Oftentimes, in elementary school classrooms, teachers set up reward systems for their students. Did your homework today? Gold star sticker for you. For Emerson’s women’s lacrosse team, there’s a dot board, designed to push players to reach attainable goals in each game. The ultimate reward? A trophy at season’s end.
The Lions (8-4) haven’t quite filled the dot board yet, but a 4-1 start in New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference play suggests they’re making significant progress. Head coach Kat Egizi said that when it comes to conference matchups, it’s all about preparation and concentrating on the task at hand.
“We prepare very specifically and hard for each opponent in the NEWMAC, so we’re watching a ton of film, we have scouting reports, [and] we’re really breaking down everything we anticipate seeing from them,” Egizi said. “It keeps every game fresh and every game the focus, and I think that will help us moving forward.”
The Lions’ homework won’t get any lighter as the month continues. Of the team’s four remaining regular season games, three are against NEWMAC opponents.
Egizi said she’s noticed a positive attitude that Maggie Sheetz, the only senior on defense, said feels stronger than ever before in the locker room.
“We have so much confidence this year, which is something we’ve really struggled with in the past, because you think about NEWMAC and you think it’s the scariest thing ever,” Sheetz, a visual and media arts major, said. “Really, it’s not. We’re all D[ivision III] lacrosse players. The Mount Holyoke [College] game showed us how bad we have to fight if we want to win, and we can totally do that every game.”
That matchup was one of the first signs that this year may be different from last at Rotch Playground and Field, the team’s home field. In 2015, Emerson was defeated 9-6 at home in a low scoring tilt with Mount Holyoke. In late March this season, the Lions sent a message with a 14-6 victory over the Lyons on the road.
Results against one program aren’t the only thing changing for the better in 2016. The Lions are also outpacing last year’s goal scoring figure, having netted 160 tallies through 12 games. Last spring, they had scored 151 times through the same number of contests.
Egizi said that the addition of freshman Emily Quinn, who is tied for fourth on the NEWMAC goal-scoring leaderboard with 32, boosted the offense. But she also said it took some time for veterans to adapt to her new brand of playing lacrosse.
“As I was new last year, we were introducing a completely new offense,” Egizi said. “I think we’re starting to reap the benefits of that a year later because, [for] those players who were with us last year, it’s starting to come together.”
Quinn declined to take credit for the offensive surge, and said Egizi’s system incorporates each of the attackers into the game plan.
“The scoring is really spread out. All of us on attack collectively participate,” Quinn, a political communication major, said. “We work as a unit and as a team. Usually there’s one person on another team [where] we’re like ‘Hey, we need to stop that girl,’ but I think we’re all a threat on offense and we’re all a threat on defense as well.”
The defense, Egizi said, has gone under the radar, but has played a large role in the team’s improving fortunes. Sheetz said consistency—the Lions lost only two defensive seniors last spring—allowed for a smooth transition into the new campaign.
“The most important thing about defense is communicating, and we really understand the way each other play,” Sheetz said. “You don’t have to think as much. You can just focus on what’s happening with the ball, and not worry about ‘Is the person left of me doing the right thing?’”
Good defense begets solid goalkeeping, but the Lions are more fortunate than the rest of the conference in net. Senior captain Victoria Kanaris has allowed the fewest goals in the NEWMAC (52), while sophomore Kristina Modica is third in save percentage, stopping 49.2 percent of shots that come her way.
Modica said the ability of her and Kanaris to split the workload gives foes a different look. Both have played in eight of the team’s 12 games, while Modica has started seven.
Quinn said the two goalies are valuable in another way—they give attackers a game-worthy obstacle during practices. Sheetz said the intangibles of Modica and Kanaris make the defense’s job easier, too.
“They’re not afraid to talk non-stop, which is hard for goalies because they’re trying to think of everything,” Sheetz said. “If for a second, you get caught ball watching, and your girl is about to cut, they’ll let you know. They have a really good sense of the game and they’re not just good goalkeepers, they’re good all-around lacrosse players.”
Emerson suffered their first setback in conference play on April 6 against Babson College, falling to the Beavers 11-10. Quinn said that despite the disappointment of the loss, the proximity of the teams on the scoreboard at the end of the game allowed Emerson a chance to visualize their new strategy for tight finishes.
“We were pressuring at the end, something that we just learned in practice,” Quinn said. “We’re trying to implement it [in] a situation where you’re down by a goal and you need to get the ball back. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to win the game, but I think it was a good learning experience.”
The Lions will travel to Simmons College for their final nonconference bout on Saturday.