March 18, 2009

Von Bargen, No. 13 UNH Build Momentum

by J. Jude Hazard | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

A strong start from New Hampshire standout Sarah Von Bargen combined with confident senior leadership has the Wildcats poised to make another run at the NCAA tournament as they head into conference play on Saturday, according to head coach Sandy Bridgeman.

The Wildcats (5-2) will first face off against rival Massachusetts on Wednesday before heading to Albany to open their America East schedule.

"How well you do in your conference will set you up for the end of the season," Von Bargen. "It's just really exciting to get into conference play."

Von Bargen, a senior attacker, was named the America East Player of the Week for the second week in a row on Monday. She tallied 11 goals and two assists in two games last week. She currently leads the conference with 33 goals and 38 points.

"I think there's a confidence that she can execute and she can play, but I also think the team derives that confidence from her play," Bridgeman said. "Her confidence in her teammates is another strength."

Bridgeman said a big part of the team's success this year has been the leadership from the squad's six seniors. The Wildcats started the season 5-1, its best under Bridgeman's tenure and best start overall since 1991.

"I think it's just leading by example and showing a confident attitude that no matter who we come against, as long as we play our game and show what UNH is about, we can compete against these teams," Von Bargen said.

New Hampshire fell to 5-2 on the season after a 19-7 loss on Sunday at then-No. 2 Maryland.

"The game against Maryland exposed areas that we really need to work on to compete at that level," Bridgeman said. "I feel like we have that potential and I like where we're headed."

She said the team needs to improve its ability to execute both offense and defense at a high speed, but added that she is pleased with the team's consistency so far and thinks the Wildcats could be headed for a great season.

"The loss at Maryland teaches us a few valuable lessons," Von Bargen said. "It showed us that we can compete at that level, and if we have a no-back-down attitude and we compete for 60 minutes straight, we aren't going to be rolled over."

The Wildcats will look to rebound on Wednesday against UMass. Bridgeman said the team is expecting a good battle against the Minutewomen, who defeated Dartmouth earlier this month, a team that beat New Hampshire.

Last year, New Hampshire lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament but finished ranked No. 13 in the final 2008 IWLCA poll -- which is exactly where the Wildcats sat Wednesday when this week's poll was released.

"Our goal is to make it into our conference tournament," Von Bargen said. "The success that our team last year had showed us that we can get back to the NCAAs."

After hosting 4-3 UMass on Wednesday, the Wildcats will face the 2-5 Great Danes on Saturday at John Fallon Field in Albany. The Danes will be playing their home opener after starting the season with seven straight road games.

"Each one of those [conference] games plays a part in us achieving our goals in where we want to be, and that starts with Albany," Bridgeman said. "That's their first home game, so I'm sure they're going to be really fired up."

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