By Jim O'Hara
ROME -- As a charter member of the National Women’s Lacrosse League, the Shorter Lady Hawks would love nothing better than to make their final season as a member one to remember.
Looking at what they did last year and what they have heading into the new season, the team’s first as an NCAA Division II program, the Lady Hawks have all the ingredients to do just that.
“The team is very excited about this year,” head coach Brittni Dulaney said as Shorter, which posted a 14-7 overall record a year ago and finished third in the NWLL, heads into its season opener on Friday when the Lady Hawks hit the road to face Division II and Carolinas Conference foe Erskine College in Due West, S.C. “Last year we had wins against teams we weren’t supposed to beat and it showed them they can play against teams like that.”
Going up against NCAA teams is nothing new to the Lady Hawks, who have already gone up against Division II and III teams since the program started three years ago.
“The transition to Division II will be easier for us,” said Dulaney, noting that since the NAIA did not recognize or include lacrosse as a sponsored sport, Shorter helped establish the NWLL. “It was easier to reach out and play the NCAA teams.”
Because of the transition to the DII ranks, this will be Shorter’s last year in NWLL, which includes several NAIA schools, and while the Lady Hawks won’t be able to compete for a Division II championship this season they can play for a conference title.
“They know that with the talent and experience we have,” said Dulaney, adding that the team is looking to become a member of either the Carolinas Conference or a conference of Florida schools that is forming, “they can do want they want to do – win the conference championship.”
That is certainly within reach if the Lady Hawks can combine the return of some offensive standouts from last year with a new-look group of defenders.
The good news for Shorter is that the team will be anchored defensively with the return of sophomore goalie Taylor Moody of Woodstock, who had 10.6 goals against average and 50 saves last season.
“She is solid in the crease and since we’re playing more aggressively this year,” Dulaney said about Moody, “you’ll see her coming out more.”
Freshman Nicole Kube of Brooks, who played at Whitewater, will be ready to step in between the pipes in a reserve role and gain the needed experience when the opportunity arises.
Around the crease, however, are some new faces.
Sophomore transfer Samantha Stolz of Woodstock, who played on Valdosta State’s club team, joins the Lady Hawks’ group of defenders, and is joined by freshmen Emily Fusan, who prepped at Newnan High; Erica Smith of Suwanee (North Gwinnett); and Sarah Curlee of Lilburn (Parkview).
“They’re all new,” said Dulaney, “but they’ve adjusted well and are playing together.”
One adjustment that will help when the Lady Hawks are defending their goal was made during the off-season when Dulaney shifted junior Desiree Watson-Isom of Newnan, who was an All-NWLL First Team pick as a defender last year to midfield this season. She has already proven that she can mix her strong defensive play – she has led the NWLL in caused turnovers the last two years – with solid offensive numbers, tallying 12 goals and three assists and coming up with 71 ground balls.
Joining her to make up a line of defensive-minded middies will be sophomore Bethany Fevella of Peachtree City and freshman Kari Chambers of Fayetteville (Whitewater).
“We have more than one midfield line we’ll be using,” said Dulaney, “but these players will be playing defense a lot.”
Still, the Lady Hawks have experienced middies that are being counted on to make the transition to the offensive mode that produces scoring opportunities.
Returning after earning All-NWLL Second Team honors as midfielders last year includes junior Avery Armstrong of Marietta, who in 2012 scored 50 goals, had 12 assists and picked up 72 ground balls, and sophomore Mia Wiggins of Woodstock, who had 46 goals and 82 ground balls last season.
The midfield scoring punch doesn’t end there as Shorter is blessed with the return of junior Bianca Rojas of Kennesaw, who last season had 33 goals, 13 assists and led team with 86 ground balls, and senior Aiste Pranciliauskaite of Lithuania, who added 19 goals and four assists a year ago.
Sophomore Lauren Persichetti of Lawrenceville, who saw limited playing time last season and is eager to see more action this time around, returns as well while freshman Shelby Beverly of Woodstock rounds out the midfield list.
“With three midfield lines that we can sub in there,” Dulaney said, “and one good thing is that all of them have good stick skills and have the endurance. We’ve got to keep the speed of the game going.”
Speed is something the Lady Hawks have a lot of from those who are back to line up as attackers and who begin the new season having already put up some strong numbers.
Junior Katie Ott of Kennesaw is the tip of Shorter’s offensive spear as she earned All-NWLL First Team recognition in 2012 after scoring 46 goals and recording a team-high 31 assists.
The firepower doesn’t end there as junior Rachel Skinner of Newnan has been moved from the midfield into attack mode after scoring 27 goals and picking up 84 ground balls last year, junior Amber Hicks of Powder Springs returns having turned in eight goals and five assists in 2012; and sophomore Devin Spero of Powder Springs is back after seeing playing time in her first season at Shorter.
Senior Karen Luna of Rome, who sat out in 2012 with knee injury, is slated to return while the Lady Hawks are also looking for scoring support from freshmen Erin Wynn of Snellville (Brookwood) and Ashley Naqui of Peachtree City (Starrs Mill).
“They’ve had a great off-season working on getting stronger and they’ve had good practices,” Dulaney said. “Now is the time of the year when they’re ready to go.”