February 13, 2014

#LMRanks: No. 2 Cortland Red Dragons (WD3)

By Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

No. 2 Cortland Red Dragons

2013 record: 21-2 (8-0 SUNYAC) 
Coach: Kathy Taylor (sixth year)
Record at Cortland: 93-16

Top Returner: A Erica Geremia (So.)
The next great Cortland star was lured to Cortland by its last great star, fellow West Genesee (N.Y.) alum Maria DiFato. As a freshman, Geremia led Division IIII with 136 points (62 goals, 74 assists.).

X-Factor: D Jessica Lavelle (Sr.)
The reigning IWLCA Defender of the Year (2.52 caused turnovers per game) has seen her season end in the NCAA semifinals two years running. Expect her to lead the Red Dragons at least that far once again.

Cortland's goal for 2014? Turn one of the best teams in Women's Division III lacrosse into the best one. (Darl Zehr/Cortland Athletics)

Previous: No. 3 Trinity

Before there was Erica Geremia, or Jessica Lavelle, or Maria DiFato, there was Rabbit.

That’s Lindsay Abbott, for those not up on their Cortland women’s lacrosse history. Abbott was the first great star of Cortland’s recent run. She graduated in 2012 as the programs’ all-time leader in goals (256), assists (185) and points (441).

“When I first got here I said I had to go out and get more players like her,” said coach Kathy Taylor. “More than anything she’s got a tremendous spirit. She was a huge part of our evolution, if you will, over the past five years. Not just the steps forward but the staying power of it all.”

That sustained evolution has culminated with three straight trips to the NCAA Final Four. And now, as Cortland tries to take the next step - to win one of those games and then bring home its first NCAA championship - Abbott is back. 

The All-American is returning to her alma mater an assistant after a year in enemy territory, scouting the NESCAC (which sent two teams to the past two Final Fours) as an assistant at Bates.

Taylor’s new coaching staff will also include former Albany captain Jess Antelmi, who is a year removed from starring at one of Upstate New York’s top Division I programs. Antelmi has a Cortland connection as well. Her sister, Kaitlin, is a freshmen on the team.

“It’s great to have some young cool assistant that can really relate to the girls,” Taylor said. “It seems very natural.”

The task facing this coaching staff seems simple enough. Turn Cortland from one of the best teams in Division III into the best team in Division III. Plenty of groundwork has already been laid.

For those who grow up in New York state, Cortland is synonymous with athletics. It’s the school everyone’s favorite gym teacher attended. It has first class facilities and puts on a show when it hosts the high school girls’ lacrosse state championships every spring. The New York Jets hold their training camp there every summer. The best players in New York want to go there.

That’s why the Red Dragons aren’t really looking at the graduations of nine players, including the All-American DiFato, as a signal to rebuild. These were some of the top prospects in the Empire State. They came to Cortland with the idea of winning a championship.

Cortland ranked in D3’s Top 20 for both offense (15.22 goals per game, 20th) and defense (6.89 goals against per game, 10th) last year. Erica Geremia (62 goals, 74 assists) led Division III in scoring as a freshman. Jessica La Valle (58 ) won the IWLCA’s Defender of the Year. They’re both back.

As are Emma Hayes-Hurley (41 goals, 80 draw controls) and Tara Monaghan (32 goals, 93 draw draw controls), faceoff dynamos who should ease the midfield loss of DiFato. Heather Casey has been in out of that midfield for the past three seasons, but she’ll line up beside Lavelle on a defense that lost three seniors. 

Meanwhile, Geremia, Marilyn Farrell (whose sister, Courtney, was an assistant coach last year, and is now running Tufts), Taylor Robinson and talented freshmen Kristen Oberg have the attack looking as balanced as ever.

That could be the key. Geremia was all-world in her first season, but Cortland’s tournament trips have ended largely because, on that stage, it’s tough for one player to do it all. Cortland's season has ended by two goals in the NCAA finals in each of the past three seasons. The defense has kept it close, but the goals haven’t fallen the way they do in the regular season.

Still, while it gets tougher every year, the team has kept its head up throughout, and exited each Final Four with a ton of class.

“There are no guarantees,” Taylor said. “It’s difficult and it gets harder and harder to walk away with the same result three times in a row. We certainly played hard, no one would ever question that. Our opponents have just gotten a few more goals than we have.”

In 2014, a few more goals might be all it takes to reach the ultimate goal.

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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