April 14, 2009

With Big East Looming, 'Nova Women Gain Steam

by Steven Russolillo | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Senior Taryn McKenna, who leads Villanova with 38 goals, shoots during a 2008 game against Louisville -- a team the Wildcats join in the Big East women's lacrosse conference in 2010.
© Kevin P. Tucker

The Villanova women's lacrosse team recent success is proving to be a perfect confidence builder as the program plans to enter the Big East next season.

The Wildcats earned a 19-11 victory against Long Island University last week, marking their fifth consecutive win since mid-March and matching the program's longest winning streak since 2002. After losing six of its first seven games, Villanova (6-6) has stormed back with a vengeance by proving its ability to close out close games during crunch time.

The Wildcats return to action Tuesday at home against Temple.

Three of the five wins during Villanova's current streak have been decided by one goal, and two of those victories have come in overtime, including an 11-10 double-overtime win over UC Davis.

"At 1-6, the girls really could've packed it in," said fourth-year head coach Jebb Chagan. "But we just went back to the basics, made some adjustments defensively and tried to make practices more competitive and it's paid off."

Senior Taryn McKenna has been the driving force on offense with a team-leading 38 goals, including seven in the win over Long Island. Sophomore Erica Rybinski has chipped in 20 goals and 14 assists, while senior Taylor Lucy also has 20 goals this season.

Villanova ended its six-game losing streak on March 22 with a convincing 17-9 victory against Wagner and hasn't looked back since. The Wildcats then earned three straight one-goal victories, including a 15-14 overtime victory at Navy on March 24.

Chagan says two of the statistics of which he's most of proud of in his team are ground balls and draw control. The Wildcats currently rank seventh in Division I in draw controls, averaging 14.55 a game, while also sitting 31st for ground balls, averaging 18.73 a game.

"It's been a whole team commitment to those kinds of down-and-dirty categories, because we look at each of those as a possession," Chagan says. "There's no secret that the five-game winning streak has come in part because we've been winning most of those categories."

Chagan became the Wildcats head coach in 2006 after the team experienced a dismal 2-13 season a year earlier. It's been a slow rebuilding process, but Chagan's beginning to reap the benefits of helping build up the program. The Wildcats posted a 3-14 record in Chagan's 2006 debut, improved to 7-9 in 2007, but dropped back to 4-13 last season after the team faced a slew of injuries, including a preseason knee injury that forced Rybinski to miss the entire year.

But the Wildcats are aiming to keep up their winning ways and finish the season above .500 for this first time since 2002. Villanova has competed as an independent in each of the last two seasons after serving as an associate member of the Patriot League from 1999 to 2006. Next season, Villanova will join the Big East, which currently includes Connecticut, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Syracuse and associate member Loyola.

But without looking too far ahead, four games remain this season. The Wildcats host three consecutive games against Temple, fellow Independent squad Longwood and Lafayette before concluding the season at Bryant.

"Our mantra the last five weeks has been taking care of the things we can control, such as ground balls, draw controls and good decision making," Chagan says. "What's happening is the girls are finally getting rewarded for their efforts."

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