By Dalton Ray–
Coming off a post-season loss to Northwestern, women’s lacrosse steps back onto the field with new faces in the lineup. After a program-best 7-0 start last year, Louisville ended on a five-game losing streak. The Cards couldn’t keep the ship afloat after losing goalkeeper Brittany Read to an ACL injury, going 0-4 without her.
Starting the year ranked No. 18, the 2017 team is headlined by seniors Heidi Smith, Stephanie McNamara and Hannah Koloski.
Sophomores Meghan Siverson and McKayla Conti will make their name known. Siverson is set to fill the shoes of Kaylin Morissette, the all-conference select that tallied 167 goals as a Cardinal. Morissette is U of L’s all-time draw control leader, but coach Kellie Young thinks Siverson will come along in time.
“(Siverson’s) chasing down of ground balls and power getting down field is as good as Kay’s is. (Siverson) is also a little more gung-ho to put the ball in the back of the net,” Young said. “Kay was phenomenal at the draw and finishing but didn’t like the pressure of scoring. Meghan is eager to do both.”
In her first career start, Siverson scored five goals and won nine draw controls.
The other sophomore, Conti, scored six goals in her first career start in the 19-8 win over Vermont. When a team loses players like Morissette and Courtnee Daley, it’s easy to look for ‘the next Kaylin Morissette’ or ‘the next Courtnee Daley’, but Young doesn’t see it that way.
“McKayla Conti is the next McKayla Conti,” Young said.
Entering the year as the ninth all-time goal scorer, Koloski recorded her 101st career goal in the season opener. With lighting fast speed, Koloski is the back-to-back leading scorer for the Cardinals.
Junior Madison Hoover scored 10 goals last season and will be expected to bump up her production. Sophomore Elise Koehl is an inexperienced yet nimble player that Young expects to make an impact.
Juniors Julia Wood and Jillian Balog return as the leader scorers in the midfield. Smith will pick up her scoring in her final season, already recording half of the goals she made last year, three, in the season opener.
Junior Taylor Webster is back after starting 18 games and sets the tone for the defensive with her athletism and aggressiveness.
All-ACC preseason first team select, McNamara is one of the most decorated players on the team. With 57 career starts, McNamara has caused 43 turnovers in three years.
Junior Emily Howell has started all 37 games as a Cardinal and a player that Young said is “one of the most impactful players” she has had at U of L.
Perhaps the most important returning players is Read. Before her injury, the Cards were 12-2 and Read was top 10 in the nation in save percentage. Louisville went from allowing 6.5 goals per game during the 14 games Read started to letting up 12.5 in the four games without her.
“Having (Read) back in the cage is going to be huge for us. She sees the ball like most keepers don’t and she’s a real rock for us,” Young said.
Young is adding a twist to the offense this year, looking to get off-ball players cutting and involved in the offense, making their attack much more dangerous. Once the offense begins to click, Louisville will be a handful to deal with.
“Our attack is something we’re adjusting, and it’s not because something is off, it’s just new. We were such a one-on-one team last year … it was easy to scout that,” Young said. “Now we’re starting to season being able to cut off ball and it’s going to be really interesting to see who will develop and come out of their shell to take advantage.”
Schedule-wise, U of L has a rough road ahead. With seven of the top 20 teams lined up, Louisville hopes the toughness of the regular season pays off for the postseason.
The Cardinals retain enough players to have strong leadership along with a breath of fresh air with next players beginning their imprint on the program. Three straight years in the NCAA Tournament, Louisville hopes the new wrinkles in their game style will propel them further than ever before.
2017 will be a milestone year for Young, as she approaches her 150th career win as a coach and 100th win at U of L.
Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal