Lacrosse is looking to build on a shortened spring season last year after finishing with a .500 record.
Head coach Jennifer Ulehla said she is optimistic heading into her first “normal” season leading the Colonials. Although the Colonials missed their fall warmup slate last year, the team finished the season with a 6-6 overall record and 3-4 conference record, an improvement from an 0-7 record the year prior and the best conference showing in three years.
After her hiring in June 2019 in the months following the resignation of former head coach Tracy Coyne, the COVID-19 pandemic cut short most of Ulehla’s debut season and resulted in an abbreviated second season.
Ulehla said the team finished their season strong last year despite multiple injuries that forced them to play a “crazy defense.”
“We’re really happy about that,” Ulehla said. “And I think we were able to just build a foundation – a stronger foundation of what it is that we’re looking to build here from a standpoint of a championship culture.”
Now, the Colonials are returning 19 players from last year’s squad and are welcoming 13 freshmen and two transfers. Ulehla said the newcomers bring along heightened athleticism and energy, as well as depth in the midfield, an area in which the team struggled last year due to injuries.
“In our midfield, is it going to be more of a run and gun game?” Ulehla said. “Are we going to be more of a team that really works around the crease? Are we going to be one that’s more of a high dodging team or a wing dodging team? Trying to figure out those types of things and what does that look like with different personnel, because what I’d love to do is be able to do all of it.”
Ulehla also said she wants to see this year’s seniors be successful in their final season, especially because of the adversity they’ve faced and the changes they’ve embraced since she arrived in 2019.
“I want to see them be able to go out having left a little bit of a legacy behind in the changing of the culture,” Ulehla said.
Although the team is young, they are looking to compete in the Atlantic 10, which will return to its normal six-team championship tournament this year after only having four teams participate in the championship last spring due to the pandemic. Last spring, the Colonials fought through a bout of late season injuries to finish third in the A-10 South Pod, winning two of their last three games.
Senior attacker Sophia Watkinson said the team is “extremely excited” to build on last year’s late-season success despite conditions that were “less than ideal.” She said the team has made an effort to forge a strong culture to create a highly competitive environment in practice and raise the standard of play.
“Our expectation going into the season is that we’re going to take even more steps forward than we did last year because we’ve been doing the work to do the little things off the field that are gonna shine through on the field,” Watkinson said.
With more time spent together on and off the field, the team chemistry is building in a way it couldn’t last year. Senior midfielder Tori Hampton said the senior class is putting an emphasis on instilling confidence within the “talented” incoming players and she said the team hopes to build off their talent “right away.”
A member of the A-10 All-Rookie Team in 2019, Hampton was the only freshman to start in all 17 games and tied a team leading 30 goals, placing her second all time among freshmen on the Colonial records list.
“I think I owe that all to the people around me,” Hampton said. “Being able to know that the people around me trusted me, I want that for everyone.”
In addition to the influx of new players, the team is returning a key veteran in senior goalkeeper Megan Patrick. Her average of 10.58 saves per game was second best in the A-10 while her .438 save percentage was good for sixth in the conference.
On the offensive side, GW will look to replace the production lost with the graduation of midfielder Catie Perkins and attacker Ioanna Mantzouratos, both of whom started all 12 contests for the Colonials last season. Perkins recorded 20 goals and 12 assists while Mantzouratos racked up 23 goals and 8 assists.
After transferring from Drexel, Watkinson played in all 12 games, starting in 10 of them. She scored 19 goals to go along with her 3 assists, highlighted by a four goal outing against Davidson March 24.
Hampton, meanwhile, played in just four games before she suffered an injury that sidelined her for the remainder of the season. In the four games she played, she tallied a pair of goals and assists. Hampton said this year she wants to focus on being a greater presence in the midfield by winning more turnovers and pushing the ball forward in transition.
Also returning for the Colonials are A-10 All-Rookie Team members sophomore midfielder Bailey Aaron and junior midfielder Amber Germer. Aaron played in 11 games and made three starts, scoring in every game she played but one to end the season with 16 goals and two assists.
Germer started all 12 contests for the Colonials last spring, notching a career-high 17 goals and seven assists.
Though the spring slate doesn’t start for another four months, Hampton said the team is chomping at the bit to get their competitive schedule underway.
“Even though we did face a lot of adversity, we came at it hard and strong, we ended the year pretty positively in my opinion, I think everyone agrees,” Hampton said. “Right now we’re just looking to build upon that and add more grit and more intensity to what we had last year, because we have the ability to with a new set of girls that are flowing greatly with everyone.”
The Colonials wrap up their fall schedule with a trio of games against UMBC, Lafayette and American Oct. 24 on the road in Newark, Delaware.