March 19, 2010

Gettysburg Hoping to Be Gracious Hosts

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Lexie Hearn and the Bullets are hoping to make another run to the national semifinals so they can enjoy the comforts of their home field.
© John Strohsacker

As much as Gettysburg head coach Carol Cantele expected to be heartbroken about the Bullets' loss to Salisbury in the national semifinals, the disappointment just wouldn't set in.

Initially, it was tough for her to figure out exactly why.

After some introspection, she realized part of it came from knowing her team played as well as it could, but fell a goal short to a better team that day. Part of it was the team had far surpassed Cantele's expectations — "I was thinking we aren't that good this year, and they made a fool of me," she said with a laugh.

But the primary reason only became apparent after the team bus coasted back onto campus that Saturday evening.

"We had that final departure off of the bus and I looked at all of their faces thinking, 'This is good,'" said Cantele, also the head coach of the U.S. Developmental team. "As the players walked off, I said to myself, 'I'm going to see you and you and you next year,' and that is when it really hit me. We're just going to pick up where we left off. That's the plan."

The coach reached her epiphany hours after most of her players did. While they were deferential to the emotions of defender Sara Tolner, who had just completed her career, the players had an unstated understanding of what the 2010 season held for the Bullets.

"I remember having two thoughts," said Lexie Hearn, a senior this spring and two-time captain. "Knowing that Sara, our only senior, had played her last game, and that [the rest] were all returning for another chance."

Rare is the team that loses just one player after a march to the final four, but here come the Bullets, returning every single point from a 16-4 campaign — including big guns Nina Emala (45g, 36a) and Hollis Stahl (64g, 6a). And if they needed any more motivation other than returning their team essentially intact, the Gettysburg players will have another incentive to match, if not exceed by one game, their accomplishments of 2009.

The semifinals and finals of the NCAA Division III women's tournament this spring will be held on the familiar turf of Gettysburg's Clark Field.

Having everything line up so perfectly usually sets off internal alarms for coaches and players alike. All coaches are seemingly obligated to never look beyond the next game — or at least admit to it — and their players typically fall in line. The Bullets, however, are eschewing the standard policy, almost going so far as to embrace the expectations.

"If that's your motivation, if that's what's going to fuel you to get in the weight room when no one's watching or run that sprint to your highest potential every single rep, then acknowledge it and let it be your mantra," said Cantele. "Our players want to be playing on Clark Field in May. I'm OK if they want to keep it on the forefront of their mind, as long as they know the increments necessary to get us there and don't lose sight of that. If that's the motivation they're going to use, so be it."

"Getting to the championship game has always been in the back of our heads, but I think a little bit more this year," admitted Hearn. "If we're going to be hosting, we want to be the ones playing."

Submitting an application has been part of a longstanding goal by the college to host a national championship. Gettysburg has proffered bids for soccer in the past, but usually the academic schedule eliminated the possibility of hosting a lacrosse final four due to conflicts with exams. This year, however, the late calendar opened the door. Next year's calendar also allows for Gettysburg to host the semifinals and finals. The application was due in January, and at press time the athletic department was unsure of its intentions.

The obvious pitfall facing the Bullets is withstanding the pressure of reaching these lofty goals. Playing in the national semifinal and final games on their own campus is a dream scenario, but those contests would be numbers 23 and 24 on the Gettysburg schedule. Each game closer to those last two pushes the barometer higher and higher for the Bullets.
Can they handle it?

"I think it may add a little bit of pressure, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing," said Hearn. "It may just be motivation for us. We're coming back with a very strong team, almost the exact same team we had last year, so all we have to do is build upon that."

The construction has already started. Cantele said she has a large freshman class, which, due to the loss of only one player, will balloon her roster from 24 players to 33. Some of upperclassmen will be pushed for playing time, but most of the youngsters will assume an apprenticeship role.

Those new players will undoubtedly find their eyes wandering to the end of the Bullets' schedule, where the big payoff lies. While the possibility of playing at home for a national championship is a fact the players and staff are aware of, it's not something brought up in everyday conversation.

"You can bet it's something that we all know is right there," said Cantele. "It's the elephant in the room."

It's a big elephant, but one that's ready to be mounted on the trophy wall by a group of well-placed Bullets.

This story appeared in the March issue of Lacrosse Magazine.

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