After an impressive 16-3 regular season last spring, the Stanford women’s lacrosse team looks to build off its recent success to further establish the Cardinal as a national force in 2012.
The Card finished the 2011 season undefeated at home and in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), capturing its seventh straight conference championship. It went on to earn its second consecutive berth to the NCAA Tournament before a loss in the first round to Florida.
This year, expectations remain high for the No. 6 Cardinal, despite the graduation of the 2011 team’s four leading scorers: first-team All-American Leslie Foard, third-team All-American Lauren Schmidt, All-MPSF Sarah Flynn and All-MPSF Karen Nesbitt. With many key starters returning, the holes in the roster should not devastate the team, and head coach Amy Bokker noted that new leaders have already stepped up to the plate.
“I’m really excited about our team and the commitment level they put into preseason,” she said. “We’ve had good leadership throughout the whole preseason from our seniors Catherine Swanson, Maria Fortino and Emilie and Anna Boeri.”
Catherine Swanson, who earned All-MPSF honors last season, is joined by returning starters sophomore Nina Swanson and junior Liz Adam in the backfield. Sophomores Anna Kim and Rachel Ozer both started as freshmen and will provide the team with valuable offensive experience. Kim, the reigning MPSF Newcomer of the Year, should help offset the inexperience of the Cardinal’s midfield.
“You’ll see a lot of new midfielders in the mix, [but] what’s nice about our team is that we run midfield lines,” Bokker said. “These players still have experience because they ran on lines with those players that graduated.”
Another relatively new face is sophomore Lyndsey Muñoz, the Cardinal’s new starting goalkeeper. Muñoz replaces Annie Read, who graduated after starting in goal the past three years. Muñoz did receive some playing time last season and she, along with Swanson and Adam, should give the team a great defensive advantage.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of excitement coming from the goal cage. [Muñoz] is a dynamic, athletic player,” Bokker said. “She actually made an appearance in our MPSF championship game last year and ultimately was named MVP, so she does have some experience under her belt. She’s really confident–she has a ton of respect from her teammates because of her commitment to lacrosse and our program, so we’re really excited to see the year that she has.”
The Cardinal will have to prove itself early and often, as it faces several elite non-conference opponents, including five top-20 teams in its first five games. The tough schedule opens at home Friday against last year’s NCAA champion, No. 1 Northwestern. After Northwestern, the Cardinal will face No. 18 Ohio State, No. 20 Notre Dame, No. 9 James Madison and No. 19 Vanderbilt. Every one of the games against the top opponents will take place at Stanford in Cagan Stadium, except for Notre Dame, and the home field advantage could be a difference-maker in close games. The Cardinal will then make its way east to face No. 16 Albany and Harvard, two other teams consistently ranked in the top 20.
“I think it’ll be a good measure of where we are right away,” Bokker said. “We have a great tradition in the MPSF of being successful, and I expect this team to uphold that same standard, but we’re aiming to be able to compete against the top five in the country every day when we go out on the field, so that’s where we want to be.”
The tough competition will no doubt help the Cardinal in its campaign for an eighth straight conference title. After going undefeated in the MPSF last season and regularly beating opponents by at least five goals, this year’s Cardinal squad has already been predicted to win the conference once again. Stanford will have a new opponent in San Diego State, which just started their program, and as the popularity of the sport travels west, Stanford will most likely face more regional programs.
“Colorado announced last week that they’re adding [a program], which is very exciting for our conference,” she said. “Obviously we have San Diego State, who is new this year, and then USC will be competing with us next year. So we’re moving right along on the West Coast, and we want to make sure not only that Stanford is on the map, but that it stays on the map.”
“We look at each year itself and see how we can build on our tradition of success from last year,” she added. “We’re going to play probably a little bit of a different style because of what we lost to graduation, but I’m looking forward to our team getting better in each and every game.”
The Cardinal kicks off its 2012 season this Friday against No. 1 Northwestern at 7 p.m. at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.