On Tuesday, Jan. 5, Brigid Hurley walked over to a car parked in front of Warde Hall and prepared to execute her first official act as interim women’s lacrosse coach. Ironically. It was one she did not want to do.
Her inaugural recruiting class is comprised of 15 freshmen, ranging in origin from Ottawa to Los Angeles to Baltimore.
Last season, the then-freshman and now sophomores went 15-4 and came within one game of a pair of ballroom shoes. Hurley has a legacy to fill, but an eventful offseason has paved the way for a preseason No. 13 ranking in all of Division II and being selected fourth overall in the PSAC.
Senior midfielder and Williamsville North product Emily Koestler is highly optimistic of her team’s abilities.
“[Our] expectations are to be the best we can with the great new coaching staff we have. We have everything we need to win, we just need to pull it all together and go out there and do it,” Koestler said.
West Chester topped the PSAC preseason poll for the first time in three years upon its Feb. 10 release, garnering seven of the 13 available first-place votes. The Rams were followed by Seton Hill with one top vote and defending tournament champion No. 8 Lock Haven with three votes. The Lakers claimed the other two.
The Lakers season began six months ago on a much warmer Tullio Field with a different and familiar personality directing the women into battle. But on Dec. 16, Cecil Pilson, the head coach of the last 11 years, abruptly announced his resignation from the post to assume the same position at Butler.
Pilson compiled 133 wins to the tune of an overall .700 winning percentage, both the highest since the program’s inception in 1997. Pilson’s accomplishments include a winning campaign in each of his final 10 seasons (he went 6-9 in 2005), advancing to seven consecutive PSAC tournaments and three title games, a share of the 2010 West and 2013 conference regular-season titles and an NCAA Tournament quarterfinal appearance in 2009.
In a news conference on Dec. 17, Pilson commented, “It has been an honor to be at the helm of the program for 11 seasons and see our program grow into a consistent national powerhouse. I am proud of what we have accomplished as a program up to this point and am confident that the program will continue to flourish.”
Cecil’s final campaign saw the Lakers record ten conference wins for the second straight year and finish 15-4 overall, wrapping up the No. 10 final ranking despite being snubbed for the big dance.
The Lakers, ranked in the final poll for the seventh time in the last eight seasons, rattled off nine straight wins in March and April and reached No. 6 in the rankings during the season. They then defeated No. 13 West Chester in an overtime battle in the semifinals but fell to top-ranked Lock Haven in the title contest.
This year, the offseason began earlier than expected with the Lakers annual Fall Ball slate beginning on Sept. 21, 2015, with a triple-header in Buffalo, followed by two more on Oct. 4 and 25, and a 14-11 loss to St. Bonaventure on Oct. 10 at Tullio.
Loss was a theme throughout the offseason, with two freshmen leaving the team before the New Year: first was Eden native Hannah Mardino, who exited in October due to self-imposed academic sanctions, and in January, East Irondequoit Arianna Torpey returned to her native Rochester; she expects to begin playing at Division III Nazarene College next fall.
Last season, the Lakers topped the PSAC and finished ranked No. 23 in the nation with an average of 13.58 goals per game, led by now-alum and Clarence product Jenna Schalgenhauf’s 45 to go along with 41 assists, and Rebecca Himes had 41 to go along with 47 assists. Her 88 points ranked third in the PSAC and tied for 14th in the country.
Among returning starters, Fairport’s Emily Gebhardt tallied 24 goals and 30 assists for 54 points; now a senior, she recorded five goals Saturday, Feb. 20, in the Lakers 19-7 season opening rout of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The Lakers recorded double-digits in all but three regular season games, hitting a high of 19 on March 8 against Findlay. They also won all 15 games in-which this occurred, but went 0-4 when held to single-digits. LeMoyne, Lock Haven, and Slippery Rock pulled the trick by allowing nine each and winning by a combined four goals, and the Bald Eagles used its top-ranked defense to take an 11-6 affair in the May 2 PSAC title game.
“Their attack wasn’t that strong[,] they could never calm down and balance the girls out. Our attack was amazing and really worked [well] together,” Koestler said.
Against the Spartans on Saturday, Feb. 27, four Lakers had multi-goal games: led by Gebhardt’s five and two assists, it was equaled by Amherst Central’s Grace Lawson, while Kristin Anderson tallied her seven points through three goals and four assists and Janelle Williams added one in each half.
Eleven of the Lakers 19 goals came in the first half off Kaitlyn Lonergan, while they held the Spartans to four in the first and three in the second. The Lakers scored in bunches against Aquinas, rattling off two three-goal runs in the first half and, after the Spartans closed to within five, saw six different players score in a matter of 10:14 in the second to break the game open.
Gebhardt had four or her five in the first, while Lawson split her goals with three in the second. Anderson’s hat-trick saw a power-play goal at 14:48 of the first.
The Lakers return to action on Saturday, March 5, against Tiffin University at Tiffin. The team begins PSAC play Tuesday, March 15 against Seton Hill.