Feb. 5, 2010

By Amy Farnum

It’s difficult to believe the 2010 women’s lacrosse season is already upon us, but the marquee match-up of Northwestern and Massachusetts on Feb. 6 at the WomenLax.com Surfside Cup in San Diego, Calif., will be sure to an exciting start to the season.

The game will be a rematch of last year’s NCAA first round contest, which the Wildcats won 23-6 en route to their fifth straight national title.  

“I expect (UMass) to come out extremely strong,” said NU head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller.  “They all gained a lot of confidence last year from winning their conference championship and making the NCAA Tournament.  They are definitely looking to make that next step to get better.  Their last game last year was against us in the playoffs, and we’re opening up against them.  It’s a great scenario, and obviously we have a lot respect for their team and staff and welcome the opportunity to play against such a great team and coaches.”

Although Northwestern’s preseason expectations from fans and media outlets are high, the Wildcats will field a young team that has to replace some of the most successful players in program history -- including two-time Tewaaraton Trophy winner Hannah Nielsen and All-Americans Hilary Bowen, Meredith Frank and Morgan Lathrop. But Amonte Hiller has been in this situation before, namely 2008, and the Wildcats went on to win their third straight national title.

“It’s a challenge,” said Amonte Hiller.  “The girls all know that they have to step up and be the difference makers.  We’re looking for quite a few freshmen to make an impact.  I think it’s exciting.”

The Wildcats return a veteran defense, but must replace four-year start Morgan Lathrop in goal and both Brianne LoManto and Darby St. Clair-Barrie are battling it out for the starting job.

“They’re both fighting for the spot,” said Amonte Hiller.  “They’ve been working really hard.  I think they have both really stepped up their game.  We’re going to see what happens with their play, and see if one of them steps up as the starter.”

The offense, which set NCAA records for points (570) and goals (407) last season, looks to be equally productive with returning senior All-Americans Katrina Dowd and Danielle Spencer leading the way.

“Katrina Dowd is going to be a big factor this year with her offensive production,” said Amonte Hiller.  “She averaged seven or eight points per game in the playoffs last year – that was a pretty incredible run for her.  Danielle Spencer was also very strong, and will continue to be.  I think that one young player you can look on the attack to make a difference for us is Shannon Smith.  She played midfield for us last year, and has really done some nice things for us in the fall and preseason.  She’s going to be crucial.”

CLOSE ONE: In an extremely close voting race, Georgetown was selected as the preseason pick to win the BIG EAST Championship with Syracuse and Notre Dame following the Hoyas.  All three squads were 2009 NCAA participants.  

Georgetown returns eight starters to a team that claimed a shared of the 2009 BIG EAST regular season title, but Syracuse boasts seven starters and 22 lettermen returning for 2010.  Notre Dame senior attack Gina Scioscia – the Preseason BIG EAST Player of the Year – is the league’s top returner scorer with 4.6 points per game.

The BIG EAST will have nine member schools competing in league play this year as Villanova begins a conference slate of games.

ODDS AND ENDS:  Colgate is the favorite to win the Patriot League championship for a third straight year after setting a program record with 14 wins last season … UMass was selected to repeat as Atlantic 10 in a preseason coaches’ poll as the Minutewomen return nine starters for last year’s NCAA Tournament team.  It was UMass’ first NCAA berth in 25 years … Towson senior midfielder Hillary Fratzke was voted the Colonial Athletic Association Preseason Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.  She enters 2010 with 148 goals and 55 assists in her career, and is the program’s all-time leader in draw controls (257) and caused turnovers (111).  Fratzke enters the season with a streak of 48 games with a goal scored – the longest active streak in NCAA Division I.