As one of the oldest team games played in America, it is
only appropriate that the inaugural Stetson University women's lacrosse team
will play its first match against a team of players representing some of the
original founders of the sport.
The first year Hatters program will play against the
Haudenosaunee National Team, which represents the united Iroquois tribes of
upstate New York, on Saturday evening as a part of the Champion Challenge at
the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista. Stetson will play on
Field 16 at 7 p.m.
Other teams in the event include the U.S. National team, the
English National team, Rollins College and national powers Northwestern and
Syracuse, who met for the Division I national championship last spring. The
Team USA men's national team will also compete in the event along with men's
teams from Notre Dame, Jacksonville and Loyola.
Stetson coach Nicole Moore, who has been in Florida for a
just a year, building the Hatters program from scratch, said the women's game
is very different from what the men play.
"Substitutions are like hockey, on the fly," Moore said.
"One thing about our sport that is different from others is that, on the
whistle the players have to stop. Lacrosse is a very fast game and, when played
correctly, it is a beautiful game. It is a game of finesse."
While the sport has been played in this country since at
least the early 1700s, it is still in its infancy in Florida. In addition to
Stetson, varsity women's lacrosse is played at Jacksonville, the University of
Florida, Florida Southern, Rollins College, Saint Leo and the University of
In 2012 there were 90 schools playing Division I women's
lacrosse, and that number will continue to grow in the coming years.
Stetson will be joined by another first-year program,
Mercer, along with Jacksonville, Kennesaw State and Howard in the first season
for the Atlantic Sun Conference to offer a women's lacrosse championship.
Like any first-year program, Moore has more questions than
answers when it comes to her young team. She saw much in the fall to like about
the squad, but there are many unknowns.
"The thing I like is definitely our heart and our hustle,"
Moore said. "I think we really grew in the fall. There are still a lot of
things we need to work on, specifically with our Lax IQ about all of the facets
of the game and our skills. The thing that really stood out was the heart and
desire, which was evident in all of the hard work they put in. We really
started to see the team come together in the fall."
Moore said the challenge during this first season will be to
keep the players focused on the small goals and improving from game-to-game. Results
on the scoreboard will be secondary to making strides in getting the program
off to the right start.
"We do have a couple of transfers, but the challenge of
coming in and playing your first collegiate game is like no other," Moore said.
"It will be up to us, as a coaching staff, to have the teams focused on
individual goals for each game. We do have a smaller roster, which will affect
how we play in games and how we prepare for games.
"What I expect, and what I hope that fans will see, is a
group of young women who are working toward their goals together as a team. I
also hope they see the heart of this team, no matter what is on the scoreboard.
In our program, our kids will play by the rules. We will not be a 'win at all
cost' program. They will respect the rules and their opponents. Any shady play
will not be a part of this program."
Moore came to Stetson from the University of Vermont, where
she served as an assistant for the last two years. She also spent four seasons
as an assistant coach at Temple after her playing days at the University of New
She brought additional credibility to the Stetson program
last fall when she hired Brittany Dipper as her assistant. Dipper just
completed a stellar playing career at the University of Maryland where she
helped the Terps to national titles in both lacrosse and field hockey. She was
in goal as the Terrapins won four consecutive ACC titles.
"Brittany Dipper has been an amazing addition to the
lacrosse family here at Stetson," Moore said. "She was brought in mainly to
work with our goal keepers because she was a phenomenal goal keeper at
Maryland, but she has really picked up the ball and run with it. She does a
great job in the office and on the field."
The Hatters will enter their inaugural season with 21
players on a roster that includes a senior, two sophomores and 18 freshmen. Only
the two sophomores, Samantha Akl and Elisabeth Blackwell, have collegiate
lacrosse playing experience. Akl and freshman Mary Kate O'Sullivan were named
to the A-Sun's preseason newcomer watch list for this spring.
"It was hard to single out just two players," Moore said of
the picks. "Our team is filled with heart. They are a team that works hard and
gets along well together. I think they are taking this experience and running
Akl is a transfer from Limestone College in South Carolina,
but is a native of Port St. Lucie.
