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February 12, 2009

Optimism riding high as lacrosse opens 2009 season

By: Matt Kovatch

Senior Rachel Culp tallied 34 goals last season and will look to increase that number in 2009 as Tech’s top offensive threat.

Oftentimes when previewing a team’s season, no matter the sport, it is easy to point to a team’s youth and either hype up the potential of those youngsters or prepare for the growing pains that will stem from their inexperience. And when it comes to the 2009 Virginia Tech lacrosse team, both cases are extremely prevalent. Why? Of the Hokies’ 23-member roster, 20 players are either sophomores or freshmen, and while that may be cause for some concern in areas like depth and experience, head coach Katrina Silva couldn’t be more excited about the promise and eagerness of this year’s squad. Here’s what she had to say in advance of the Feb. 14th season opener with Drexel:

IHS: What are your thoughts on the mood and the chemistry of this year’s team?
KS: This is certainly the most upbeat team that we’ve had here. All of the kids who have come into the program since I’ve started have the right vision in mind. They want to win in the ACC and they want to be competitive on the national scene. But that takes experience, time and effort, and they’re a hard-working group that has a positive attitude about where the program is going. That’s a big thing – you’ve got to have a vision before you get out there and start doing it. They’ve worked hard and they’re upbeat about the possibilities that lie ahead.

IHS: So would you say that you feel more confident in the team right now than you did at this point a year ago?

KS: Absolutely. This is the most athletic team that we have ever had here, hands down. We are faster than we’ve ever been, we move better than we ever have and we can catch and throw better than we ever have. We certainly lack the experience and the depth that an older group would have, but talent-wise, this is the best team we’ve ever seen here.
But of course, there are changes that still need to happen here. One of those changes is that our sophomores are learning how to step up and become leaders, and that’s good – they were our first recruited class and they really came in with the right mentality and work ethic. That’s the fundamental piece that you have to have when you build a program and they share that. They’re figuring out how to lead both by example and with their voices. That’s a big challenge for them, but they’re doing well and moving in the right direction.

IHS: You only have two seniors on this squad, one of whom is Rachel Culp, the team’s returning leading scorer. How valuable will she be this year?
KS: Rachel really embraced our (the coaching staff’s) goals as her goals when we got here. She wants this program to get its first ACC win before she leaves. She knew how hard she would have to work, she accepted it, she was excited about it and she has changed tremendously as a player over the three years that I’ve known her. On the field, you can’t deny her. She has a knack for scoring, she has a great field sense and she leads every day by example.

IHS: How important is it that goalkeeper Kari Morrison, who was third in the nation in saves last year, is your other senior?

KS: Kari knew what she was getting into when she came here (Morrison transferred from Colgate in 2006 when Silva left there to come to Tech). She knew my vision and the work that she would have to put into it, and she’s always been very excited about that. She loves the opportunity to play at this level every day against the top teams in the nation. She plays hard, and if she picks up a couple of more ground balls or we win some of those one-goal games, we become a whole different program.

IHS: You mentioned the importance of your sophomores taking it to the next level. How involved are Allie Emala (28 goals as a freshman) and Caitlyn Wier (12 goals) in that process?
KS: Allie certainly is. We’ve made some changes as to how we will use her. She played midfield last year, but she will be more on the attack this year. She has a great presence about her. She’s a big, strong, young woman who plays very hard and is very competitive and driven to win. Meanwhile, Caitlyn is working hard every day and she’s trying to figure out what she wants her role to be. She has a knack for scoring and that’s what I would love for her to bring every day. When she gets a good look at the cage, the ball’s going into the back of the net. She had some big goals for us last year. Now we need her to create those types of opportunities every time she touches the ball.

IHS: How about the freshman class? Someone is going to have to stand out from that group because of necessity, so who might that be?

KS: There is a group of them – Julie Wolfinger, Tori O’Shea and Jess Nonn – who are going to be in the midfield and they’re going to make a big impact. The biggest splash that comes from that group is their sense of team and their sense of being committed together. It’s hard to pick one kid out because, every day, one of the other ones will work just as much as the others. A different one surprises me every day and that is really exciting. Jess has really improved on areas of her game that we really wanted to see, while Julie and Tori are two really consistent, athletic, fun-to-watch players. They’re not flashy, but they are kids who, when you look at the stat sheet, you will be pleasantly surprised. Also, Morgan Widlake could be a huge surprise. She’s emerging on the offensive end. She has a nice, smooth shot, and she works hard at creating more opportunities for herself. I could also see Christina Patten standing out for us on defense.

IHS: You’ve talked about some of the things that excite you about this team. What are you still worried about?

KS: Depth is a huge question for us right now. We’re missing that important reserve piece and I think that role never gets recognized the way that it should. To have a kid who comes off the bench for a couple minutes when someone isn’t playing well or to give someone a break – that’s huge. I don’t think we’re going to have the depth that we would like this year, and the other thing is experience. There is nothing like playing in the ACC, especially in women’s lacrosse when you’re looking at four teams ranked near the top 10. Hopefully, our athleticism can make up for a lot of those missing pieces. Those are two areas – experience and depth – that we are going to be a little bit short on this year, and we have to find creative ways to make up for those things quickly.

IHS: Finally, is this the year Virginia Tech gets its first ACC win?
KS: Yeah, I think so. We’ve been so close. We have lost to Boston College by one goal in each of the past two years. Last year, we had them on the ropes – we were up 6-1 in the first 15 minutes of the game. I think BC was shocked at how quickly we came out, but I think our kids were, too, and that’s not a good thing because we couldn’t sustain the lead. I think it’s a huge hurdle that this team needs to overcome this year. We have the athleticism, and from an all-around standpoint, I think we’re ready to make that jump. But the kids need to know that they’ve worked hard enough and they need to believe that this is their time and this is their year. They’ve doubted that in the past and asked, “Is this really going to happen?” Instead, we need to say, “This is going to happen, and it’s going to happen on March 14.” We’re excited about it.