April 4, 2014

In Loss, Albany Women Show They're For Real

by Laurel Pfahler | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Coach John Battaglino addresses his players during a game earlier this year against Binghamton. Despite suffering its first loss against Syracuse this week, Albany proved it's more than a paper tiger by playing the No. 3 Orange as tough as anybody has this season. (Bill Ziskin/Albany Athletics)

The University of Albany women's lacrosse team breezed through its first nine games before running into a serious challenge.

But in a 13-11 loss to No. 3 Syracuse on Tuesday, the No. 14 Great Danes (9-1) showed they are the real deal.

Albany shook off a sluggish start at the Carrier Dome and kept pace with one of the best teams in the nation, making it a one-goal contest with less than five minutes left before the Orange put the game away.

"It shows they are capable of playing at a higher level," coach John Battaglino said. "They feel good about what they do. They played at an increased speed (against Syracuse), but what I really like that they took away from it was they know they could have played a little better at times. They knew there were a couple mistakes Syracuse took advantage of, and they weren't just happy to be there. They felt like, 'We can do this.' They want a little more, and that's what you want."

Senior goalkeeper Anna Berman said the team had some nerves going in, but never felt intimidated.

"I knew we could run with them," Berman said. "We played with tremendous intensity and that was what we needed. This game gave us a huge confidence boost. We came out of there feeling as if we earned some more respect."

Albany leads the nation in scoring margin, beating opponents by an average 10.11 points per game, but hasn't garnered much attention for doing so because of its lack of competition.

Battaglino said he tries scheduling more opponents like Syracuse but can rarely get anyone to take him up on his offer to travel. Playing the Orange finally gave Albany a chance to see how it could handle a faster-paced game.

Syracuse took a 6-1 lead but never had more than a five-goal advantage, and Albany cut the deficit to two going into halftime, thanks to three straight goals by Allie Phelan.

"We were athletic enough I think they started to gage speed, and the game started to slow down a little in their head," Battaglino said. "It took a while, but then they were able to see openings on the field and we were stride-for-stride in the midfield, and our defense was able to make reads, and I think that's what good teams do. We still came out on the short end, but I was pleased with how they adjusted."

Albany's closest games before that were a 13-7 win over Dartmouth on March 8 and 10-5 victory over Hofstra on March 22.

Battaglino said despite the lopsided scores, the season still has been a learning experience for his team. He just wasn't sure how much it would pay off against top-notch competition.

"Sometimes I tell them when we make a mistake against teams I feel we should be dominating, and they look at me like, 'Well, we are up by 10, what does it matter?'" Battaglino said. "But I tell them it's a game within a game. We have to be on all the time because better teams will take you to task. Then you play a team like this, and you see they get it."

Nothing has come easy for Albany this season, though, in terms of what the players had to overcome emotionally.

Sophomore Whitney Corby, who was expected to be a key contributor on attack, suffered traumatic brain injuries in a car accident after Christmas when her car hit a patch of ice and crashed into a tree.

She now uses a walker and is still not able to attend classes or function as she used to, Battaglino said, but still remains a big part of the team.

"It's just been a lot for the girls to handle at this point," Battaglino said. "I think they've done a pretty good job keeping things in perspective, and she's been in our hearts and minds every game, and I like the way the kids responded in their maturity."

Corby's absence is felt especially on offense, which also faced some other personnel changes this season, but a veteran defense has helped make things easier for the attack and midfield.

Berman and fellow senior Kathleen Lennon lead the defense as four-year starters. Lennon posts team highs in ground balls (25), draw controls (49) and caused turnovers (14), and Berman has allowed just 6.6 goals per game, while posting a 49.2 percent save rate.

Rachel Bowles (30 goals, 20 assists) and Ariana Parker (23 goals, 9 assists) pace the offense.

"I really like our defense," Battaglino said. "I think they have good chemistry. They understand their roles and positioning. It starts there. They get the ball to the midfield, and it works into the transition game, and it makes it so we can take some chances offensively because we know the defense has our back. We know they are capable of making stops."

"We lost some players in our attack, but we're just better balanced," Battaglino added. "We can pass better, we can catch the ball better in traffic. We feel pretty good on the dodge. We're athletic, so I feel we can do a lot of different things and play with anyone in the country."

Albany looks to continue to prove that as it heads into the meat of its conference schedule with upcoming games at Vermont on Saturday and at home April 12 against defending America East Conference champion Stony Brook.

Stony Brook was the only team in the conference to beat the Great Danes last year, though Albany was the America East champion in 2012, when it last made the NCAA tournament.

The Great Danes could be on pace for their best season since going 19-1 in 2011.

"I think the biggest difference this year is the sour taste still in our mouths from losing our conference championship," Berman said. "We aren't doing anything differently than previous years, still working hard day in and out, but we want to prove that this program is legitimate."

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