"Sam came in as a transfer with some experience at the
collegiate level. She is really striving to be a leader. She pushes herself to
get better by working hard, doing extra wall-ball, and she is focused on what
this experience is and she is trying to get the most out of it."
O'Sullivan, who is from Naples, Fla., made an impression
during the fall when the Hatters played in some fall ball tournaments.
"Mary Kate came in after being a very good player in high
school, but she surprised me with how coachable she is," Moore said. "She can
be quiet at times on the field, but she is a work-horse. She is always working
and asking questions about things she can do to make her game better. She puts
in the effort we ask her to do. We see her, along with our goalies, as an
anchor for our defense and our midfield."
The two freshmen goal keepers are Caili Guilday from
Wallingford, Pa., and Whitney Meyers from Ponte Vedra Beach. They will have a
chance to quickly become fan-favorites during the first season of play and have
the advantage of having a national champion goal keeper to work with.
"Whitney and Caili play very differently, but are both solid
goalies," Moore said. "They can standout and be fan favorites when they come up
with saves. It is really too early to tell who will standout at game-time and
become fan-favorites. I think that when the fans start to learn our team, they
will fall in love with them."
Blackwell is another player with previous college
experience. The Naples native played as a freshman at Long Island
"Lizard has a commanding presence in our defense," Moore
said. "She is a transfer that will help bring experience to our program,
especially the defense. She has the potential to really shine and to shut down
While the stars of the team may be difficult to point out
now, Moore said the size of the Stetson roster will dictate the Hatters' style
of play to some extent.
"When you have a larger roster, you are able to send lines
out, especially in the midfield, but with a smaller roster like we have, we
won't be able to do that," Moore said. "Our style of play will need to be a
more settled. Obviously, if the fast
break is there, we will go for it, but we need to be smart with our opportunities
and make sure that we are careful with our substitutions in order to keep the
freshest legs out there."
The players on the field will not be the only members of the
Stetson lacrosse program who will be experiencing the game in an entirely new
way this year. Moore will be a head coach for the first time and Dipper will be
experiencing the game from the sideline for the first time.
"The challenge is that now I will have to make decisions on
the fly much quicker than when I was an assistant coach," Moore said. "I am the
leader of this program and it is important that the things I put out there are
the things that we will follow, whether we are winning or losing. My time as an
assistant prepared me for this and I feel confident. I know that I am going to
lead this program with heart and integrity and I hope that our players will
follow that example."
The Hatters will have the advantage of playing 10 home games
during the 2013 season and will jump right in as a member of the Atlantic Sun
Conference. Stetson was picked to finish tied for second with Detroit in the
"This year will be interesting in the A-Sun," Moore said.
"You have three programs that have played against each other for the last
couple of years in the NLC and then the newcomers with us and Kennesaw State.
Preseason polls are preseason polls. I think you will see a lot of competition
in this league.
"I think it is a huge advantage to have a lot of home games.
Only having had about four months to put the schedule together, I feel blessed
that we were able to get 10 home games in our first season. The main thing is
that our kids won't have to miss a lot of class. Our kids will be able to get
into a routine and that should give us somewhat of a home field advantage."
The regular season schedule opens with seven consecutive
home games before a trip to Gainesville for a showdown with the Florida Gators,
which was a Final Four team last year. Another home match will be followed by a
trip to California for a pair of games before the start of A-Sun play. The
Hatters will close the year with four consecutive league games before the A-Sun
Tournament in late April.
But, the focus for now is getting ready for a tough matchup
in the exhibition game this Saturday.
"I am really glad that we were able to pick up this game
because it will give us some great game competition before we go into the
season, but also because it will be a great experience for the team," Moore
said. "We will try to let them know what to expect and what the game will be
"There will be some great caliber teams there and this will
be a great opportunity for us to share that stage. This game will be about us.
It won't matter what the score is, it is all about getting our team prepared
for our first game, against Liberty."