UC Davis laxers look to make their mark in 2016

Feb. 17, 2016

DAVIS, Calif. - The beginning of any sport season serves as a moment of renewal, yet few usher in a new start like the launch of the 2016 UC Davis women’s lacrosse season, which kicks off with Friday’s season opener at Bryant. The team’s lone East Coast road trip of the year commences the era of Tee Ladouceur, who took over as the Aggies’ fourth head coach last August.

For Ladouceur, the opener cannot come soon enough. “I’m really looking forward to it, and I think the girls are pretty amped as well,” she said. “They’ve been training for this weekend since they arrived on campus on January 4. Fast forward to almost six weeks later, and they’re fired up and ready to go. They want to put their hard work to the test and see what they’re capable of this year.”

Upon arrival at a new program, a first-year coach must evaluate the hand she has been dealt. Certainly, a few high cards were missing before her arrival: All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation honorees Elizabeth Landry and Allie Lehner graduated last spring. So did goalkeeper Kai Murphy, one of the program’s all-time saves leaders; Sara Quero, a four-year starter; and Meghan Jordan, who looked to challenge the school assists record before injury sidelined her for good.

Fortunately, the current senior class has more than stepped up. Ladouceur commends their leadership, not only for their teammates but for the new coaching staff of herself, Colleen Smith and Ashley Johnson. Moreover, the balance of experience across the field is perhaps the team’s greatest strength going into the year.

“Our biggest strength is our balance,” said Ladouceur. “We’ve got a lot of veterans back in the defensive end, the midfield and the offensive end. We’re balanced with our speed, height, stick skills, dodging, footwork and our defense. We’re not going to rely on one or two people. So our balance and our senior leadership will be our keys.”

Morgan Sissler, the lone fifth-year Aggie, will anchor a season defensive unit that also includes juniors Tess Kevorkian and Pauline Kaplan. Midfielder Courtney Neff ranked second on the team behind Landry with 34 goals last season. Mary Doyle, who has started every game since her arrival in 2013, posted 34 ground balls and 42 draw controls as a junior. They lead a midfield crew that will also bring up impact freshmen Taylor Cuenin (Danville, Calif./San Ramon Valley HS) and Shannon Cross (Great Falls, Va./Bishop O’Connell HS).

“The team call them ‘Shaylor,’” said Ladouceur of that freshman tandem. “I think the seniors and upperclassmen have done a good job at getting them involved, and have distributed the ball evenly so.”

On the attacking end, 6-foot-2 junior Melissa Kellan set a school record with a .627 shooting percentage in 2015, having scored 54 goals in 27 games as an Aggie. Senior Ellie Delich, who helped British Columbia win the national box lacrosse title last summer, has scored 45 career goals. Look for each to step up in 2016 as they replace the scoring output of Landry, who finished second in program history with 151 career goals.

The six-player senior crew of Sissler, Delich, Doyle, Neff, midfielder Savannah Hadley and Sam Axenroth have even coined a motto for the year, announcing their desire to assume the identity of the team: “Make Your Mark.”

That rings as sweet music to Ladouceur, who can only know second-hand how much the previous senior class had been the face of UC Davis women’s lacrosse, let alone major statistical contributors. Landry led the 2015 team in goals (41), assists (11) and draw controls (90) while Lehner paced the Aggies in ground balls (40) and caused turnovers (25) to earn their respective All-MPSF nods.

“We’ve really been developing nicely as a team – our team chemistry has looked really strong recently. We can expect to share the ball quite a bit. We lost our main goal-scorer and draw-taker from last year so a lot of people are looking to step up,” Ladouceur said.

Naturally, the first-year coach also hopes to put her stamp on the program. Long-time UC Davis fans will glow with pride on her emphasis on team cohesiveness and hard work, as it is quite reminiscent of the “Aggie Pride” philosophy introduced by the late Jim Sochor, the legendary football coach whose name adorns the field.

“I hope that whether it’s a good day or a bad day, I want our kids to work hard and have each other’s backs out there.” said the former Syracuse star. “Overthrows and bad passes might happen, but if we’re sticking together and busting our butts for each other, it will turn out pretty good.

“Having fun and working hard is what we’re all about, and I feel like I’ve gotten everything out of them. They’re looking good, their spirits are high, and they’ve been a phenomenal group to work with.”

BRYANT, the Aggies’ first opponent, has come a long way from the program that lost its first three meetings to UC Davis. The Bulldogs went 14-5 last year, including a 13-10 road win at Aggie Stadium, en route to their second consecutive Northeast Conference championship. Reigning NEC Offensive Player of the Year Lauren Descalzo opened the 2016 season with a hat trick in Bryant’s 11-7 season-opening win over Vermont. TEMPLE, 10-6 in 2015, lost a tough 8-5 battle to 16th-ranked Louisville to start the year, then rolled past LaSalle by a 13-2 final on Wednesday to even its season record to 1-1. Senior midfielder Kirstie Connor led the Owls with a hat trick while the defense held the Explorers to just six shots.

Both Friday’s game at Bryant and Sunday’s contest at Temple take place at 10 a.m. Pacific.

QUICK STICKS: Tee Ladouceur was named as UC Davis’ fourth head coach on August 12, 2015... A third-team All-American at Syracuse, she assisted at Albany from 2013-15 before assuming the Aggie helm... The Great Danes’ record during her era: 40-13 with one NCAA tournament appearance... Mary Doyle enters the 2016 season with career totals of 114 draw controls and 52 caused turnovers... She ranks 5th in UC Davis history in the former, just 12 away from passing Katie McMahon for fourth; while needing 18th steals to eclipse Jen Sanderson for fifth...

At 32-for-51 (.627), Melissa Kellan broke Danner Doud-Martin’s 1999 school record for single-season shooting percentage... They are the only two Aggies to break the .600 barrier... Doud-Martin’s career totals only include that 1999 season, as full statistics were not compiled until that year... Eight Aggie players have shot .500 or better for a career: Doud-Martin, Charlotte Morris (2012), Hannah Mirza (2010-13), Britt Farquharson (2009-10), Gina Hoffmire (2008-11), Anna Geissbuhler (2010-13, Carly Voris (2011-14) and Sarah Breyer (2000)... Kellan enters her junior year at .545 (54-for-99).

The 2016 season marks the first with numerous major rule changes for women’s lacrosse... The possession clock, arguably the most visible rule change, will not begin until 2017... However, a handful of amendments have required particular adjustment for players, coaches and officials alike, according to Ladouceur... The quick restart, or self-start, allows a fouled player to resume play before the offending player lines up four meters behind, provided a) she has both feet on the ground, b) she’s at the spot of the foul, and c) the ball is within a stick’s length of her... In the past, the fouled player had to wait until the offender had set up before play could start... Thus, all players have to be ready immediately upon a foul... A three-second violation by the defense – that is, a defender remaining inside the 8-meter arc for three seconds without marking an attacker – will now result in a minor foul, rather than a major...The horizontal stick rule, borne of a concern for safety, forbids a player from contacting an opponent’s body with a stick parallel to the ground with hands apart... The new rule continues a decade-long effort to further curb the already-illegal crosscheck.