Women’s lacrosse recovers from loss of key players

Along with fellow senior Caroline Murphy, Lucy Whitacre '14 has gracefully transitioned to midfield this season.
Along with fellow senior Caroline Murphy, Lucy Whitacre '14 has gracefully transitioned to midfield this season.
Along with fellow senior Caroline Murphy, Lucy Whitacre ’14 has gracefully transitioned to midfield this season.

The Swarthmore women’s lacrosse team entered the 2014 season facing the difficult task of replacing an outstanding senior class, headlined by star midfielder Annalise Penikis ’13. Head coach Karen Borbee implemented a two-pronged approach in an effort to remain successful in the challenging Centennial Conference.

First, she called on several players, including Caroline Murphy ’14 and Lucy Whitacre ’14, to change positions. Borbee has been impressed by the pair’s adjustments. She noted, “A couple of our seniors really have stepped up and played a different role. Caroline and Lucy have both moved from what they are normally doing, on the defensive side for Caroline and on the offensive side for Lucy, to a midfield role this year, because we lost everyone in the midfield.” A career defender, Murphy has adapted impressively to her new position. Her 24 points rank fourth on the team, behind Corinne Sommi ’14 (56), Lizzie Kolln ’16 (35) and Whitacre (29).

Of course, the position changes of Murphy and Whitacre left new holes for Swarthmore to fill. Offensively, Kolln and Emma Sipperly ’14 have provided firepower. On the defensive end, experienced starters Samantha Reichard ’15 and Tazmin Bailiff Curtis ’16 have received help from an unlikely source, Anne Rosenblatt ’14. Rosenblatt joined the team this spring after a stellar field hockey career and has been effective despite her lack of experience, appearing in 11 games so far this season, including three starts. Her impact was not lost on Borbee, who said, “Even Anne, who is a newcomer, has stepped up on defense and filled a hole there.”

The second adjustment the team made this season was to put an increased emphasis on conditioning, both before and during the season. Having lost so many players, Borbee admitted that, “we don’t have a lot of depth,” which has made it especially important for players to be able to remain strong throughout each game.

The importance of these adjustments was on display during last Wednesday’s 11-10 double overtime victory against Muhlenberg. Sommi and Murphy led the charge for the Garnet, accounting for seven of the eleven goals, highlighted by Sommi’s 67th minute golden goal, her fifth of the game.

Knowing that the game was, in Murphy’s words, “a must-win,” the Garnet came out of the gates hot, jumping out to a 7-2 halftime lead highlighted by a buzzer-beating goal from Kolln.

However, instead of continuing to attack aggressively on offense, the Garnet focused on ball control during the second half, a strategy that Borbee, in hindsight, admitted was ill-advised. She said, “We tried to slow our offense down a bit, which really wasn’t what we were supposed to be doing. We really needed to keep going to goal. We were just trying to spread out, but for some reason, it slowed us down.”

As the Mules gradually crept back into the game, finally forcing overtime with a late goal, Swarthmore could have been demoralized. Instead, the team remained resolute and confident, something that Murphy and Sommi both stressed as being key to victory. Sommi said that despite losing the lead, “we maintained confidence throughout the game that we were the better team.” Murphy agreed, adding, “that confidence helped us through the two overtimes and eventually we came out with the win.”

Murphy also believes the team’s conditioning helped them succeed in the game’s closing minutes, saying, “If we hadn’t been in such good shape, we probably would not have made it through such a long game.” Borbee emphasized the improved recovery time that has accompanied the team’s conditioning, noting that the players, “were able to come back after each game better and we were a lot fresher on Wednesday night than we might have been in the past.”

This week will mark the closing chapter in the careers of Swarthmore’s six seniors. Sommi, Murphy, Sipperly, Rosenblatt, Whitacre and goalie Michelle Ammerman ’14 will play their final game on Saturday at rival Haverford College. The group has been a part of some important moments for Swarthmore’s lacrosse program, none bigger than the team’s 2012 playoff victory over Ursinus, a win that as Sommi pointed out, made that team “the first Swarthmore women’s lacrosse team to make it to conference semifinals.” Murphy agreed, saying, “my favorite memory is probably beating Ursinus.… It was a hard fought and exciting game and I was so proud to be a part of that.”

Borbee admits it will be difficult to lose so many important players, especially since there is senior leadership at every position, attack, midfield, defense and goalie. However, she anticipates her returning players to be able to fill in the gaps, just as this year’s seniors did, saying, “We’re going to be a better core of returners as far as balance,” something she hopes will translate into improvements in the team’s record.

While they are sad to leave, the graduating seniors are optimistic about the program’s continued success. Murphy put it best, saying, “I am going to really miss this team and my coaches…. I hope next year the team continues to improve and have success in conference play.”

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