April 5, 2012

WD3 Notebook: Detail Oriented Babson Eyes May Success

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Senior Colleen Mulligan is fourth on Babson with 17 points on 13 goals and four assists. 
© Babson

Babson women's lacrosse is a team on the brink. The Beavers have won five straight NEWMAC championships, with two NCAA tournament wins coming during that stretch.

How does a new coach set goals at program like that? Do you stay the course or look to make the leap? Michelle Smith was faced with that question when she was named Babson's head coach on June 1, 2011.

"What's been going on is working," Smith said. "I spent the first couple of months and fall ball going 'What makes this team tick? What has been working in the past?'"

A lot has worked. Babson has won at least 10 games for six straight years. From 2007-2010 it never won fewer than 15. No one could fault the new coach for wanting to maintain the status quo.

But long-term, Smith sees the team performing even better.

"Looking big picture," Smith said, "my personal goals for the program are to be able to continue the tradition of success and really push the limits a little bit on what we can accomplish in May. For Babson, as a program, there's been some really great years and there's been some graceful exits in the first round. My goal is to get this team and program to a point where we know what we're expecting in May."

That expectation includes sustained success throughout the NEWMAC and NCAA tournaments. Last week provided evidence of movement toward that goal. The Beavers (5-2) defeated the NESCAC's Wesleyan, 15-9, and followed that up with a 15-12 victory over conference rival Springfield, avenging last year's only NEWMAC regular-season loss in the process.

That makes four straight wins for a team that opened with tough losses to Bates and Tufts in two of its first three games.

"We've found ourselves really clicking," Smith said. "During our Spring Break we started getting to a place where we were playing a full complete game. Things we wanted to happen were happening defensively. We had that complete game. Sixty minutes of what we're calling Babson lacrosse."

And what is Babson lacrosse? Similar to how they've set goals at Babson, the answer requires some thought.

"That's certainly something that has evolved this season," Smith said. "The things I've been stressing are the details and the finer points. Paying attention not just to what you're doing; thinking two, three steps ahead. What are you doing defensively besides marking your girl? Really going after the little phrase, 'The Devil is in the details.' That's something we've been working on, to pay attention to those details."

The execution of those details have been led by Babson's senior class, whose leadership Smith called "fantastic." Trisha Babson sets the tone for the offense and leads the Beavers with 11 assists and 38 draw controls. Fellow senior captains Erin Daley, who has 11 ground balls and a team-high seven caused turnovers, and Bridget McCurdy, who has seven ground balls and nine draw controls, add more leadership. 

"They've really been the workhorses for us," Smith said. "Doing the hard work and the hustle plays. That's been really important."

Senior Colleen Mulligan is fourth on the team with 17 points on 13 goals and four assists. 

Joining the seniors is a talented crop of underclassman, highlighted by sophomore Misha Beatty, who transferred from defending Division I champion Northwestern, and leads the team with 23 goals. Beatty has really come on of late, with six goals and an assist against Springfield and seven against Wesleyan. Smith said it took some time for Beatty to modify her style, which was predicated on using her talent to take girls on 1v1, to fit Babson's offense.

"She's done a beautiful job adjusting her game," Smith said.

That's something seen all around Babson, where the entire team has bought into the changes needed to take the program to the next level.

"You have two choices when things change," Smith said. "You can choose to resist it, or embrace it and welcome it as a challenge. The girls were so willing to embrace the challenge of something different. On the field it's showing."

Springfield Has Big Win of Its Own

If history is any indication, Babson and Springfield will meet again in the NEWMAC finals. The two squads have squared off in the title game for the past three seasons.

Springfield (5-5) followed up its loss to Babson with a big non-conference win over the NESCAC's Connecticut College, 14-13, on Tuesday. The Pride scored three straight late in the second half to go up 14-12 and held on to win. Anne Versprille made 10 nine saves and Meghan Flanagan and Kelly Gallo each had three goals for Springfield.

The win over Connecticut College emphasizes Springfield's brutal non-league slate that has included losses to Ithaca, Endicott and Stevens. Williams and Trinity await in the coming week.

RIT Enters Liberty League on High Note

It was an eventful first week of Liberty League play for RIT (2-4). The Tigers saw program records fall in their league-opening, 20-14 win over Skidmore and nearly handed RPI its first loss a day later, before losing 13-12.

Against Skidmore, junior Shelby Vakiener tied her own program record with 11 points (seven goals and four assists) and became RIT's all-time leading scorer. Vakiener ended the game with 178 points (125 goals, 58 assists), in just 38 career games. The next day against RPI she added to that total with five more goals and an assist.

One Undefeated Team Will Fall

Three of Division III's remaining unbeatens call the NESCAC home. One of those will lose Friday when No. 5 Trinity (5-0) hosts No. 7 Colby (8-0). Trinity defeated No. 12 Tufts, 12-7, on Saturday. Colby beat Connecticut College, 9-7, the same day.

The weekend won't be any easier for No. 6 Middlebury (8-0), the NESCAC's third unbeaten team. The Panthers head to No. 11 Amherst (6-2) on Saturday. Middlebury hosts Trinity on April 14 and Colby on April 21.

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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