To better understand how dominant the Adelphi women’s lacrosse team has been, listen to its goalie, Taylor Hayes.
“I like to think if I can get through a two-hour practice,” she said, “I can get through anything.”
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Reason being, in practice, she faces some of the best players in Division II. Players that are on a mission to help Adelphi capture a third consecutive national championship.
“We are very lucky to have them on our team,” Hayes added, “because I would not want to be playing against any of them.”
That includes prolific goal scorer Jackie Jahelka, a junior attack from Garden City who had 68 goals and 18 assists last season. Jahelka was named an All-American last season along with Rachel O’Brien, a senior attack who had 39 goals and a team-high 50 assists. Also returning is Emily Keesling, who had 37 goals and 22 assists.
That trio leads an up-tempo Panthers’ attack that transitions from defense to offense very quickly. Jahelka says that they are able to play at a breakneck speed because of the strength of their defense. With that assurance, second-year coach Pat McCabe never wants his team to take their cleats off the gas pedal.
“It gives us more freedom to be risky and play faster knowing if we do turn over the ball that our defense will make a stop or Taylor will come up with a big save,” Jahelka said. “Coach wants us to play at our own speed, which is so fast that opposing defenders can’t even keep up with us.”
The vaunted zone defense is led by Ryley Weber, a junior who had 85 draw controls and a team-high 57 groundballs.
“She’s about as good a defender I’ve ever been around, on either the men’s or women’s side,” McCabe said.
Weber is joined by fellow All-American Camille Rosellini, an athletic senior defender who had 43 draw controls and 40 ground balls.
“I have the best defense in the country playing in front of me,” Hayes said. “Weber, Rosellini, [Jen] Graham, [Kelly] Osmulski. I could name every single one of them.”
As much credit as Hayes gives to her defense, she was the one named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four after leading Adelphi to a second straight title and seventh overall since 2004. Now the quest for the “Threepeat” begins.
“Whenever someone puts on this jersey, they have this feeling of needing to uphold the standard that Adelphi has put forth,” Jahelka said. “You want to make sure you keep up the reputation. You don’t want to be anything less than the best.”
Even during practice.
The Pioneers are not satisfied.
“We were excited to win the ECC championship last year,” LIU Post coach Meghan McNamara said. “But our goal is to keep striving for the national championship. So we came back hungry.”
LIU Post will get a taste of defending national champion Adelphi this season when the two square off on April 2. Ranked sixth overall in Division II, the Pioneers return an electric offense led by senior attack Emily Delaney, who had 35 goals and 53 assists last season.
The playmaker has even more options this season. Not only is fellow All-American, Connor Bird, and Stefani Vagelatos returning to the attack, but there is an infusion of incoming players like Ryan McKinney that McNamara calls “young blood.”
Bird had 27 goals and 23 assists and led the ECC with 83 draw controls. Vagelatos, a phenomenal cutter with a strong shot, is coming off a sophomore season in which she recorded 41 goals.
The backbone of a veteran defense is Brittany Smith, a speedy defender who thrives in one-on-one situations. Honey Roche and Kelly Backus also will provide a spark defensively. Olivia Kirk returns in goal after leading the ECC in goals against (6.05) and save percentage (.535) for LIU Post, which is seeking a fifth straight 15-plus win season.
“We play calm, cool, and collected,” Delaney said. “With the determination and motivation that we have, we get everything done that needs to be done.”
Dowling, the ECC runner-up currently ranked 17th overall in Division II, returns Allie Merrill, who had 34 goals, 23 caused turnovers and had 28 ground balls last season. The Golden Lions face a difficult task in replacing Jackie Anderson, the ECC Offensive Player of the Year and Dowling’s all-time leader in goals (244) and points (382). Katie Meinecke, who had 42 goals and 15 assists, has potential to be even more dynamic, Dowling coach Kerri McCabe said, because she is hard to mark inside the eight, and reads and defends well to cause turnovers. Emma Ferreira will mark opposing teams’ top attacker and Lauren Young returns in goal to guide a Dowling defense that held opponents to 8.07 goals per game last season, the third lowest goals-against average in the ECC.
