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Women’s Lacrosse: Season opener set for California on Friday

Matthew DeFranks | Friday, February 11, 2011

The campuses of Cal and Stanford — which both open their season against Notre Dame — lie a mere 47 miles apart. By the end of the season, however, the two programs will be worlds apart.

The No. 10 Irish open their season on Friday night in Berkeley against the Golden Bears, who are in their final season of women’s lacrosse due to budget cuts. Cal has also lost its home field, Memorial Stadium to renovations and will be playing in Witter Rugby Field.

“The lacrosse community was very disappointed. We never want to see colleagues lose jobs or athletes not be able to compete,” Irish coach Tracy Coyne said. “We’re expecting it to be a competitive game; they’re fighting to have their program reinstated.”

Last year, the Irish defeated Cal 14-12 in overtime behind the strength of current senior midfielder Shaylyn Blaney’s four goals and senior attack Ansley Stewart’s go-ahead goal in overtime.

“We need to control the ball better [than last year’s game] and we took too many unnecessary risks,” Coyne said. “We need to control the tempo more and dictate what happens.”

With only three seniors on the roster, Cal will look to lean heavily on its underclassmen. The Irish, meanwhile, return all but two starters and boast six seniors.

All-American seniors Jackie Doherty and Blaney were both unanimously named preseason All-Big East. Joining Blaney and Doherty on the All-Big East team is midfielder Kailene Abt. Coyne also reeled in the No. 4 recruiting class in the country, prompting a predicted third-place Big East finish.

“We have excellent senior leadership. This core group has been contributing since their freshman year,” Coyne said. “This is a veteran group with a lot of experience.”

Last season, the Irish lost four games decided by two goals or less — including two in overtime — on their way to an 11-7 record and an NCAA tournament berth. Stanford, however, went 3-0 in overtime a year ago and won the MPSF tournament championship before a first-round exit in the NCAA tournament.

The No. 14 Cardinal enter this season as the preseason favorite in the MPSF. Led by senior two-time reigning MPSF Player of the Year midfielder Lauren Schmitt, Stanford will be hunting for their third NCAA appearance in program history.

“They are a very well coached team that is very similar to our team,” Coyne said. “They have great athletes and intelligent players.”

The Cardinal will look to use their home field advantage just as well as last season, when they went 11-0 in Palo Alto. One major factor is that Stanford’s Cagan Stadium is natural grass, a change from the artificial turf the Irish are used to.

“There is no easy road to a championship and Stanford is a very tough place to play,” Coyne said. “We’ve been there when the band, the cheerleaders and the [Stanford mascot] Tree were all there.”

The Irish face Cal for possibly the final time at 8 p.m. on Friday and conclude their west coast trip with a 2 p.m. tilt Saturday against Stanford.