Commodores open season on Friday at Kennesaw State

Feb. 7, 2014

Game Notes | Swezey Interview

Experience and youth permeate throughout the Vanderbilt lacrosse team.

So does optimism and enthusiasm.

The Commodores, energized after a successful fall and productive preseason, open the 2014 season at 4 p.m. (CST) on Friday at Kennesaw State. After a 2-15 season, 21 letter winners – and eight starters – return and eight highly touted freshmen join together in hopes to make the 19th season in program history a memorable one.

“I think one big standout is that the team has one mission,” coach Cathy Swezey said. “I think in the past maybe we’ve had several. They are all goal oriented. They know what they want and they plan on reaching that level this year. I feel good. I feel optimistic and I know this team has the right work ethic.”

Swezey begins her 17th season with the Commodores. She is the second-longest tenured head coach at Vanderbilt behind only women’s tennis Geoff MacDonald, who is in his 20th season. Swezey holds a 132-131 record over 16 years, which includes a 2004 Final Four appearance, six NCAA Tournament berths and two American Lacrosse Conference regular-season championships.

A roster with 18 freshmen and sophomores might sound like a rebuilding year to some but not to Swezey. She returns 11 upperclassmen, including five seniors – Brandi Byner, Alyssa Dunlap, Chelsea Lanzoni, Sarah Tustin and Abby Wheeler.
Byner, Dunlap and Wheeler are the team’s three captains, with Dunlap returning as a second-year captain.

“Coming out of the fall, one of the biggest things I feel excited about with this team is our leadership,” Swezey said. “Our senior class has done a tremendous job leading this team. Leadership these days extends so far beyond what we do and say on the field. It is what you’re doing off the field, too. That is one of the things I’m learning with the millennial generation. I think our seniors have really figured a lot of that out. They’ve brought the team together. I’m really proud of what they’ve created and the bonds they’ve created on the team.”

In addition, a bulk of her 10 sophomores contributed valuable playing time as freshman. Four played in all 17 games, two – midfielders Alexa Kunowsky and Mallory Schonk – started every game and eight played in at least 11 games.

“In 2012, we graduated 10 seniors, so as freshman there was an enormous amount of pressure on them right off the bat to perform,” Swezey said. “They don’t come back as inexperienced sophomores. They are like experienced juniors. All of them are playing with a different level of confidence.”

The Commodores lost just four starters from last year’s team, including All-ALC honorees Carly Linthicum and Paige Cahill. Five returners started all 17 games in 2013 – Schonk, Kunowsky, Byner, Dunlap and defender Alex Duckenfield.

Senior attacker Abby Wheeler is the team’s top returning scorer after racking up 28 goals last year. In fact, three of the team’s top five scorers are back, along with Schonk (25 goals and 10 assists) and Kunowsky (19 goals).

With Lockwood, a native of Alpharetta, Ga., who will be playing close to her hometown on Friday in Kennesaw, moving from midfield to attack, the Commodores possess a dangerous scoring front. Probable starters Lockwood, Schonk, Wheeler and junior Meggie Ramzy accounted for 66 of the team’s 177 goals last year.

“We have tremendous athleticism, probably the most speed we’ve had on attack, I’m probably dating four, five, six years,” Swezey said. “Our offense is fast and we haven’t seen four attackers with the kind of speed these four have in a long time. It is going to really give other teams problems in the re-defend. I’m pretty excited about that.”

A trio of sophomores, Kunowsky, Kelly Chandler and Ashlin Dolan, bolster the midfield. Kunowsky not only scored 19 goals but also led the team with 31 draw controls – a pivotal part of the offense. Chandler was right behind her with 16 draw controls and 16 goals. Dolan added five goals and four assists. Sophomore Emma Dagres (nine goals, five assists) and heralded freshmen Jill Doherty and Caroline Peters strengthen that group.

Three starters – Byner, Duckenfield and Dunlap – return on defense. All of three started all 17 games last year. Dunlap has started all 48 games of her career and tied Byner, a fellow senior, with 21 caused turnovers last year. The duo also picked up 26 ground balls – tied for third-most on the team but most among returning players. Duckenfield, a junior, collected 20 ground balls and caused 15 turnovers.

Duckenfield most likely won’t be in the starting lineup against Kennesaw as she is returning from an injury. She is expected to return early in the season. Gabby Nesi, Rebecca Ryan and Maggie Forker, among others, are all vying for starting jobs.

“(Byner and Dunlap) are anchors,” Swezey said. “They have been playing and starting since they were sophomores. Alex has been just an awesome addition to that threesome. That core is back from last year. Prior to her injury, (Duckenfield) was playing the best lacrosse she has been playing. I have quite a bit of trust in the three of them and what they can accomplish.”

In goal, Maddie Kratz earns the starting job after serving as a backup the last two years. She has made seven saves in three games the last two years. Backing her up is capable freshman Callahan Kent.

“Maddie is a kid who challenged for the spot last year,” Swezey said. “She has been a great backup and a really supportive backup. I never felt shaky putting her in in the past. Now she has earned the opportunity to start and I think she is going to do a good job.”

Kratz is set to earn her first start on Friday against Kennesaw.

The teams have met once before – last year. Vanderbilt defeated the Owls 22-3 in Kennesaw’s first game in program history. The fledgling program out of the Atlantic Sun Conference went 1-10 in its first year.

The Commodores will open at home against five-time defending Atlantic 10 champ Massachusetts at noon on Sunday at the Vanderbilt Lacrosse Complex. 
With the 2014 season looming, Vanderbilt is ready to turn the page and bounce back from 2013.

“You come off a season like that, we won two games, and everyone is thinking we’re down in the dumps,” Swezey said. “I’m sure every program in the country thought my kids weren’t showing up to practice and all this other stuff. It was anything but that. You can have a two-win season and actually have a good experience. The girls showed up every day ready to win, ready to go hard. So we didn’t go backwards last year as much it might seem that we did. I think it did create a chip. They are athletes. They are competitors. They want to win. They’ve got a chip on their shoulders and they’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”



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