March 25, 2014
DAVIS, Calif. - While most students seek sunny destinations for the annual spring break, the UC Davis women's lacrosse team heads to the frigid forecasts of the Wolverine State, where the Aggies will face Detroit and Michigan in their final non-conference games of the year.
The hope, according head coach Kate Henwood, is that UC Davis will enjoy a turning point in the 2014 season similar to the once experienced at this time last year. Although the 2013 Spring Break trip only saw one victory, it featured a strong performance against No. 18 Navy followed by a near upset of Drexel.
"It's a great team-bonding experience to be on the road together, and we're hoping this is the week when things come together for us, both in chemistry and in consistency," said the second-year Aggie mentor. "The team doesn't have class to think about and their minds are 100 percent on the task at hand. The focus for these next two games is solely on us. We're doing very little discussion on our opponents. If we do our jobs well, we'll be just fine."
Henwood's team underwent an up-and-down stretch before final examinations, followed by a 15-8 loss to No. 18 Towson last Saturday. The Aggies fell into a 10-2 hole in the first half but managed to outdraw and outscore their guests after the intermission.
"I'm certainly very proud of their ability to fight back and dig themselves out of a hole. When our backs are to the wall, we demonstrate a lot of grit and fight," said Henwood. "We just have to be able to put two halves together so we don't get ourselves into that situation in the first place.
Junior midfielder Elizabeth Landry continued to be a bright spot offensively, providing three goals and a pair of assists against the Tigers. She leads UC Davis in both scoring columns, totaling 20 goals and 11 dimes in eight games thus far. Landry also has 33 draw controls, pushing her to within five of Hannah Mirza's school career record of 170. Carly Voris, tied for second on the team with 16 goals, posted three draw controls, three ground balls and two steals against Towson on Saturday.
All told, Henwood saw more than a glimmer from her team's performance against the Tigers, particularly in the improvement from the first to second halves. The Aggies committed with 12 turnovers in the first half, but sliced that to just six after the break. Junior goalkeeper Kai Murphy, who relieved starter Jordan Majka midway through the first half, tallied four saves in the second.
We played a very good team in Towson. They're a ranked team and I'm proud of the way we played," said Henwood. "It demonstrated to me and to the team the little things we need to tweak. We're really right there on the cusp of being able to compete with a team like that. We showed that in the second half, and now we're ready to put four halves together on this upcoming trip."
The weekend slate provides two opportunities for UC Davis to get back onto the winning track. Detroit holds a 1-7 record, although its schedule includes formidable foes such as Ohio State, Louisville and Duquesne. Sophomore midfielder Kylie Birney leads the Titans with 14 goals, a .609 shooting percentage, 12 draw controls and 12 ground balls. Detroit, whose full name is the University of Detroit Mercy, has played UC Davis on two previous occasions. The Aggies prevailed by scores of 21-11 (2011) and 18-6 (2010).
If Detroit's 1-7 ledger is misleading, then Michigan's 0-9 start is downright deceptive. The first-year Wolverines spent the two previous years recruiting for their 2014 launch, and the winless start is masked by a strength of schedule ranked 17th nationally by LaxPower.com. Four of those losses have come against Top 20 teams: No. 4 Florida, No. 7 Northwestern, No. 9 Johns Hopkins and No. 11 Penn State -- all leaguemates in the American Lacrosse Conference.
According to Henwood, the rookie team takes on the season with an almost fearless approach. "The thing going against them is that they're all freshmen but the thing they have going for them is that they're all freshmen," she said. "They have nothing to lose, and they play like it. They have not won a game yet and that's what makes them dangerous."
Offsetting any concerns, however, is the Aggies' own sense of resolve. A 5-0 start has turned to a three-game losing skid, and UC Davis looks to get back on the winning track before taking on six straight Mountain Pacific Sports Federation games. Having a roster with only 18 healthy field players adds to the challenge, since most Division I lacrosse programs (such as Towson, Michigan and all other MPSF foes) carry 30-40 players. Not only do these deep rosters offer fresher legs during games, but they make for more intense and productive workouts, as every position has that many more players vying for field time.
Nonetheless, Henwood looks to make the most of a leaner squad, and the players responded in kind during the practices leading up to this weekend's trip: "We had probably our best practice of the year on Monday. The girls were extremely competitive in some really stressful situations, trying to build up their mental toughness. I think they are ready to go."
UC Davis faces Detroit at 11 a.m. PDT on Thursday, then Michigan at 10 a.m. Pacific on Saturday. Links to live stats are available at www.ucdavisaggies.com.
QUICK STICKS: Saturday's game will be Michigan's second home contest in fabled Michigan Stadium, a.k.a. "The Big House," by far the largest facility UC Davis has ever played (and likely ever will)... The stadium seats almost 110,000, although only the seven field-level sections on the east end are open during lacrosse... With 45 total, junior attacker Meghan Jordan needs one assist to catch Megan O'Connor for ninth on the school career list... Senior goalkeeper Jordan Majka has 222 career saves, just four behind Jill Herschleb (1999-2001) for fourth in Aggie history.