There’s a snake in the grass, er, turf at Aggie Stadium.
During a 6-9 campaign in 2013 — UC Davis coach Kate Henwood’s first season — the Aggie women’s lacrosse team made some noise toward the end of the schedule.
In its last nine outings, UCD went 5-4, averaged 13.5 goals a game and stunned then-No. 14 Stanford in the last game.
So impressive was the win over the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation power Cardinal, Lacrosse Magazine voted the 15-14 overtime victory as its Best Upset of the Year — men or women.
But last month, MPSF coaches were asked what they thought the final pecking order would be this spring in the 10-school league.
Apparently no one was paying much attention to the 2013 Aggies’ strong finish. UCD was picked to finish seventh.
Henwood laughs when she talks about that poll.
“That’s exactly where we like to be,” says the former Villanova assistant. “I like being the predator hiding in the bushes. That element of surprise can be a huge advantage.”
The Aggies will get a feel as to how far they’ve come when they visit George Mason on Friday and Old Dominion on Sunday.
Both Virginia squads are coming off of disappointing campaigns — 5-11 and 4-13, respectively — so it may not be until March 8, when Cal comes calling, that UCD is effectively challenged. That match against the Golden Bears also opens MPSF play.
Henwood can’t wait to get going. She believes her 2014 edition may take a quantum leap forward this spring, despite losing a handful of key characters.
Gone are the high-octane duo of Elizabeth Datino and Hannah Mirza. Datino graduated as the program’s second all-time leading scorer, while Mirza was fourth.
Gone, too, are UCD’s best percentage shooter Anna Geissbuhler, defender Tess Alekna and speedster Stephanie Guercio.
“We had phenomenal athletes and great lacrosse players in last year’s senior class,” says Henwood, the former LaSalle University standout. “But I feel we’re a better team this year. We have leadership who understands our expectations … they just get it.”
Henwood admits her first year at the helm was a period of adjustment: a different system, a different language, time was needed to bond with players and players needed to create a new chemistry.
Henwood says all oars are now in the water and this talented group is ready to hit the ground running.
Midfielder Carly Voris, a senior by way of San Diego’s Mt. Carmel High, is expected to help a hopefully relentless attack that includes a rejuvenated junior Elizabeth Landry (Acalanes High) and Virginia native Melissa Kellan, a 6-foot-2 attacker who Henwood says “is smooth as butter … She is able to change the direction of the ball as soon as she receives it. You really can’t defend her. Our defenders get really frustrated.”
Aggie fans should have fun watching that unfold in early-season action.
Other forward-thinking UCD shooters include sophomores Ellie Delich, Mary Doyle and Courtney Neff. Each will be counted on to refuel what Henwood calls her team’s “seven-man-threat offense.”
“There is a lot of ball movement,” Henwood explains. “Every single person is active and playing a critical role. You can’t hide in the offense ever, so getting players to realize that was an interesting thing.
“‘You’re not going to be just a feeder or a decoy cutter … you’re going to get the ball.'”
Meghan Jordan, who missed 2012 with a torn ACL, came back smartly last spring, scoring 10 goals and enabling teammates with 27 assists. Henwood says the Oregon-born junior has “redefined herself since the injury. She’s technical, crafty and has a good eye for the game.”
Even in the pipes, there is a competition between Kai Murphy and Jordan Majka. Junior Murphy got 11 starts a year ago, but Majka — the senior from Lake Forest, Ill. — is right there.
“Honestly, they’re still battling it out for starting spot,” Henwood told The Enterprise. “It will be a game-time decision for us, because they’re both excellent goalies. We’re blessed to have two goalies we can count on.”
So, there you have it. An emerging British Columbian in Delich, an “unconventional style player who can really thread the needle shooting”; a freshman in Kellan who is getting big praise from her coach; Voris ready to break out as a team leader; Landry happy with her position closer to the attack; and a raft-full of talent champing at the bit to keep the scoring coming.
Remember, after the high-flying final nine games were in the books, UCD finished 2013 as the nation’s fifth-ranked offense.
Another year older. Another off-season with Henwood’s system under their belts …
Hmmmm. As much as the coach likes for her Aggies to go unnoticed, she may find this UCD team will quickly get on people’s radars.
At least No. 11 Stanford has the date circled: April 15 in Palo Alto.
“We should be fun to watch,” Henwood says. “Women’s lacrosse, especially, is a high-scoring game. A lot of the rules … favor the attack. Rules provide for a fun, entertaining afternoon.”
Notes: Amanda Kammes (Penn) and Casey Kellogg (Hofstra) assist Henwood. Kammes coached defense with Henwood at Garnet Valley High in Pennsylvania before coming to UCD. Kellogg’s sister Ashley is an assistant at Old Dominion. … Also on the Aggie schedule are home games with No. 18 Denver (April 6) and No. 20 Towson (March 22). … UCD ranked No. 4 nationally in draw controls (14.6) last year. … Student radio station KDVS 90.3 FM and Aggie TV will provide live streaming of home contests.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.