Feb. 17, 2014
DAVIS, Calif. -
Sometime during the first week of February, Kate Henwood printed out a numeral 7 in approximately 500-point type, and tacked that piece of paper on her office wall.
That number represents UC Davis' position in the 2014 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation women's lacrosse preseason poll, and the second-year head coach decided to make it a prominent and daily reminder of what she plans on accomplishing this season, which begins this weekend with road games at George Mason (Friday) and Old Dominion (Sunday).
"I actually smiled when I saw the preseason rankings because I expected to be there," said Henwood. "That's exactly where we like to be. I like being the predator hiding in the bushes. That element of surprise can be a huge advantage."
On paper, being chosen seventh of a 10-team conference is a fair assessment by the other coaches. UC Davis went 6-9 overall and 3-5 in MPSF play in 2013. The Aggies enjoyed some encouraging performances, particularly the season-ending overtime victory of then-No. 14 Stanford -- a highlight worthy of Lacrosse Magazine's "Best Upset of 2013" selection.
Furthermore, last year's team graduated several of the program's top individual performers in history. Elizabeth Datino and Hannah Mirza finished as the school's No. 2 and No. 4 all-time scorers. Datino also set the UC Davis career record for assists while Mirza broke a six-year-old benchmark in draw controls. Anna Geissbuhler finished as one of the program's career leaders in shooting percentage, Tess Alekna had been a two-year force on defense, and speedy Stephanie Guercio rated as one of the best north-to-south weapons in the conference during her last two seasons.
As talented as that crew was, Henwood recognizes the challenges thrust upon them in transitioning to a new coaching staff, and by extension, a new offense, defense and overall culture. This year's veterans have now benefitted from a year-plus under Henwood and assistant coach Amanda Kammes, and it has already shown in the fall and preseason. "We had phenomenal athletes and great lacrosse players in last year's senior class, but I feel we're a better team this year," said Henwood. "We have leadership who understands our expectations... they just get it."
Along those lines, UC Davis fields five team captains: senior midfielder Carly Voris, junior midfielder Elizabeth Landry, junior attacker Meghan Jordan, junior defender Allie Lehner and junior midfielder Sara Quero. The coaching staff identified these players for their leadership abilities last season. The captains' eagerness to "buy in" with the new regime has set the table for a season that Henwood expects to move Aggie women's lacrosse a step forward.
The captains bring different skills to the table, both on and off the field, making them ideal representatives for UC Davis LAX 2.0. Voris is a 6-foot defender-turned-midfielder whose background in basketball -- she helped Mount Carmel High to a pair of San Diego Section titles as a prepster -- gives her an unconventional athleticism, says Henwood. "We call her `the Avatar' because she can do amazing things that no one sees coming."
Landry is less likely to sneak up on UC Davis opponents, yet will difficult to contain nonetheless. She captured first-team All-MPSF and co-MPSF Newcomer of the Year honors as a freshman. Landry was particularly tough against the conference teams in 2013, scoring 18 of her 24 goals and notching six of her seven assists in MPSF contests. Only halfway through her career, the Lafayette, Calif. native already sits in striking range of surpassing Mirza's career draw controls record and becoming just the ninth player to reach 100 career goals.
A knee injury sidelined Jordan for the 2012 season, and moved her from center to low attack for her redshirt sophomore season, but that change certainly played to her strengths. "MJ is a coach's dream," said Henwood. "Her lacrosse IQ is through the ceiling, a total `laxhead.' Having a player like that is like having a coach on the field." Armed with excellent field vision, Jordan will feed a deep corps of scorers that includes Landry, Voris, sophomore Ellie Delich and 6-foot-2 freshman Melissa Kellan. She led UC Davis and ranked sixth in the MPSF with 27 assists last year.
Lehner seems to flourish at any spot on the field due to her consistency. A scoring machine as a prep athlete at Beckman High, she began her collegiate career as an attacker in 2012, scoring 17 goals with seven assists as a true freshman starter. She switched to midfielder last season, starting every game, and this year will provide her experience to the defensive unit. Whoever wins the goalkeeping battle between veterans Kai Murphy and Jordan Majka will certainly appreciate seeing the number 28 so close to the defensive third.
