By Jim O'Hara
ROME -- They are all determined to leave the league they helped form at the top – and the Shorter women's lacrosse team, despite being the midst of a long and grueling series of road games, is having an enjoyable time doing it.
"We're having a lot of fun. Our morale is very high right now," head coach Brittni Dulaney said as the Lady Hawks, who are in their first year of transition as an NCAA Division II program, begin their stretch drive of their final season as a member of the National Women's Lacrosse League.
The upbeat attitude of the Lady Hawks is backed up by a 7-3 overall record, a 2-0 mark in the NWLL's Appalachian Athletic Conference South Region and a No. 2 ranking in the NWLL National Coaches' Poll trailing top-ranked Savannah College of Art and Design, which Shorter defeated earlier this season.
"We're definitely proving ourselves," said Dulaney, who points out that the Lady Hawks – due to its transition status Shorter will not play in the league tournament – clearly understand that they still have some work to do to say farewell to the NWLL as its top team.
Keeping the goal alive, however, will have to be accomplished away from Rome as the Lady Hawks resume what has been a rare string of seven straight road games this weekend when Shorter heads to Danville, Ky., on Sunday to face Centre in a non-league game.
Three days later the team makes a shorter trip on March 27 with a visit to Reinhardt in Waleska, then closes out their lengthy travel series in the first week of April in a pair of key NWLL region showdowns – facing Emmanuel in Warm Springs on April 2 and heading to Savannah on April 7 for a showdown with SCAD in a contest that determine who is No. 1 in the nation.
"We've had some exceptionally good home schedules over the last two years. This year it caught up with us," Dulaney said about the seven consecutive road games Shorter, which closes out the regular season on their home turf at Brady Field on April 9 hosting Young Harris, has had to deal with. "But the girls have done a great job adjusting to the travel."
"This just shows how the girls are driven," the coach said, "even though they don't see their home fans – we want to do the best we can on the road."
Balance has been the common factor that has put the Lady Hawks in position to attain their top-ranked objective, especially on the offensive side of the field.
"That's what makes us do so well offensively," Dulaney explained. "Because we're so balanced, no team we play can face-guard one of our players. If they do, we have others we can go to."
Junior Avery Armstrong is leading the attack having scored a team-high 25 goals and leads the Lady Hawks having unleashed 49 shots. But she is far from being the only weapon as sophomore Mia Wiggins has 17 goals while juniors Rachel Skinner and Bianca Rojas have 15 each, and freshman Shelby Beverly has added 12 more.
While Shorter has formed a balanced scoring scheme, the Lady Hawks have developed a suffocating defensive squad that is anchored by junior goalie Taylor Moody, who recorded 75 saves between the pipes, has a 47.8 save percentage and a 9.06 goals against mark.
"She is really playing aggressive and playing out of the crease when she has to," Dulaney said of Moody, "and in addition to what she has been doing, I really believe we probably have one of the best defenses in the NWLL and in Division II."
"They work so well together," said Dulaney.
Working well from end-line to end-line will be of major importance from here on out for the Lady Hawks, especially when they end the road run on SCAD's home field in Savannah.
"We want to prove we're the No. 1 team at the end of the year," Dulaney said, "but to do that we have to keep playing hard – and have fun."