May 25, 2012

WD1 Media Day Notes: Television, Practice, Travel, Recruiting

by Clare Lochary |

Syracuse's Kailah Kempney (3) gives away four inches to Shannon Gilroy, who takes Florida's draw, so Kempney will rely on her teammates on the outside of the circle in Friday's semifinal (5:30 p.m.). "That's when you give it to the outside people," Kempney said. "She's bigger than me and she's really strong so the selfs are going to be very difficult."
© Greg Wall

STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- The four Division I women's semifinalists -- Florida, Northwestern, Maryland and Syracuse -- took the field at LaValle Stadium on Thursday for practice and media day. Assorted notes and nuggets from the day:

Travel Was Smooth

Travel to Stony Brook was uneventful for all four teams. Syracuse and Maryland rode coach buses, Northwestern took a commercial flight, and Florida chartered a plane to get to New York, which is by far the Gators' longest road trip of the year.

"I thought that was really cool. We didn't have to go through security or anything. It was a lot of fun, just our team on the plane," said Florida midfielder Brittany Dashiell.

Television a Hot Topic: What's the Future Look Like?

Last year, the entire championship weekend was slated to be available only via streaming on, to the consternation of the women's lacrosse community. At the 11th hour, the Big Ten Network stepped in and agreed to broadcast all three games and struck a deal with Comcast to allow for a television broadcast in media markets of all four of the semifinal teams. (BTN regularly broadcasts Northwestern's games, although the Wildcats compete in the American Lacrosse Conference.) Friday's semifinals (5:30 and 8 p.m.) will be available live online via ESPN3 and will re-air on ESPNU via tape delay on Monday. The championship game will be aired live on ESPNU at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Northwestern head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, a tireless promoter of lacrosse in the media, was pleased that the championship would be televised lived, and hoped that it would lead to a broadcast of the full championship weekend in future seasons.

"I think it's a step in the right direction. Obviously we'd love to have both games on ESPNU, but hopefully with ESPNU covering the championship game, seeing what this sport has to offer, seeing what type of ratings they get, what type of exposure they get, hopefully we'll move into the next realm," said Amonte Hiller. "You've got to start somewhere and this is where we're at, and we'll build on this."

When asked if she thought it would behoove the Division I women's tournament to move to another weekend, so it wouldn't have to compete against the men's tournament for air time, Hiller said she liked it best when the men's and women's tournaments were the same weekend in the same area (as they were in 2010), which allowed for some cross-pollination between the two events.

"I think that would be ideal if we could work it out," said Amonte Hiller. "But if we're going to be competing for our TV time, and that's going to hurt us, that's something that we might have to consider."

Zen Masters: Maryland Visualizes Success

Each squad had a 90 minute practice session; only Syracuse used the full time. Northwestern left the field after a little over an hour. Maryland arguably had the most relaxing practice, beginning with a visualization guided by head coach Cathy Reese. The Terps don't typically do visualization exercises, although they were a staple when Reese herself was a player in the late 1990s. The entire team lay on their backs on the turf of LaValle Stadium as Reese asked them to picture themselves "seeing us moving off ball, seeing us finding the open spaces...see us packing it in defensively, see us working together, having fun together, dominating together."

Draw Matchups Critical

The draw was a focus for both Syracuse and Florida. The Gators won the draw, 15-12, when the two teams played in March, although the Orange won 12-11 in overtime. Syracuse's top draw specialist, Kailah Kempney (83 DCs) missed four games (including Florida) with a midseason knee injury, so it will be a new match-up between her and Gator freshman Shannon Gilroy (77). Gilroy is four inches taller, so Kempney will count on her teammates to pick up the balls she puts on the turf.

"That's when you give it to the outside people," said Kempney. "She's bigger than me and she's really strong so the selfs are going to be very difficult. So we're going to have to depend on the outside of the circle, but I believe in my teammates."

The Northwestern-Maryland will also feature a first-time match-up between two top draw specialists, Alyssa Leonard (80 DCs) and Karri Ellen Johnson (76). Leonard played in last year's final, but Johnson missed it after a season-ending concussion.

Recruiting Pluses on Long Island

Playing in a national semifinal in a hotbed area like Long Island is huge recruiting boost for all four schools, but particularly those from non-traditional lacrosse areas like Northwestern and Florida. O'Leary praised the quality of high school and club coaching on Long Island, and Amonte Hiller said that having a presence in a hotbed area can pay dividends, especially if you're patient.

"If you're a young kid, 9 or 10 years old, you come to these games and you see these teams and you want to be that. And that translates as you get older," she said. "Sometimes you don't see the product of what you're doing on the field 'til years later."

A Lot of Hardware

Collectively, the four head coaches have 28 NCAA championship rings between them. Syracuse head coach Gary Gait has 10 titles, three as a player for the Orange men's team (1988-1990) and 7 as an assistant coach for the Maryland women's lacrosse team (1995-2001). Northwestern's Kelly Amonte Hiller has 8 – two as a player for the Terps (1995 and 1996) and six as the Wildcats' head coach (2005-2009, 2011). Maryland's Cathy Reese won four titles as a player with the Terps (1995-1998) and 3 more as an assistant coach (1999-2001). She earned her eighth ring as a head coach when Maryland won the 2010 NCAA championship. Florida's Mandee O'Leary won a title as a player with Temple (1988) and as an assistant for Maryland (1992).

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