Preseason rankings loom over the women’s lacrosse team as it enters the 2012 season. The lacrosse website LaxPower has placed them as the 15th-best team in the nation and slotted them to win the Big East Championship, just as they were expected to do last year before falling to Notre Dame in the semifinal. These Hoyas, who have consistently been a force in the Big East, have a special way of handling the expectations that various rankings bring upon them—by setting even higher goals for themselves.
Head Coach Ricky Fried keeps the team’s view of their preseason rank in perspective. “I think that our expectations are probably higher than LaxPower’s, so it’s not really hard to handle those expectations, but it’s really one of those things where you can’t get caught up with what other people think of what you’re doing,” he said. “You [have to] focus on yourself and play one game at a time…but at the end of the day you have to prove yourself.”
The ninth-year coach wants his team to focus most of its attention on where it will be ranked at the end of the season, rather than worry about where it is now. He thinks that with this attitude and by implementing a strategic, fast-paced work ethic, the squad can achieve a rank far higher than No. 15.
Part of the team’s method for getting better throughout the season includes setting a challenging non-conference schedule. Although the Hoyas struggled at the start of last season against tougher teams outside of the Big East, they obviously learned from their weaknesses—they made an impressive run in the Big East until that final Notre Dame loss.
Fried says that the team’s schedule has lightened up a little this year, but is still filled with matchups against the very best. With games against Florida, Duke, and North Carolina, his team will have a chance to prove itself against elite teams, all ranked in the top five.
“I think it’s important to challenge yourself, because it prepares you for conference play,” Fried said of the schedule. “We’re going to be smarter about how we go about things and keeping ourselves fresher, so that when we hit the Notre Dames at the end of the year we’re able to compete a little bit better.”
The group’s leadership will play a significant role in their improvement as the season goes on. In fact, Fried believes is one of the team’s assets. Senior Captain Kelly Barnes and junior midfielder Sophia Thomas are two among many who will help lead the Hoyas through their challenging schedule in attempt to win the Big East Championship. Both were named to the All Big East First Team and the Tewaaraton Award Watch List, and will be vital in keeping up work ethic on the field—both in practice and in games. The two were humble about their roles as leaders on the team, instead strongly emphasizing that their performance is what really matters on the field.
“Honestly, I don’t really look or pay attention to that stuff that much,” Barnes said. “I think you just have to show up on the field and, you know, what people say outside of the field, it really doesn’t mean anything if you can’t come and be a good leader and be a good teammate.”
Coach Fried describes Thomas and Barnes as players who lead by example, and who, although they are not the most vocal, show their team what to do on the field. Communication may not be their biggest strength, but the effort they put in on the field makes them valuable leadership figures for the team.
In comparison to past teams, this year’s Hoyas have the advantage of youth and athleticism. Their impressive depth will allow Coach Fried to make substitutions and adjustments whenever necessary without worrying about taking out or moving key players at the cost of their effectiveness.
“I will say that we are probably more athletic than we’ve been, especially from the midfield through the defense, so we can play at a higher pace,” Fried said. “We’ll have a little bit more quality of depth…[so] if somebody gets injured or somebody isn’t playing particularly well, we can make adjustments easier.”
Coach Fried admits that the Hoyas lack an offensive go-to player as of yet, but he believes that with time they will be able to develop the necessary strength up top. The team added a promising freshman class this year, with young players stepping up to fill spots in each set of positions. Because their lineup appears thoroughly solid, coaches and players alike are ready to get rolling and see just how they fare in the 2012 season.