April 14, 2011

Geneseo's Rise in Rankings Signals Struggle for SUNYAC Supremacy

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Geneseo freshman Caroline Buonocore averages over five points per game and ranks second among all Division III women's lacrosse scorers.

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Check the top of the Division III women's scoring list and you'll see a familiar name. Curry's Ashley Hansbury leads all players with 5.91 goals per game. That's to be expected. The senior became Division III's all-time leading scorer Saturday.

The name right below Hansbury, however, is a bit more surprising. Before Tuesday's games, Geneseo's Caroline Buonocore had 5.13 points per game, good for second in Division III. Last season, while Hansbury was wrapping up a second straight Commonwealth Coast Conference Player of the Year award, Buonocore was still playing at Syracuse-area Westhill High.

"To have a freshman come in and play at the level she has is incredible," said Geneseo coach Carly Ritchlin. "She could easily play Division I. We always bring in good freshman, but she's a step above."

Buonocore's rapid ascension up the leader board mirrors that of her new team. No. 20 Geneseo (7-1) opened the season with seven straight victories and cracked the national rankings for the first time in program history this week.

The Blue Knights have gone 7-0 before, but never against the caliber of opponents they faced this season. They beat William Smith for the first time, 16-15, took down St. Lawrence 15-7 after losing there last season and won at Fredonia, 11-9, which had won eight of nine.

The William Smith game was especially impressive. The Herons were ranked No. 19 at the time and erased a four-goal deficit in the second half. Geneseo weathered the storm and Buonocore won the game with an eight-meter shot and 25 seconds remaining.

Geneseo led Division III with 18.43 goals per game, before Tuesday's 12-9 loss to Brockport. Last year the Knights topped 15 goals just four times.

"A lot of it has been that we're able to be a fast break team and just run down and get good shots off," Ritchlin said. "[Buonocore]'s leading the team in scoring, but there are four or five other goal scorers. It's that versatility. You can't just shut down one person."

Senior Anna Hutchings is second on the team with 22 goals and five assists. She's the center, a captain and a leader on both offense and defense. Like Buonocore she's a Westhill alum.

"She's one of those girls that just doesn't have a bad game," Ritchlin said.

The Blue Knights start just four seniors but return seven starters, including a bunch of sophomores like Rachel Petrone (13 goals, seven assists, 17 ground balls) and Lea Paris (11 points, 14 ground balls, 16 draw controls), who saw extended time as freshmen.

"At the end of the day it's their coachability," Ritchilin said. "I've been able to do things with this team that I've never done before. They're very adaptable."

Geneseo lost its first game Tuesday, 12-9 to conference rival Brockport (6-3). This time the Knights couldn't hold off the comeback, as Brockport erased an 8-4 second half deficit. After Brockport took the lead with six straight goals, Buonocore scored with 7:51 remaining to make it 10-9. Brockport's Dayna Piraino, who also had three assists, scored her only goal to make it 11-9 one minute later, and Sarah Brown followed her third goal of the game to seal the victory.

That a game between Geneseo and Brockport, which received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament last season, featured two teams that have been ranked in the top 20 shows how far the SUNYAC has come. Cortland has won 12 straight conference titles, but this is no longer a one team league.

"When I started at Geneseo you knew it was Cortland every year and no one else was even coming close," Ritchlin, who played at Cortland, said. "Now it's a battle every single game. It's good to get that recognition for the conference."

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