February 12, 2014

#LMRanks: No. 3 Trinity Bantams (WD3)

By Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

No. 3 Trinity Bantams

2013 record: 21-1 (10-0 NESCAC) 
Coach: Kate Livesay (ninth year)
Record at Middlebury: 129-24

Top Returner: M Caroline Hayes (Jr.)
Hayes played alongside two All-American midfielders as a freshman, then became one herself as a sophomore. Had 31 goals and 15 assists in 2013 for the NCAA runner-up Bantams.

X-Factor: M Martha Griffin (So.)
After a stellar freshmen season, Griffin replaces All-American Megan Leonhard in the starting lineup. She played 10 games for Trinity's ice hockey team last season, but this winter has shifted the focus to lacrosse.

Can Caroline Hayes help the Bantams make it back to the NCAA finals. (Scott McCall)

Previous: No. 4 Middlebury

Trinity’s women’s lacrosse team won an NCAA championship in 2012 and has gone 42-2 over the past two seasons. It’s about as successful of a two-year run as any team could hope to have.

But, earlier this week, coach Kate Livesay pointed out something that speaks to the fundamental nature of college athletics.

“There are only two classes left that actually won that national championship,” Livesay said.

It’s weird to think about, but just 20 months after Trinity took home its first title, more than half of the team doesn’t have a ring. And now, after the graduation of a talented senior class, including the its two leading scorers, that championship seems a little farther away. 

But the players who experienced the thrill of that run -- and the players who experienced the opposite feeling when they fell in last year’s final -- are fueled by the desire for another.

“There was so much emphasis on how many seniors we had,” Livesay said. “They really want to show that as a group they can be just as successful. For many of them, I think, that taste of a national championship after their sophomore year has really driven them over the preseason.”

Of course, preseason means something different at Trinity. Like the rest of the NESCAC, the Bantams haven’t practiced yet and didn’t play fall ball. The league finally gets started on Saturday.

With the late start, and a bunch of younger players, the Bantams are taking a different approach early on. Perfection is impossible at this point. The goal is to be perfect in May.

In just over two weeks they’ll open their season against Colby, a veteran team that always plays Trinity close. Eighteen days later they’ll take on Salisbury in a re-match of the national title game. It will be the first regular season meeting for the two teams, which have met in the past two NCAA finals. 

It’s a challenging early slate, even for a team that was perfect until last season’s final day.

“What’s the point of going 21-0 if you’re going to lose 12-5 in the National Championship?” Livesay said. “I feel like [Salisbury] picked apart some of the holes we had. We hadn’t had someone take apart our defense like that. I thought, if that’s going to happen we’d rather have it happen in March than May.”

But while Trinity isn’t expected to run undefeated through its schedule again, it’s wouldn’t be all that surprising. The offense, which ranked second in the NESCAC last year, returns Shea Kusiak (32 goals, 15 assists in 2013), who has started on attack since Day 1 and talented sophomore Molly Cox, who transferred in from Boston University and scored 33 goals last year.

The midfield should be a real strength with Caroline Hayes (31 goals, 15 assists, 48 ground balls, 49 draw controls) lining up beside sophomore Martha Griffin (24 goals, 12 assists, 21 ground balls, 28 draw controls).

“We’re really excited to see what they can do in the midfield together,” Livesay said.

On defense (5.77 goals allowed per game, third in D3), four-year starter Lyndsey Shepard will lead a unit that boasts two talented goalies: sophomore, and NCAA tournament standout, Olivia Money and junior Bridget Kitchen.

The Bantams have been working with on strength and conditioning and doing drills and stick work during the long offseason. Livesay and coaching staff have kept sane by attending local Division I practices.

“It gets us out of the office,” Livesay said. “It gets us thinking about lacrosse.”

But one thing they aren’t thinking about is whether their lacrosse players are properly focused. The conference’s rules have been in place forever. You can’t play in the fall and the season starts late. The schools are really, really hard to get into. The Bantams knew what they were signing up for.

It’s self-perpetuating. The kind of player who wants that extra stuff the NESCAC offers is the kind of player that makes a team like Trinity so consistently successsful.

“They’re very productive and very competitive,” said Livesay, who played in the league at Middlebury. “They’re not just going to twitter their thumbs saying, ‘We don’t have to be at practice, so let’s not.’ The kind of structured, driven kid who wants to go to a NESCAC school is going to make the most of it. They don’t know how to take days off or take the easy way out.” 

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at #LMRanks.

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