April 30, 2011

Great Danes: Albany Completes Perfect Regular Season

by J. Jude Hazard | LaxMagazine.com

Ariana Parker scored three goals as Albany edged UMBC 12-11 to finish the regular season 15-0.

© Greg Wall

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Albany women’s lacrosse coach John Battaglino remembers a time not too long ago when his Great Danes settled for mediocrity. After this season, they'll be hard pressed not to set that bar a lot higher.

The Great Danes capped a perfect season and clinched the America East regular season title by defeating the UMBC Retrievers 12-11 on Saturday at John Fallon Field. Nationally-ranked Albany (15-0, 6-0 AE) is the first America East team ever to go undefeated in the regular season since the conference added women's lacrosse in 1996.

“You can’t ask for a better senior year,” senior midfielder Nikki Branchini said. “But we’re really not done. I won’t be happy until we win the America East tournament and do well in the NCAA tournament. That’s what I’m playing for.”

The conference win over UMBC clinches home field advantage for the Danes heading into the America East tournament, which begins in Albany on Thursday. UMBC (10-5, 4-1 AE) has wrapped up the second seed in the tournament, potentially setting up an Albany-UMBC tournament final.

The Danes were eliminated in the America East semifinals by the Retrievers last year.

“It’s hopefully going to be different than last year. We came into last year a little heavy footed,” senior attack Jodi Battaglia said. “This year we know what we’re going against and we’re ready to take the whole thing.”

Albany is ranked No. 8 in the IWLCA poll and No. 7 in the deBeer/Inside Lacrosse poll. Battaglino has downplayed his team’s success throughout the year and insists the Danes' best is yet to come.

“I don’t think we could have executed worse in terms of some of our plays, and we were still able to gut it out,” he said after the game, looking on as Branchini signed autographs for a group of enthusiastic young lacrosse players. “We made a lot of errors that resulted in second and third chances for them.”

Watching Branchini sign the girls’ lacrosse jerseys, Battaglino took a moment to reflect on what this year’s success has meant for the program.

“That says everything about what the season’s done. You’ve got a lot of people from around the area now who are paying attention to what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re bringing attention to what these kids do day-in and day-out as student athletes of our program.”

But he was quick to repeat that the undefeated season was not a topic of discussion for the team. Albany is one of only two undefeated Division I teams this year. The only other team, top-ranked Maryland, finishes its season on May 1 at Dartmouth.

“It’s great to write about and look back on after we’re done, but I’m trying to prepare them for higher standards and higher levels of play,” Battaglino said.

Prior to Saturday’s game, Albany recognized its six graduating seniors, including Battaglia, Branchini and Tewaaraton Award nominee Taylor Frink. Each player was joined on the field by her family and received a bouquet of flowers.

“We’re putting ourselves on the map,” Branchini said. “Every player leaves. You can’t play forever, so you want to leave whatever you can behind and hope it’s a positive thing.”

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