March 14, 2014
Swezey Interview | Byner Interview
Saturday marks the beginning of the end.
The Vanderbilt lacrosse team hosts No. 11 Penn State at noon at the VU Lacrosse Complex for the first game of the last American Lacrosse Conference season. The ALC, which Vanderbilt was a charter member of and won the first of two conference championships in 2002, is dissolving after this season.
While the ALC nears the end, the Commodores hope Saturday will be a springboard for the rest of the season. At 3-3, Vanderbilt heads into a four-game homestand eager to make a splash, especially with three of their next four games against ranked foes.
“We’re needing this as our turnaround point,” senior captain Brandi Byner said. “We’re still .500 right now. We don’t want it to be a win, loss, win, loss thing. That’s what (fellow senior captain) Abby Wheeler said to us in practice the other day. We want it to take off from here.”
Vanderbilt plays its first home game since Feb. 15. The Commodores haven’t played in 10 days after wrapping up a three-game road trip.
After a loss at No. 1 North Carolina, VU split a two-game trip out West. Vanderbilt picked up its first win over a ranked opponent in nearly two years in dramatic fashion with a 16-15 overtime victory over Stanford on March 2. Down by five in the second half, the Commodores rallied twice, including in overtime when Abby Wheeler scored two of her career-high seven goals in the final 34 seconds.
Wheeler doubled her season total and leads the team with 14 goals – one ahead of sophomore Mallory Schonk. With 27 points and 14 assists, Schonk leads the team in both categories.
Stringing together consecutive wins would have to wait, though. Despite rallying from a three-goal deficit twice and taking a lead, Vanderbilt surrendered three final goals in a 10-8 loss to Denver on March 5. Coach Cathy Swezey said Byner’s first career goal – the defender had never attempted a shot in her previous 53 games – was the highlight of the game.
Swezey, though, wants her team to show consistency against tougher foes.
“We need to prove that we are a team that competes with ranked programs and we have the ability to beat them,” she said. “We got one monkey off our back beating Stanford but now we have another one. Now people are saying it is a fluke. We’re ready to show we can win two big games.”
Penn State (4-3) has won two straight after a pair of one-goal losses to ranked foes Virginia and James Madison. Last weekend, the Nittany Lions knocked off then-No. 12 Loyola and cruised by Rutgers 19-7 on Wednesday.
Penn State likes to push the tempo with a fast-paced offense and five players with at least 10 goals. Kelly Lechner tied a career-high with five goals against Rutgers and shares the team-lead with Jenna Mosketti with 15 goals this season.
The Nittany Lions are 10-7 all-time against Vanderbilt. Byner, Wheeler and fellow seniors Alyssa Dunlap, Chelsea Lanzoni and Sarah Tustin have yet to beat Penn State. The Nittany Lions own a four-game winning streak in the series. The Commodores lost twice to Penn State last year, as a 16-14 loss in the opening round of the ALC Tournament ended their season.
The last time Vanderbilt won its conference opener was 2010 with a 20-14 win over Penn State.
“Our conference is pretty difficult,” Byner said. “This is going to be a big deal for us. We haven’t beat Penn State since we’ve been here. We came pretty close last year at ALC’s first round but it didn’t swing our way. I think everyone is really pumped (this year).”