October 25, 2010

Panthers Prove Meddle Against D-I Foes

by Joel Censer | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Censer Archive

Louisville freshman midfielder Colleen O'Malley seeks an outlet Saturday while guarded by Penn State senior midfielder Laura Lesnick at the George Mason fall ball tournament.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

FAIRFAX, Va. -- During Saturday's fall women's lacrosse tournament at George Mason, it wasn't particularly difficult to find quality lacrosse. The round-robin-style tournament, held on the university's expansive west campus, hosted nine different teams, all of whom all competed -- often simultaneously -- on four different game fields.

But it was easy to get confused.

Think you're watching host George Mason in its green and yellows and it's actually Jen Larsen's Oregon squad, trying to rebound from a disappointing 2010 season.

Think that's two-time reigning Division II champion Adelphi in black and yellow garb, and it's actually Towson, trying to rebuild an offense decimated by graduation. (It should be noted that the Tigers' Jess Dunn looked stellar attacking the cage against Delaware.)

And think that's the Georgetown Hoyas in their patented navy blue and gray, but it's actually Penn State, now four months into the Missy Doherty era. (Doherty was the former Towson skipper.)

Yet for all the similar colors and top-notch teams, the squad that turned the most heads may have been the one non-Division I participant.

Adelphi, a Division II school located on Long Island, gave Georgetown and Johns Hopkins all they could handle, eking out one-goal wins (9-8 and 8-7, respectively) against two perennial top-20 Division I squads.

Yes, it's fall ball, a time when coaches substitute liberally, mix lineups and play almost everyone. This applied to both the Hoyas and Blue Jays, who managed the scrimmages much differently than they might have in the spring.

But the Panthers, who are fast, physical, skilled and love to push tempo, still showed they could run with, over and around the nation's elite.

Adelphi's attackers were effective at finishing down low and boasts an aggressive defense which has benefitted from the addition of Florida transfer Katelynn Ciaci. But the Panthers' bread and butter is unquestionably their midfield. Demmiane Cook and Marissa Mills, end-to-end talents who pick up loose balls and then have no problem shoving it down an opponent's throat, looked particularly impressive Saturday.

"We have a big-time midfield, which is the key to any great lacrosse team," Spallina said in his thick Long Island accent. "This is the best group I've ever had."

As for the opportunity to play Division I opponents, Spallina seemed thrilled to prove that the Panthers could do more than just beat up on Assumption and Saint Aslem.

"The only thing D-II about us is that we're in D-II," Spallina said. "Fall's exciting. In the spring, we beat teams we're supposed to beat. In the fall, we play teams people don't think we can beat."

Hoyas search for consistency

Despite the hiccup against Adelphi, Georgetown had moments which make you think Ricky Fried's outfit will again be in the hunt for a national championship.

That is, if the Hoyas played more like they did when they dismantled Towson and less like they did against Lehigh and Adelphi.

"We need more consistency. We had moments of brilliance but need to stay focused," said freshman midfielder Kelyn Freedman.

The Hoyas seemed to be at their best when they played transition lacrosse, getting up and down the field in a hurry. Georgetown's best player doing so throughout the day was sophomore speed merchant Sophia Thomas, who was as effective in the middle of the field as she was in settled offense.

Another key could be Freedman, a tantalizing first-year player who despite playing without her stick or shoes -- she and three other Georgetown freshmen were evacuated from her dorm at 6 that morning -- is as athletic and fast as they come.

Hopkins, Lehigh show promise

Johns Hopkins, coming off a 10-7 season which ended in the ALC quarterfinals with a 14-3 thrashing at the hands of upstart Florida, looked solid. The Blue Jays, who have never met a possession they didn't like, were savvy and patient on offense. Veterans Candace Rossi and Colleen McCaffrey mixed well with talented freshman and Rochester (N.Y.) native Taylor D'Amore.

Another team that opened eyes was Lehigh. Last year, the Mountain Hawks went 14-4 before bowing to Navy in the Patriot League championship game. Against Georgetown and La Salle, the Mountain Hawks looked pesky and athletic, especially in between the lines

They're ready to take advantage of a more experienced roster.

"We have three starting midfielders we're really excited about," said head coach Jill Redfern.

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