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Women’s Lacrosse: Laxers begin season with Canisius, Duquesne

Matt Gamber | Friday, February 15, 2008

Coming off an 11-6 year (3-2 Big East), No. 12 Notre Dame will host Canisius at 5 p.m. tonight before taking on Duquesne at noon Sunday. Both games will be played in the Loftus Sports Center.

Despite losing five starters from last year’s squad, including a pair of all-Big East performers, the Irish will enter tonight’s season opener with both experience and confidence, thanks in part to senior captains Caitlin McKinney and Becky Ranck.

“We did lose some starters, but we’ve traditionally had a good bench and I think that’s the case again this year,” said McKinney, a two-time All-American midfielder who scored 44 goals and recorded 21 assists a year ago. “With those positions opening up, you do kind of hold your breath, but the people who have been in there have been doing awesome. It’s nice to see new faces and fresh people in there.”

A highly-touted freshman class joins the returning cast of McKinney, Ranck, junior attacker Jillian Byers – a two-time All-American who scored 58 goals last season – and junior midfielder Erin Stoeckert (21 goals, 15 assists) to provide the Irish with a balance of youth and experience.

Coach Tracy Coyne said the ups and downs the senior class has undergone – from three wins as freshmen to a Final Four appearance as sophomores to missing the NCAA tournament last year – are a positive heading into another campaign.

“Now, here this group is as seniors with a good perspective and a good vision,” said Coyne, who is entering her 12th year at the helm of the Notre Dame program. “The younger players on this team have definitely felt the unity of the senior class, and the seniors have done a great job outlining what we want to accomplish this season and then demonstrating that in practice.”

Between Ranck’s ability to lead the defense by example and McKinney’s light-hearted, more vocal leadership style on offense, the Irish seem to have just the right recipe for success.

“The older girls on the team have really been able to welcome the freshmen and teach them how we do things,” Coyne said. “Because of that, the burden really isn’t on the younger players to have to do things other than follow the things the older players do.”

Coyne also said the athleticism of freshman midfielders Kaitlin Keena and Shaylyn Blaney will have them starting soon.

Though Notre Dame seems to have the leadership aspect of the game down, much is yet to be determined as far as playing strategy goes. The Irish have yet to even scrimmage heading into tonight’s opening contest, a first in Coyne’s tenure here.

“I guess we’ll find out [tonight] what our style’s going to be,” Coyne said. “Generally, we like to be an up-tempo, aggressive-on-defense type of team.

“There are a lot of unknowns, but we know what we do well. We’ll go out with a game plan, but we’ll be ready in-game to make any adjustments that are necessary.”

While the Irish are still unsure of how their returners and newcomers will mesh during live games, one thing they aren’t lacking is confidence.

“It’s not just about winning the Big East or making the NCAA Tournament – it’s about winning every game and doing everything right, not having any regrets,” Ranck said. “I don’t think having the national championship as a goal is outlandish at all because we have so much potential.”

Quick to catch themselves before looking too far ahead, Ranck and McKinney both said the Irish will “take one game at a time”, but clearly, the long-term bar has been set – high.

That being said, the long road begins tonight.

“The most important thing is that we have a lot of respect for Canisius and Duquesne,” Coyne said. “So we’re going to go out and bring what we need to get it done – which is win. Bottom line: 2-0 after the weekend.”