Cooper Sesselman and Jessica Markowitz lead a possession-based Molloy team that scored 15 or more goals in six of their wins last season. Sesselman, a junior midfielder, led the team with 46 goals and 16 assists last season. Markowitz, a sophomore attacker, was named ECC Rookie of the Year after scoring 39 goals last season. The back line is anchored by Chelsea Bauer, who had 21 ground balls and 13 caused turnovers. Newcomers that are expected to make an impact include Michaela Siegler, an attacker who at 5-9 is a big target to feed the ball to, and Brianna Wilson, a midfielder who will be key on draw controls.
The Golden Eagles are coming off a season in which they captured their first Skyline Conference championship and got their first NCAA Tournament victory in what was just the program’s fourth season. With their high-pressure defense, they finished first in the nation in caused turnovers at 14.37 per game. But with many departures, including Nicole Lyman, St. Joseph’s career leader in caused turnovers, ground balls, and draw controls, there will be holes to fill. Nicole Danisi, Kelly Walsh, and Brianna Mascia will step up on the defensive end. Heather Ferchland, the program’s all-time leading scorer, has scored 60-plus goals in each of the last three seasons. Other weapons capable of generating offense include Jess Cordano, KristinCarroll, Meaghan Haber, Jenna Kelleher, and Nicole Stopelli.
Farmingdale, the runner up in the Skyline Conference, plays a selfless brand of lacrosse that gets everyone involved, evident by the Rams finishing third in Division III in assists per game last season. On the receiving end of many of those passes will be Brittany Rosino, a midfielder with great stick skills, who had the highest shooting percentage on the team last season (.844). She is joined on the attack by Kristen Keller and Kristen Ranaldo. Sara Rivadeneyra and Ali Pavese, feisty defenders that force turnovers, and goalkeeper Krista Spagnoletta lead a defensive unit that had the lowest goals-against average (7.98) in the Skyline Conference last season.
Last season, Old Westbury set single-season program records for wins (6), points (211), goals (163), assists (48), shots (366), shots on goal (290), ground balls (289), draw controls (171), save percentage (.401) and goals-against average (12.07). Returning is Sara Bey, a dynamic midfielder with playmaking ability. Courtney Gallagher led the Skyline Conference with 3.07 caused turnovers per game and set single-season program records for points (57), goals (40), assists (17), ground balls (54) and caused turnovers (46).
USMMA, in its final season in the Landmark Conference before moving to the Skyline Conference, returns Madeline Thibeault, who led the team in points after tallying 25 goals and two assists, and also had a team-high 40 draw controls. Improvement is expected for a team that went 1-11 last season in what was the program’s third season. Coach Kyle Simensky brings in his largest recruiting class, led by attacker Meredith Willard.
The Region XV champs lose two NJCAA All-Americans but return quality defenders in Cristal Rengifo and Taylor Cussen. Karen Downes is also back in goal. Nicole Moniello moves well off the ball and will have an expanded role on the attack. She will be joined by Gabrielle Casanova a transfer from Queens, in what first-year coach Maria Varricchio expects to be a fast moving, give-and-go offense.
Though Suffolk CC ultimately fell to Nassau CC in the Region XV championship game, its regular-season victory over Nassau, a more established program, was viewed as a big step for a team that was in just its second year of existence. Michelle MenDell, an assistant for the program’s first two seasons, takes over as head coach. Returning is Nina Soto, a midfielder who MenDell described as a player that will “run through the wall for you.” She will have an expanded role on the attack, along with Casey Martin. The defense is anchored by Chelsea Tarazona and goalie Paige Hubbard. Said MenDell: “The program is only going to keep getting bigger and better every season.”