April 5, 2012

Problem Solvers: RPI Takes On Tougher Phase Two of Season

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Allie Arnal made 14 saves in RPI's one-goal win over RIT and was named Liberty League Defensive Player of the Week for the fourth straight time.
© RPI 

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the oldest school of its kind in the English-speaking world. It was founded in 1824 for the "application of science to the common purposes of life." Its teams go by the nickname "Engineers." They know how to solve complex equations.

Leave it to RPI's women's lacrosse team to solve for the missing variable in this stumper: How do you subtract the two most prolific scorers in program history, plus the 2010 Liberty League Rookie of the Year, and come up with an undefeated record?

The best way to solve any complex equation is to break it down into smaller parts. That's what RPI (7-0) has done. Phase 1 was their non-league slate, during which, behind Division III's fifth-stingiest defense, the Engineers rolled through with five wins by an average score of 15-5.

That phase actually began in last season's Liberty League semifinals, where the Engineers fell to Union by one goal.

"We came off a very successful 2011 campaign," said RPI coach Leslie DeLano. "It left a drive to fulfill that legacy. The jumping off point was last year's finale."

But much changed since last year's finale. RPI graduated a stellar Class of 2011, including the top two scorers in program history. Then Alissa Peterson, the team's second-leading scorer in 2011 and the 2010 Liberty League Rookie of the Year, took advantage of another unique aspect of an RPI education, the school's Co-op program, which has her working full-time at a company this semester.

Somehow, RPI has shaken off those subtractions by making sure its opponent's scoring doesn't add up. The Engineers are allowing just 6.14 goals per game.

Phase 1 has been solved and completed. RPI moves on to a suddenly wide-open Liberty League race, where the variables are much more complex.

"We have changed the focus," DeLano said. "We are fully cognizant of the fact that the league is tough. Phase 2 is a lot harder. We have a big old bullseye on our backs."

In years past, even an unbeaten start may not have placed a bullseye on the Engineers. But thus arrives the other big subtraction in the equation. Hamilton, the perennial Liberty League champions, joined the NESCAC this season.

"The door is wide open," DeLano said. "It's still so premature to think about the end result. Everyone is thinking it's up for grabs. I think there was maybe a relief we don't all have to jump over the six-foot hurdle."

But hurdles remain, as plenty of teams have a realistic shot at the league title.

William Smith (3-3), which RPI plays April 14, played a brutal non-league schedule and won its first two Liberty League games by a combined score of 37-7. The Engineers on April 13 face Union (2-4), which also played a brutal non-league slate, facing Cortland, Trinity, Williams, and Buffalo State. Last week Union opened up league play with two wins by a combined score of 27-7. On Saturday, RPI plays St. Lawrence (3-3), which has not yet played a league game, but faced a slew of tough SUNYAC foes in non-league. Skidmore (April 28) is 6-2. RIT (2-4) beat Skidmore and lost to RPI by only one goal.

The RIT game on Saturday, which RPI won 13-12, showed just how tough Phase 2 will be. RIT is new to the Liberty League and the teams were playing for the first time. RIT led 12-11 midway through the second half but RPI scored the game's final two goals, winning it on a score by Marissa Page, assisted by Madeline Sisson with 8:50 remaining. Sisson had tied it six minutes earlier on a free position, her fourth goal of the game.

The defense took over from there as Allie Arnal made five of her 14 saves in the final 8:50. Arnal was subsequently named the Liberty League's Defensive Player of the Week for the fourth consecutive week. Through seven games she ranks third in Division III in goals against average (6.04) and second in save percentage (.617)

"I would have loved for her to fly under the radar," DeLano said. "She had such a great sophomore season. We rely on her so much."

The defense in front of Arnal is great too. Sisson is a defender, though you couldn't tell that by the four goals she put up against RIT. She was named the Liberty League's Offensive Player of the Week.

Sisson leads the team with 23 points and is one of eight Engineers to reach double figures. Shannon Maguire is second on the team in points with 22 (14 goals, eight assists) and Rachel Scofield leads the team with 18 goals.

They'll need contributions from everyone as Phase 2 rolls into its toughest portion in the coming week. Beginning Friday, RPI will play five games in eight days against Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Williams, Union and William Smith.

"It's our own private gauntlet," DeLano said. "Four of five are league games. If we win a NESCAC game, that's icing on the cake."

Mark Macyk has covered Division II and III women’s lacrosse for Lacrosse Magazine since 2011. He can be contacted at markmacyk@gmail.com.

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