KEENE, N.H. 5/3/11 – The eight seniors on this year’s Keene State women’s lacrosse team have plenty to be proud about. Compiling a combined 49-26 overall record and an impressive 19-5 mark in the Little East during their tenure, not to mention a first-ever conference championship in 2009 and last year’s ECAC title, they have taken the program to the next level.
Despite their lofty accomplishments, the seniors have some unfinished business. Before putting their sticks down, they want to net one more LEC championship.
“They know this is their last hurrah,” said Keene State Coach Katie Arsenault. “I’m sure they will be very disappointed if they don’t win the championship as seniors.”
As they prepare for Thursday’s LEC tournament semifinal game against either Southern Maine or UMass-Dartmouth, the seniors don’t want to relive last year’s disappointment. The top seed in the 2010 tournament, the Owls were 10-8 upset victims to fifth-seed Southern Maine. Almost a year to the day, the Owls will get a chance for redemption. “We definitely learned from last year’s experience,” said Jill Kirk. “We expected to win and were a little too cocky.”
“This time we’re not looking ahead,” said Shannon Palumbo. “We’re just thinking about what we have to do to beat either Southern Maine or UMass-Dartmouth.”
The Keene State women’s lacrosse program has come a long way since becoming a varsity sport in 1998, when the bulk of the roster consisted of players from other Owl teams or athletes trying the sport for the first time. The Owls originally played in the New England Women’s Lacrosse Alliance (NEWLA) and moved to the LEC in 2002 when the conference began to sponsor the sport. That same year marked the arrival of record-setting attacker Michelle Mason, who not only led the Owls to the 2004 ECAC championship, but later served as the team's coach, recruiting the eight seniors on this year’s team.
Arsenault will be hard-pressed to replace her senior class. Emily Persano, Annie Brown, and Palumbo have been defensive stalwarts, while Missy Luzzi, Jenny Lillis, and Jamie Albert have shone at midfield. A two-time All-LEC pick, Albert holds the team record for goals in a game (10) and is third in goals (159) and fifth in points (217) on KSC’s career list.
Jill Kirk and Lauren Sawyer have been dominating performers up front. Kirk enters Thursday’s LEC tournament game second and fifth all-time in goals (178) and (243) points, respectively. Sawyer has become an assists machine, holding game (10), season (60), and career (193) marks. Last week, she surpassed Mason to become the school’s career point leader with 295 “My role on the team plays to my strength as a passer,” said Sawyer. “I’m like the point guard for the lacrosse team.”
Sawyer runs an Owl offense that leads the LEC in goals (13.38), assists (6.75), and points (20.12) per game. “We know each other’s style of play,” said Lillis. “We know when someone is going to make a cut to the goal before it happens.”
In order to win the championship, Keene State will not only need its seniors to play well, but embrace their roles as leaders. “Having no seniors really hurt us last year,” said Kirk. “In the back of our minds, we always knew we had another year. This season is a different story because we know this is our last time playing together.”
“This is our last shot to go out as champions,” said Palumbo. “When we were sophomores, our seniors went out on a high note, winning the Little East tournament. We want to experience the same thrill.”