UC Davis opens lacrosse season Friday

A relatively young UC Davis women's lacrosse team begins its 2017 season against Stanford Friday. (Mark Honbo, Athletics Communications)
Feb. 7, 2017

DAVIS, Calif. - Now just days away from the start of the 2017 season, second-year UC Davis head women’s lacrosse coach Tee Ladouceur has as many questions as her team’s fan base.

After all, her roster is young: nine true freshmen, two redshirt freshmen and six sophomores. Among those sophomores, only two – attacker Shannon Cross and midfielder Taylor Cuenin – appeared in last year’s starting lineup. Of the 118 goals scored in 2016, 60 came from last year’s graduating class, particularly from Ellie Delich (25), Courtney Neff (17) and Sam Axenroth (13). Mary Doyle, who started all 63 games of the past four years, leaves a void in the midfield corps. The departures of Morgan Sissler and Savannah Hadley create openings on the defensive end, although that unit has the most experience coming back.

So who among the many youngsters will replace those six senior starters? Who step up in the midfield? Who will score the goals? The short answer, if Ladouceur’s vision is realized: anybody and everybody.

“As a whole, I’m not trying to put a lot of pressure on one or two people,”  What made us so successful last year was that anyone could have a good game and we would thrive. That being said, I’m looking to build a chemistry between a lot of girls so that we’re not scoutable and that we’re a threat from multiple areas.”

Ladouceur, who guided UC Davis to its first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament berth since 2010, certainly has some known quantities to her Aggie team. First and foremost is an experienced senior class. Tess Kevorkian and Pauline Kaplan have started all 32 games of the last two seasons as low defenders. Right behind that tandem is Lauren Ali, who played every minute in the cage in 2016. On the opposite end of the field, Melissa Kellan enters her fourth year as a starting low attacker. She leads all returnees with 61 career goals and holds the school record for single-season shooting percentage (.627 in 2015).

“It’s something my high school soccer coach told me: you only go as far as your seniors take you,” said Ladouceur. “I think they are very motivated. They have worked very hard this season and in the offseason to make sure that we’re building on the progress that we made as a program last year.”

Cuenin, Cross and midfielder Shannon Geary complete the list of returning starters from 2016. Cuenin garnered All-MPSF second-team honors in her freshman season, thanks to 22 goals and a team-high 18 caused turnovers. Cross is the No. 2 returning scorer from last year, netting 16 scores with seven assists. Geary led UC Davis with 42 draw controls in 2016, including a career-high nine against Saint Mary’s.

Returners who previously held supporting roles will now see significant upticks in playing time, particularly in the midfield. As for the freshmen, Ladouceur expects every rookie to contribute, with many earning starting roles. Friday’s opener with Stanford and Sunday’s tilt with LIU Brooklyn will answer many questions and raise new ones when it comes to personnel. “It will depend on the matchups, the talents of those individual players and what they have to offer. Maybe we need a dodger, a feeder, or maybe somebody scrappy on draws or in the midfield,” she said.

Overall, getting out on the field will finally rid the team of its cabin fever. The Aggies reported for the winter quarter on the first day of classes and – save for an exhibition with the Hong Kong Lacrosse Association on January 12 – have faced themselves for the month since. At this point, says Ladouceur, the team is eager to face outside competition, even a nationally ranked team like Stanford.

In terms of what we’ll see on Friday, it’s a big question mark. Nobody really knows. We’re definitely young. We are maybe not entirely sure what our identity is quite yet, but coming out against Stanford will help us find it pretty fast.”

Friday’s home opener with the No. 12 Cardinal begins at 5 p.m. Sunday’s contest with the Blackbirds starts at noon. Admission is free for all Aggie home lacrosse games. Live stats are available at www.ucdavislivestats.com.

QUICK STICKS: Last year’s MPSF tournament berth was the first since 2010, while the No. 4 seed was the program’s highest ever... The 5-4 conference mark was the program’s best since the nationally ranked 2000 squad went 6-1 in the old Western Women’s Lacrosse League... Taylor Cuenin was one of only two freshmen to earn All-MPSF in 2016, along with Cal’s Jenny Wilkens... Cuenin led the 2017 returners in goals (23), points (26), ground balls (29) and caused turnovers (19)... Melissa Kellan is the returning assist leader with 12, tying Ellie Delich for the team high last year... The 2017 team captains are Kellan, Cuenin, Tess Kevorkian and Pauline Kaplan... UC Davis’ roster hails from seven states... While most are Californians, including two Davisites (Kelly Chuck and Anna Belenis), no fewer than 11 arrived from outside the Golden State... Virginia has the next-highest representation: Kellan (Vienna), Shannon Cross (Great Falls), Rachel Brennan (Vienna) and Mackenzie Schuler (Fairfax Station).

ABOUT THE OPPONENTS: No. 12 STANFORD, has reached the NCAA tournament seven times and won nine of the MPSF’s 13 all-time titles... The Cardinal returns five All-MPSF honorees from last year: first-teamers Kelly Myers and Kelsey Murray, plus second-teamers Anna Salemo, Allie DaCar and Dillon Schoen... Salemo won MPSF Rookie of the Year accolades as a redshirt junior in 2016... LIU BROOKLYN went 5-12 overall with a 1-6 record in the Northeast Conference last year... Midfielder Jenn Peters was the Blackbirds’ lone representative on the All-NEC rolls, following a first-team selection in 2015 and Rookie of the Year award in 2014... She also holds the LIU record for single-season goals with her 62 as a sophomore... UC Davis is 5-0 all-time against LIU.