No. 17/18 Lacrosse Team Heads to First-Ever Postseason

In her third season as head coach of the lacrosse team, Katie Woods has led the Huskies to the Big East Championship for the first time. (Steve Slade'89 (SFA)/for UConn)

In her third season as head coach of the lacrosse team, Katie Woods has led the Huskies to the Big East Championship for the first time. (Steve Slade ’89 (SFA) for UConn)

Update May 6, 2013: The Huskies have received an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships on May 10. For more information see the NCAA lacrosse website.

Update May 3, 2013: The lacrosse team lost 19-6 to Syracuse in the Big East semifinals on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

The team’s accomplishments during the 2013 season were recognized before the tournament began by Big East coaches, who unanimously selected Lauren Kahn ’14 (CLAS) to the All-Big East First Team and named her as Midfielder of the Year, also placing midfielders Morgan O’Reilly ’13 (CLAS) and Kacey Pippitt ’14 (CLAS) and goalkeeper Shannon Nee ’16 (CLAS) on the All-Big East Second Team. Head coach Katie Woods was named the Big East Coach of the Year for leading the Huskies to their first-ever postseason.

Preseason predictions in sports are a risky business. They are educated guesses on paper. The games still must be played, because as former NFL coach Bill Parcells once proclaimed, “You are what your record says you are.

Before the Big East women’s lacrosse season began, UConn was projected to be the sixth-best team in the conference, and no Husky was voted to the All-Big East Preseason Team. As the games began to be played, the Huskies ran off six straight wins, earning a national ranking for the first time since 2007 and completing the season with a best-ever 13-3 record overall and 5-3 in the conference. UConn also earned a place in the postseason for the first time in the 16-year history of the team.

The Huskies, nationally ranked at 17/18, are the No. 4 seed in the Big East Women’s Lacrosse Championship, which will begin Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in Washington, D.C. (BIGEAST.TV), and will face No. 1 seed Syracuse, 5/5 in national polls. In the other semifinal match, No. 2 seed Georgetown, 8/6 nationally, will play No. 3 seed Loyola, ranked 12/16 in the polls.

Head coach Katie Woods, who is in her third season at UConn, says the preseason projections may have been beneficial for the team. “Maybe it’s kept a little fire in our belly,” she says. “We are now starting to get some respect. With the respect comes pressure. We’ve got to learn to handle and balance the two. A lot of the players are really focused on the team. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit. That team mentality has allowed some of our players to do some really good things throughout the regular season.”

The only UConn losses came against the three other teams in the Big East Championships: the first defeat was against Syracuse in late March, the others were last weekend’s final regular season road games against Georgetown and Loyola.

Morgan O'Reilly '13 (CLAS) has scored 44 points on 20 goals and 15 assists in her senior season.(Steve Slade'89 (SFA)/for UConn)

Morgan O’Reilly ’13 (CLAS) has scored 44 points on 20 goals and 15 assists in her senior season.(Steve Slade ’89 (SFA) for UConn)

Over the 11 weeks of the Big East season, Huskies were named to the conference Honor Roll or as Players of the Week nine times.

“This team has learned something from each of their games. Sometimes it’s a span of 15 minutes in a game. It’s allowed us to be present and calm in a lot of situations,” Woods says. “We’ve had [four] overtime games. We’ve been behind. I think that’s prepared us to stay in the moment and stay true to what we’re trying to do each minute of the game. No matter the situation, we learned that we need to continue to fight. This game is so fast it can take a turn in a matter of minutes. I think we’ve really learned and keyed into that in the last eight or nine games.”

Syracuse, unbeaten in Big East play, arrives to the tournament as the conference leader in points, goals, draw controls, and shots per game in all games played. The Orange is led by junior attack Alyssa Murray, averaging 3 goals and 4.88 points per game. Kelsey Richardson is the conference’s top goalkeeper with a 7.27 goals against average.

The Huskies are the top team in shot percentage and second in goals against average for the complete season. Junior midfielder Lauren Kahn ’14 (CLAS) is UConn’s leading scorer, averaging 2.25 goals and 3.62 points per game. Freshman goalkeeper Shannon Nee ’16 (CLAS) has an 8.97 goals against average.

Woods says the coaching staff hopes the team will maintain its “light and fun” attitude as it heads to a new experience in the postseason.

“When we’re light and having fun, that’s when we trust each other and we put together our full game,” she says. “We played pretty well last weekend, we just need to stay keyed on those areas we want to improve.”

Neal Eskin, senior associate director of athletics who oversees the lacrosse program, says 2013 is a “program-changing season” for the sport in Storrs.

“No matter how you fare in the tournament, what you hope is that the players on the team that are returning are saying, we’re not expecting anything less than going here on a regular basis,” he says. “You hope that carries through to your recruiting, to the mindset of your team and the next time you experience these things. This is a relatively young program here at UConn compared to others; we’re getting to taste something for the first time. That’s new, exciting, and fresh. We’re never in it at UConn just to compete. We’re in it to win and be successful. That’s the attitude and the culture Katie is creating here.”

Defender Siobhan Wilcox '13 (NUR) is one of the captains of the lacrosse team. (Steve Slade '89 (SFA) for UConn)

Defender Siobhan Wilcox ’13 (NUR) is one of the captains of the lacrosse team. (Steve Slade ’89 (SFA) for UConn)

For the group of seniors who will leave the lacrosse program with a winning record, 2013 represents a collective accomplishment they have worked toward since they arrived as freshmen four years ago.

“We set the goal of going to the Big East tournament every year and finally meeting that goal is the most rewarding feeling,” says Siobhan Wilcox ’13 (NUR), one of the team co-captains. “The change we have brought to UConn Lacrosse means more to us as a senior class. We are leaving UConn with not only an overall winning record, but also helping to bring UConn Lacrosse to a Top 20 team. It sets the standard for every class to do the same. It is most rewarding knowing that as a class of 13 seniors we came together and made a difference for UConn Lacrosse.”

This year the NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championships expand from 16 to 26 teams in the tournament field. With a national ranking and a high RPI rating, the Huskies could continue their postseason beyond the Big East Championships. The NCAA tournament field will be announced on Sunday, May 5.