Dream season a fitting end for JU seniors
The senior class has combined for a 50-25 record over the last four years
The senior class has combined for a 50-25 record over the last four years
By Jim Nasella ~ Special to

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Jacksonville women’s lacrosse goal keeper Karli Tobin had a dream and despite more than a few naysayers wouldn’t give up on it.

Friday, when the Dolphins play Denver in Gainesville (4 p.m. at the University of Florida), Tobin’s dream will come true.

The team will, for the first time, be in a first-round game in the NCAA tournament.

It wouldn’t have been hard to side with the doubters four years ago when this first full graduating class lifted the upstart Dolphins from club level to the Division I playing field in the old National Lacrosse Conference which didn’t have a bid to the big show.

This year, just in the nick of time for the eight seniors, JU helped start the Atlantic Sun Conference, which does get the automatic berth.

“My dream was to go to the Final Four and when I first got here, I said that all the time,’’ Tobin, from Moorestown, N.J., said this week. “Everyone kind of thought I was crazy, but now we’re getting the opportunity to that. They can believe us now.’’

Teammate Jess Hotchkiss (Manlius, N.Y.), who was the first-ever JU women’s lacrosse player to graduate last year only to find out she had a fifth year of eligibility remaining, had a similar dream, came back and says it was time well spent.

“I was really excited to find out I had my fifth year of eligibility and it’s been so great especially to be in the A-Sun and get the automatic bid to the NCAA,’’ said Hotchkiss, who has been a defensive stalwart throughout her career. “That’s been a dream of mine and the team’s since the beginning to go the NCAAs. It’s been awesome to do that.’’

While Tobin and Hotchkiss, both team captains this season, were out on the tournament limb early on, for many of their classmates the idea of getting to the tournament has been an evolving pursuit.

“We knew that since we were in the NLC we weren’t going to have an automatic bid once we went to the conference tournament so it was, for me, a four-year vision,’’ said Nicole Albino (East Northport, N.Y.), who had 11 draw controls, 18 ground balls and 14 caused turnovers and, who like Tobin, is enrolled in the school’s five-year education master’s program.

“I knew my senior year we could potentially have the opportunity to go the NCAAs and to finally be in a conference that allows us to do that is awesome. It was more a progressive dream. As we got toward my senior year and we were performing much better than in our freshman year, the dream of going to the tournament was becoming more of a reality.’’

Captain Ellyn Spangenberg, from Chuluota, Fla., one of three Floridians in the class, was just happy to be here when she arrived on campus and the idea of playing in the NCAA tournament wasn’t the high priority.

“It was a little different for me,’’ she said. “Coming from Florida (not exactly a hot-bed of lacrosse back then) I was like ‘I’m getting an opportunity to play Division I lacrosse’ so I was taking baby steps. I believed my teammates when they thought that but I was like ‘ohhh, what’s that.’ It was new to me and I was just playing Division I lacrosse so I set those goals in order. That became my top goal and I’m glad we reached it.’’

Spangenberg, who caused 11 turnovers and had 19 points and 18 ground balls, also is thankful the group was able to enjoy a big last two weeks with graduation, playing host to the A-Sun tournament last week and now this.

“It’s a lot going on, it’s a lot to be thankful for and it’s a lot to celebrate,’’ she said. “To our benefit it worked out so well. We had our conference tournament we were able to host here. We were able to walk in our graduation and enjoy that and then we get to go to the NCAA. I think it was a blessing and worked out perfectly and it was great that we got to celebrate those three things with our team, our families here at JU.’’

Defender Rachel Hannon (Annapolis, Md.), another senior captain who last year set the NCAA record for draw controls in a season, said 2012’s results helped push the team to its success this season.

“Last year after the season, Coach (Mindy McCord) talked about how if we had beaten Vanderbilt, or one more team, that would have allowed us to go to the tournament (as an at-large),’’ said Hannon, who had 52 draw controls and 28 ground balls this season. “Knowing we were so close last year really made us push this year and we knew the automatic bid was there so it made us work harder.’’

Now that the Dolphins have made it, the senior group, which also includes Amanda Hurley (Columbus, Ga.), say they are respectful but not overwhelmed of their situation.

“We’re definitely ready for this opportunity,’’ said midfielder Rachael Krell (Apopka, Fla.), who ended her regular season with 18 goals. “ It’s exciting to see our team playing at this top level and compete. If we all have our heads in the game and go all out we’ll get far.’’

Midfielder Abigail Warnken (Naples, Fla.), who had seven points and six ground balls this year, concurred.

“If we play our game we’ll be able to beat the teams this weekend. I believe in our team 100 percent. We all have the skills and the heart for it. If we play as a team we’ll go far.’’

“We have this thing, Survive and Advance, so we are taking to that because from this point out if we lose a game we’re done.’’ Tobin, who had 91 saves this season, said. “As a senior class that’s not a really good concept. We’ve never ended the season on that kind of note before so now we’re using it as our fuel to keep going.’’