April 1, 2009

Explorers Chart New Territory with A-10 Win

by Justin Feil | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Stef McKee has emerged as a leader in the La Salle locker room, and the junior attacker backed it up in the Explorers' 9-7 win over Temple, their first Atlantic 10 victory in nearly three years.
© La Salle University

When La Salle defeated Temple, 9-7, Sunday for their first Atlantic 10 win in almost three years, Stef McKee wasn't surprised.

The Explorers junior attacker woke up that morning confident.

"That's the biggest change this year," said McKee, who had two goals and an assist in the win. "There's no doubt."

No one could blame the Explorers if their confidence wavered. They were coming off a 17-2 loss to Massachusetts to open A-10 play on Friday, their 20th straight conference loss.

La Salle hadn't won a league game since April 7, 2006, when they stopped Duquesne, 10-8.

Without a senior on the roster and a brand new coaching staff, no one had experienced a conference win at La Salle.

"It was really frustrating, especially coming from a high school that was really good," said McKee, a Baldwinsville, N.Y., native. "A lot of players came from winning programs to losing. It was really frustrating. This year is so much more of a relief."

The Explorers got two goals apiece from McKee, Ashley Rutz and sophomore Nicole McCurdy, who also caused six turnovers, in the Explorers' win over the defending A-10 champion Owls on Sunday. Mara Schnellenbach made 11 saves.

"Any win this year is a huge win for us," said La Salle first-year head coach Candace Taglianetti, whose Explorers improved to 4-5 overall, 1-1 in league. "To have that kind of win, it's an historic win. That's what we talked about. Not one girl had felt what it's like to win an A-10 game.

"I can't express how excited they were. It's a huge milestone. They worked really hard. It didn't happen overnight."

It only seems like it. The Explorers won just one game all of last season as they battled through injuries that left them with one substitute for much of the season.

"I never doubted the potential and ability our team had," said junior captain Jill Davis. "We just couldn't put it together. Our morale was shot."

The frustration was doubled for Davis, who broke her collarbone in the final preseason practice and never played last season after being named the A-10 Rookie of the Year in 2007.

She has returned in a new role as the quarterback of the Explorers attack. They never trailed Temple after Davis' goal 20 minutes into the first half. McKee scored twice when the Owls pulled within 6-5 in the second half to close out the win.

"It's not that we doubted, but we never tasted it," Davis said. "Now that we actually got the win under our belt, we're that much hungrier to get the next one and prove we can compete with the rest of the teams in the conference."

McKee and Davis were two of the players that Taglianetti targeted when she came from starting the program at Notre Dame (Ohio) College. Davis is a 4.0 student and consistent overachiever. McKee has developed into a standout leader, something the Explorers needed without a senior class.

"You need to get the upperclassmen on board first," Taglianetti said. "Everyone I talked to said these are a good group of girls. I knew they could fulfill that senior class role."

They led La Salle to a pair of victories in their first four games to surpass last year's win total. The Explorers also earned two one-goal wins before holding off Temple for their biggest win of the season.

"Our team is going to benefit from it," McKee said. "We have a lot of confidence now and can keep working hard."

Said Taglianetti: "The main thing with us is I want to see us capitalize on opportunities. When they believe in themselves, they accomplish really big tasks that nobody thought was possible this year."

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