March 11, 2011

Wheelock Women Primed for First Season

from press release

- Prior to the Wheelock College women's lacrosse team opening its inaugural campaign, Head Coach Elizabeth Sullivan had some obstacles to navigate. An August hire, the coach and her squad didn't practice together until February 2, finally moving outdoors on March 2. In addition to that challenge, many of her charges had never previously played the sport.

"We started day one with basic catching and throwing, absorbing the ball like they're catching an egg," said Sullivan, who played three years of Division I lacrosse at Johns Hopkins University. "That first week was a big challenge - that's when you think people would decide to quit because it was frustrating for them to not know what they were doing. But they stuck with it, which is impressive."

The Wildcats kick off their 12-game slate on March 16, as the first lacrosse contest in Wheelock history comes against visiting Rivier College's second-year squad. Much remains in flux while Sullivan continues to assess where certain student-athletes can contribute to the team, though her hope is the Wildcats can compete in every game and continue to develop.

"We're trying to stay away from measuring success by wins or losses," said Sullivan, a Boston-area lawyer when away from the lacrosse field. "What we are really focusing on is chemistry and using this season to build upon. One great thing about our team is that no one's a senior, so everyone could return next year."

Sullivan, who has worked camps on her native Long Island for girls between sixth and 12th grade and most recently coached middle-school-aged girls through Brookline Youth Lacrosse, was encouraged from the beginning about the level of intellect her players brought to the table.

"They're smart and educated, and able to think about their decisions," said the coach. "They're not just acting because they were told to act; they're thinking things through. They're not just mimicking; they're using the knowledge that I give them and translating that onto the field."

More than half have already played a sport at Wheelock, with nine providing prior student-athlete experience, and the skills many possess from those other sports have translated well to lacrosse. Among the team's field hockey players, Sullivan cited their ability to see the field as a critical asset. In her basketball student-athletes, she noticed their knack for playing tight defense. "The women who have played before have also helped the inexperienced players," noted Sullivan. "There's one of me and 16 of them, so that's helped the inexperienced players pick up the sport."

Two of the squad's three captains are multi-sport athletes, as junior Kayla Drescher (Wallingford, CT/Mark T. Sheehan) recently completed her second year of basketball, while classmate Kylie Hefford (Exeter, NH/St. Thomas Aquinas) has been an all-conference field hockey athlete. Christina Cubera (Baltimore, MD/The Park School of Baltimore) rounds out the trio, becoming one of the rare freshman captains in school history.

Sullivan has recognized that each of the captains provides a calm, patient approach as a leader. "Kylie is a talented player with a competitive attitude and is very approachable, and people seem to automatically listen to what she has to say," said Sullivan. "Kayla has the ability to bring everybody up when they're having their worst day, and her positive attitude echoes throughout the team. She's somebody who's never played before, but she has picked it up quickly. Her defensive skills from basketball certainly have translated." Hefford is slated to make an immediate impact in the midfield, while Drescher will predominantly contribute on defense.

"You would never know by Christina's presence that she's a freshman," said the coach of Cubera, who is expected to start in the midfield or on defense. "She's a very mature player, and even on a bad day, she picks her head up and keeps working hard. Christina is confident but not arrogant. She's very good at pulling people aside to explain things and break them down to the basics."

Karlye Kennedy (Byfield, MA/Triton Regional) and Alanna Pihl (Franconia, NH/Profile) round out the junior class. A former diver at Wheelock, Kennedy will appear in the midfield, while Pihl was all-conference in field hockey last fall and should help the squad as a midfielder and a defender.

Seven sophomores dot the roster, with Cara McAuliffe (Nashua, NH/Nashua South), Taylor Rogers (Essex, MA/Manchester Essex Regional) and Despina Savvoulides (Norwalk, CT/Norwalk) having already competed for other teams this year. A cross country runner, McAuliffe will aid the attack, while Savvoulides is a midfielder and earned all-league field hockey recognition in the fall. A midfielder, Rogers is the college's lone three-sport athlete for the 2010-11 school year, having also played field hockey and basketball.

Sophomores Hayley Adamuska (Bethlehem, NH/Profile) and Aarika Burk (Woodbridge, CT/Amity Regional) are listed as defenders, classmate Sara Davis (Cranston, RI/Cranston West) is an attacker, and Alexandra Perry (Malden, MA/Malden) provides experience as a goalkeeper.

Four more freshmen complete the inaugural team, among them three attackers. Jenna Ghoman (Danvers, MA/Danvers), Kelsey Schools (Enfield, CT/South Windsor) and MacKenzie Sherman (East Lyme, CT/East Lyme) will specialize in generating offense, while Michelle Greene (Mansfield, MA/Mansfield) is slated to see time in goal. Both Ghoman and Greene played field hockey in 2010.

With the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) not sponsoring lacrosse, Wheelock will forge ahead as one of 12 independent Division III teams. The Wildcats will split their slate evenly between the road and their home field at the Winsor School, playing four of the program's first five games among familiar surroundings on their home turf.

Four of Wheelock's opponents have existed for three years or less, including fellow first-year squad Emmanuel College. The Colleges of the Fenway (COF) counterparts square off on March 23 at Clemente Field. The Wildcats also oppose a pair of three-year-old squads this spring, hosting the University of Maine at Farmington on March 27 and Daniel Webster College in their finale on April 23.

Since the early-season lessons in basics, Sullivan has moved on to imparting the intricacies of the game. "We're playing settled offense and defense and running plays now," she said, adding that the new players have begun working on such facets of their game as ball-handling with their non-dominant hand and dodging defenders. "It's no longer a question of how to catch and throw. Rather than the basics of how to play the game, it's now how to run a play, and how to do it more effectively. That's a lot of progress for women who had never played before."

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