JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With the 2018 season opener just days away, Jacksonville University women's lacrosse is excited to give fans a sneak preview at what to expect from the defending ASUN Conference Champions on the field this year.
"We have a great mix of players with a number of girls really show-out this fall and emerge," stated Head Coach Mindy McCord. "Against Virginia Tech and Duke in our fall scrimmages, we played our entire squad and we saw what is possible. … One of the best parts about this team is the unknown players. We have a number of really rapidly emerging players who are great competitors."
Breaking It Down
With 20 of 34 players on the roster underclassmen, many young Dolphins will look to step into leadership roles this spring for the team to reach new heights. While only 14 upperclassmen are on the roster, 10 are projected as starters and many have had prolific careers at Jacksonville thus far. The Dolphins can expect strong leadership from a trio of captains – seniors Ashtyn Hiron and Emily Barton, along with junior Lillie Miller – to lead the way.
Returning intact to the sidelines for its third consecutive season and ninth overall leading the Dolphins (Orashen was a player from 2011-15), Jacksonville's familiarity and camaraderie has never been stronger heading into 2018.
Three capable and experienced goalkeepers are on the roster in 2018, and the Dolphins are confident in their strength and depth between the pipes.
With an NCAA victory under her belt and a Colonial Athletic Association All-Tournament Team performance, Emily Poelma, a former captain at James Madison, brings a presence and set of leadership skills that can only help the growth and development of the Dolphins' other two net minders.
Sophomore Sydney Matthews had an exceptional freshman campaign, capped by an NCAA start against #6 Southern California.
Freshman Sharn Muffet brings international U19 experience, along with extensive competition in Australia's national women's league.
"We have our deepest goal keeper situation this season and we have a lot of confidence in our net minders heading into the season. They each have a unique style of play but they can all make big stops and clear the ball dynamically." said Head Coach Mindy McCord.
As two of the program's legendary defenders – 2017 ASUN Defensive Player of the Year Erika Brager and two-time First Team All-ASUN pick Kristin Ridenour – are now in physical therapy school, the Dolphins had some big shoes to fill on defense. However, with sophomore transfer Chloe Harris (Louisville) and the return of injured starter Nina Mangor as a redshirt freshman helps to cushion the blow.
Three other defenders with starting experience also return, including seniors Emily Barton and Mackenzie Groark. Groark has upped her training regimen and shows a lot of Brager's physical and stick work traits, while Barton continues to be one of the league's fastest pressure defenders. Senior defender Erica Beal, a 2017 ASUN All-Tournament Team selection, also returns, giving the defense five returning players with starting experience. Add All-World midfielder Ashtyn Hiron and steady senior leadership from Olivia Rossnan and the defense has a very aggressive look.
"We are in a similar situation to 2014 after we lost a bevy of defensive talent. The next year we remade our defense and became a better unit despite losing some of our best-ever defenders to graduation," added McCord. "This could be a very similar situation for us moving into 2018. We have five seniors who can help us to varying degrees and fill roles well. We have some talented juniors, a pair of outstanding sophomores and two very talented freshmen who hold their own and gain confidence each time out. We have a lot of speed and we have some nice range. It will have to be a flexible team-first unit. I think we can build confidence with them and our goalkeepers."
Along with redshirt-sophomore Amelia Pedwell, who, with a healthy 2018, can be a great player, the defense has the ability to flex two deep and change its lineup based on the opponent match-ups. Additionally, speedy freshman Eileen Torroella and Mia Suplee add depth to a deep unit and have improved with a collegiate fall under their belt. Seniors Katie Bolte and Christina Nagel bring length and clearing skills to the defense. Sophomore midfielders Genie Santarpio, Jackie Benedict, and Kasey Stevens have blossomed on the defensive side this fall.
"We have the ability to play a variety of defenses this year thanks to the different skill sets of our players," said Assistant Coach and Defensive Coordinator Britt Orashen, now in her third season with the Dolphins. "It's the most depth we have ever had here and we are fortunate to have so many players stepping up."
Returning for her senior year with the Dolphins is Ashtyn Hiron, one of the world's most explosive midfield players. Heading into her final season with over 100 career points (107), draws (128), and ground balls (100), Hiron established herself this summer on the international stage with the Australian Women's National Team at the 2017 Women's Lacrosse World Cup and World Games. No other player had as many combined possessions in both events than Hiron, who led Australia to the bronze medal over world power Great Britain and a narrow overtime loss against silver medalist Canada. After earning the 2016 ASUN Defensive Player of the Year following a stellar sophomore campaign, Hiron was named the league's Preseason Player of the Year and Fan-Voted Preseason Player of the Year prior to the start of the 2018 season.
