The Elon University women’s lacrosse team’s introduction to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) may look rough on the standings.
But the 1-5 record doesn’t tell the whole story, and junior attacker Sloane Kessler finds a lot to draw from the program’s first year in the conference.
“Last year, in the CAA, we kind of got a taste of it and what it’s like and the competitive nature,” Kessler said. “This year, we know we can compete — we were so close in so many games. It’s really exciting, knowing we’re so close and we’ve been working so hard. We’re excited to finally play somebody else other than ourselves.”
While Elon lost by double-digits to Towson University and James Madison University, the Phoenix found itself in tightly contested games in its other four CAA games last year. The lone conference win was by one goal over the College of William & Mary, and the other three losses were by one goal, two goals and three goals.
All the tight games were high-scoring affairs, and the Phoenix will be led from its offense, with almost every player returning to the team that scored 9.56 goals per game last season.
“Our team keeps building as other teams are losing seniors,” said sophomore attacker Stephanie Asher. “We didn’t have any last year, and I think we’re making rapid improvements, which other teams may not be.”
Asher led the charge, scoring 44 goals to rank 52nd nationally. The average of 2.75 goals per game led the CAA and was 34th in the nation. Her aggressive style of play matches what the team wants to be doing consistently, and what Kessler has seen in practices so far.
“There’s always been a sense of taking risks and having fun,” Kessler said. “Because the second we start to tense up, you start to forget all the things you’ve been doing. When we talk to each other, that’s when we are loose and getting going.”
In net, junior goalie Rachel Ramirez has started all 33 games for the Phoenix in its two years and was picked as the lone goalie on the Preseason All-CAA team.
Ramirez’s 8.94 saves per game was 13th in the nation, ranking 27th in the nation with 143 saves.
Kessler says Ramirez has been “outstanding” during practices this season, and the goalie will need to play at a high-level again this season if the Phoenix wants to top its predicted fifth-place finish in the CAA.
“We rely on Rachel to be our leader and make some explosive plays and saves,” said head coach Josh Hexter. “She’s a phenomenal athlete, and when she can be in the moment and play within herself, she’s not just one of the best goalies in the CAA. She’s one of the best in the country.”
Ramirez is backed up by sophomore goalie Tori Cipollone, one of 15 sophomores for Elon. The Phoenix added one transfer sophomore and four freshmen to the team for the season as the roster fills out with players from every class for the first time.
“The freshmen are really getting into the mix and accommodating our transfer from UMass, [sophomore midfielder] Maeve Cowley,” Kessler said. “She’s definitely stepped in to play pretty quick, too.”
Elon will face Atlantic Coast Conference schools Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, continuing the games against local powerhouses in women’s lacrosse, as both teams are currently ranked in the top-five of the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association poll.
But new opponents on the schedule this season include San Diego State University, Vanderbilt University and the State University of New York at Albany, which is exactly what Hexter wants.
“We want to schedule the best possible teams we can,” Hexter said. “That’s how you’re going to build your program into a championship program. We do play some teams close by because I think you should do that no matter what, as it builds good rivalries.”
“But we will always try to play the best competition that we can, and a team like Vanderbilt is perfect. We do cross over with them in recruiting quite a bit, and it’s good to play schools that have a really great academic reputation as well.”
While Elon played well in nonconference play last season, going 7-3, it will be the conference games that matter. And the biggest difference that Asher sees is in the team’s temperament.
“I think we all have a better mentality going into this season,” Asher said. “We’re believing in ourselves a lot more. I think one of our biggest problems last year was thinking, ‘Oh, we’re in our second season. We shouldn’t be this good.’
“We didn’t really play to our full potential. This year, we know how good we are, and we’re going to play like that, too.”