October 31, 2013

30 in 30: Can Saint Anselm Kick It Up a Notch?

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Versatile midfielder Sarah Doherty is a co-captain for a Saint Anselm team that is building greater expectations.
© Saint Anselm

Saint Anselm has long been that team listed by other Northeast-10 members in an effort to convey just how stacked the league really is. Forget Adelphi and Le Moyne for a second, it’s no picnic playing against Saint A.

The Hawks proved that last season, when they put up the NCAA’s most misleading 10-7 record. Every one of those losses came against a Top 15 team. Four came by one goal, and another, against Adelphi, came by two.

So when new coach Andrea Cofrin met with the team for the first time this August, she wasted little time. It was clear where the work needed to be done.

“The big thing we touched on was being able to take those one-goal losses and turn them into two- and three-goal wins,” Cofrin said. “It’s important that they know the last 15 minutes are just as important as the first 15 minutes.”

That meant running late-game scenarios over and over again, so the offense and defense both understood what to do with a late lead. So they knew when to stay aggressive and when to be patient. And so players knew to always be aware of the clock. Cofrin also started rotating the midfielders in shifts, so they’d be fresher at the end of games.

It’s the fall, the scores don’t really count, but it’s safe to say the late-game adjustments are working. More importantly, Cofrin said the Hawks showed improvement from their first play day — which came after only four practices — to the next one.

Improvements at Saint Anselm are worth noting, because had the Hawks converted even half of those close games last year, they would have been in the NCAA tournament conversation. The final week saw them twice give away late two-goal leads to Stonehill, a team that earned the North Region’s final playoff spot. 

The attack and midfield units were returning mostly intact, so expectations for 2014 were high at Saint Anselm even before they hired Siena’s all-time winningest coach to run the team. Cofrin, the 2010 MAAC Coach of the Year, said she only vaguely knew about the Manchester, N.H., program before applying, but she came into a very good situation.

“I definitely got lucky,” Cofrin said. “I inherited a great group of girls that work hard on and off the field. They absolutely love lacrosse.”

Cofrin is expecting her first child in January and sought the job to be closer to her family. She met with six players during the interview process. Each wanted something slightly different: a more defensive-minded coach, a tougher coach, a coach to take them to the next level. Cofrin is certainly capable of it all, she led Division I Siena to four-straight MAAC tournaments, but Saint Anselm also has the players reach the next level.

Marissa Daly, had 66 goals and 14 assists last season and returns as their main offensive threat. (“One of the biggest,” Cofrin said. “Not just on our team but the entire NE-10.”) Daly is a captain along with versatile midfielder Sarah Doherty (25 goals, 23 assists) and Brianna Walsh, a hard-worker who leads the defense by example.

“Three great captains,” Cofrin said. “I think it’s huge. I’m the new one in this situation. You have to have captains who understand your philosophy and vision and goals.” 

Those goals are understandably high. The Hawks will once again be a team that the rest of the league fears, which means they’re a team the rest of the country should be aware of. The NE-10 has a built-in strength of schedule that few outside teams could schedule if they tried. 

Along those same lines, another 10-7 season would be worth celebrating. The other NE-10 members are right. It’s the toughest league in Division II. That’s why, despite everything, the Hawks looked at 2013 as a success. Mostly.

“It was a huge improvement form where they were,” Cofrin said. “They were happy. But I also think those losses also left a nasty taste with them.”

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