Quero continues to be one of the most intriguing figures in the program. One of the few current third-year players who was not part of the massive 2010-11 National Letter of Intent fall signing class, she was a relative unknown to Aggie fans upon her arrival. Nonetheless, Quero's relentless play has paid off through 30 career starts while her leadership qualities made her the only sophomore captain last year. She led UC Davis with 30 ground balls in 2013 (fourth in the MPSF), and posted three steals in the wins over San Diego State and Stanford during the final week.
Add to this veteran group the team's lone returning all-conference performer, sophomore Mary Doyle. The only rookie to start all 15 games last season, the versatile midfielder led the Aggies with 15 caused turnovers, finished second behind Mirza in draw controls, and provided some scoring punch (8-for-11 shooting, two assists) on the attacking end.
A shared asset of these veterans is their consistency, which Coach Henwood has set as a primary objective for 2014. Last year's schedule saw its ups and downs. While the upset over Stanford, a near-upset of 20th-ranked Denver and a school shooting record against San Diego State provided the highs, an overtime loss at Saint Mary's (snapping a series winning streak of 15) and a frustrating offensive outing against Oregon kept the Aggies out of the MPSF tournament hunt.
The team's performance at the February 2 Stanford Playday provided a glimpse that UC Davis may have smoothed its system since last year's rollercoaster ride. Although no scores are officially kept in the Playday's scrimmages, the Aggies battled the host Cardinal to a one-goal margin, then soundly defeated Cal to close a four-game slate. More important to Henwood was seeing how well her players had adjusted to her system one year later, and the way her team leaders responded to their roles.
"We say this all the time: good teams win games, but great teams win them consistently," Henwood said, making yet another nod to the preseason rankings. "When I arrived here, it was my job to turn this program around. We aren't going to get that level of respect from one quality win. So our job is to string together quality wins in a consistent way.
"This is the year that UC Davis lacrosse will certainly make a statement. We have all the tools that we need to make that happen. For us, it's about capitalizing on all of our opportunities. There are 16 of them. We have to show up to play 16 times, and be consistent with that effort."
The UC Davis-George Mason season opener takes place at 2 p.m. Pacific time on Friday.
QUICK STICKS: UC Davis finished fourth in draw controls (14.60) among last year's final NCAA statistical leaders... The upset of Stanford, though voted the best in Lacrosse Magazine's year-end poll, rated a close second on LAXPower.com's final list: the 7.2-point difference in Power Ratings between the Aggies and Cardinal was second to the 7.3 margin in Siena's 8-5 win over Fairfield on Mar. 30... However, the UC Davis win garnered more interest because of Stanford's overall national rank.
The Aggie roster represents eight different states plus one Canadian province: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and British Columbia... With so many families hailing from out of state, the student radio station (KDVS 90.3 FM) and TV channel (Aggie TV) will combine forces to provide live video streaming of home contests... KDVS sports director Greg Wong will field of rotating team of announcers while AggieTV sports director Arniel Mirasol will provide the video coverage.
GEORGE MASON (0-0) had its 2014 season opener with Longwood postponed due to weather... The Patriots went 5-11 overall and 9-7 in Colonial Athletic Association play last season... They return five starters, including second-team All-CAA honoree Rachel Obregon (34 goals, six assists)... OLD DOMINION (0-0) will host Louisville before bringing the Aggies into the L.R. Hill Sports Complex on Sunday... The Monarchs finished 4-13 with a 2-5 CAA mark in 2013... Junior Ashmore Standing led ODU with 32 goals last year... Fun fact: assistant coach Ashley Kellogg is the older sister of new UC Davis assistant Casey Kellogg... Both sisters were All-CAA honorees, Ashley for Old Dominion (2009 and 2010), Casey for Hofstra (2012).