"Ashtyn is a unique player, leader, and person," stated Associate Head Coach Paul McCord, in charge of the midfield. "She has improved so much over the last four years, but never as much as after this summer's World Cup and World Games. She is always one step ahead of everyone she plays and her fitness is great after a nice rest this winter."
Hiron sat out most of the Virginia Tech and Duke scrimmages at the end of the fall and played sparingly overall to help her regain her legs following the summer games and a 20-game 2017 NCAA season.
Up to the task of filling in for Hiron was a variety of midfielders who continued to push the pace through the fall season. Junior captain Lillie Miller continues to develop as a strong two-way player. Entering her third year as a starter, Miller is closing in on her 100th career point (41 goals, 19 assists), collecting an impressive 29 CT, 52 DC, and 46 GBs through her first two seasons, and evolving into a strong complement to Hiron in the midfield.
"We don't have any set pairings right now, but those two together are like lightning and thunder. Both can run like the wind, are well conditioned, have strong shots, and play excellent defense. We want to improve consistency overall, but they will be fun to coach," added Paul McCord.
Joining the two veterans are returning sophomore letterwinners Kasey Stevens and Genie Santarpio, who combined for 27 points last season, while elite freshmen Jenny Kinsey, Megan Prescott, Emma Wisdom, and Lauren Phillips add depth. Sophomore Jackie Benedict is expected to flex from the defensive position with Bolte, as both add playing experience to the lineup.
"The midfielders are exciting to work with and when Ash sat out in big games this fall, everyone stepped up and played their part well," remarked Mindy McCord. "The wildcards are the freshmen; they bring so much to our unit overall and are hungry to contribute. They are pushing all of the older players and each practice the environment is fast, aggressive, and skilled. I don't think you can count on being able to stop just one."
After graduating the program's all-time leading scorer Danielle Della Rocca and 100+ career point scorers Rachel Aus and Courtney Valdez, Hannah Wilcox (99 career points), and Jamie Chapman (95 career points), the Dolphins have a lot of rebuilding to do. If prior years of graduating many seniors is any indication, there are players waiting in the wings to prove themselves to the Fin Faithful. The 2018 season will be no exception.
In addition to Hiron and Miller providing potent attack midfield play, the Dolphins return a senior and two juniors who have shown promise over the past three years. Senior MacEllen McDonough posted 28 points as a junior, including a season-high four points against the Big 10's Ohio State. Redshirt-sophomore Erin McGuire returns after sitting out last spring due to injury, but her freshman campaign helped her to earn ASUN All-Freshman honors. Fresh off of back-to-back two-goal performances against Coastal Carolina and USC in the ASUN Tournament Championship and NCAA Tournament First Round, respectively, junior Jody Julmice returns with an enhanced, explosive style of play.
Three sophomores – two of whom gained extensive experience their first season on the St. Johns and one who redshirted with an injury – show great promise. With nine starts in 19 appearances last season, Parker Day recorded 22 points en route to a spot on the ASUN All-Freshman Team. Olivia Alvarez shined in the fall after competing in 11 games as a freshman. A top performer throughout the fall, former New York State Championships Player of the Year Emily Piciullo hopes to stay healthy after sitting out her freshman season at JU.
"We graduated a lot of very strong players, but I am very happy for the next generation of Fins on attack," expressed Mindy McCord. "They are smart, crafty, and versatile. McDonough has proven to be a strong leader this fall and we have seen some great chemistry between the unit overall. There is a lot of diversity in their game and we have many options as we compete this spring."
Four freshmen have shone brightly during the fall as Sarah Elms, Alyssa Arnold, Olivia D'Angelo, and Julia Kolderman are a rare combination of speed, power and skill. Freshmen Jenny Kinsey and Emma Wisdom will flex from their midfield positions and provide speed and depth to the attack.
Added Mindy McCord, "Those freshman are a confident bunch and a hard working group. They have bright futures and will have opportunities to prove themselves this season.
"We cannot undervalue the return of Nina Mangor, Emily Piciullo and Erin McGuire to the lineup as healthy this year. Those three are a real blessing because our league did not get a chance to compete against them in 2017. The three of them are major difference makers for our program. Goalie is a strong position this year with three proven keepers who we can call upon; they are all solid and capable of making big stops in championship games. There is a lot of work to be done, but we hope come April and May that our efforts pay off. It will be a fun ride this year!"
Jacksonville opens the 2018 season this Sunday, Feb. 11 when Big 10 power Michigan visits D.B. Milne Field. Admission is free for the noon start.