said. "With my knee injury, I really wanted to come back in the fall in the best shape I could, which I had not done in the past."

San Diego State

San Diego State women's lacrosse started in 2012, but you would not know it if you were in attendance at the play day Sunday. The Aztecs were not overpowered by perennial top-20 teams like Maryland and Syracuse. Head coach Kylee White was pleased with her team's performance.

"I really like how we are playing tough against East Coast opponents that we have not seen before, she said. "Especially, those top 20 teams we have been facing. We have not played scared and we are moving the ball well."

The Aztecs were a solid offensive team last year and looked poised to be good again, but you could tell they were a little out of sync on offense. White was adamant that they needed to execute better and work on finding their chemistry on offense.

However, last season offense was never the problem. The defense had trouble stopping opponents and that was a big point of emphasis for them heading into this fall.

In order to address the defensive concerns the Aztecs are "playing a lot of 7 vs. 6 at practice and talking about discipline," according to White. White also believes having an older and more experienced defensive unit this year will help them improve.

They were much vocal and disciplined on Sunday. Junior defender Catherine Shepardson was the most vocal defender and said that will be a big part of becoming a better defense.

"Absolutely, communication is key," she said.

In order for the Aztecs to continue to compete with nationally ranked teams in the spring, their defense will continue to have to improve.

Rutgers

Injuries were a problem for Rutgers last season and the beginning of this year has started no different.

"We have been dealing with some injuries left over from last year, so we have a bunch of people out," said Coach Laura Brand-Sias."

On Sunday, they were missing key players such as Claire MacDougall, Holli DiMuro, Chelsea Intrabartola, and Kristin Kocher. However, Brand-Sias said they are all projected to be back for the spring.

DiMuro is especially important. She was IWCLA All Mid-Atlantic First team and led one of the best defenses in the Big East last year. The defense struggled without her at times on Sunday.

Brand-Sias nevers wants to see players out but, said this will give them a chance to become "as deep as we can possibly be" going forward.

The addition of assistant coach Katie Hertsch is going to play a role in developing the team and creating that depth. The former star defender at Hofstra and Team USA player brings experience and knowledge to the Rutgers program.

"She brings great experience," Brand-Sias said. 'I think the girls really look up to her and they type of player that she is. Obviously, with her playing with the US team, which is where she is today. She is going to provide different outlooks for our team and be able to challenge them."

Rutgers finished 9-8 last year, but they had a 1-3 record in one-goal games. Brand-Sias said it is a concern going into this year and maintaining their intensity in those games will be the biggest thing this season.

Syracuse

Syracuse made a last minute appearance at the play day and faced Maryland as well as San Diego State.

Syracuse proved they are going to be another one of the best teams in the country again this year. They were fast all over the field and forced both teams in to turnovers. That is something they will look to carry over into the ACC this year after being in the Big East for many years.

Coach Gary Gait said the move will provide them with probably the toughest schedule in the country. He is very excited about the home schedule for them this year.

"We have five of the top six teams in the nation at home, which is amazing," Gait said. "We are looking forward to jumping into the ACC feet first and playing the best of the best."

Syracuse lost to Maryland 10-11 in last year's national semifinal and Gait believes this year's team is close to taking that next step. The ACC move will provide them with great competition throughout the year to help them make that step.


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