April 30, 2014
Game Notes | Tournament Central | Swezey Interview | Byner Interview | Dunlap and Wheeler Interview
Twelve years ago, Vanderbilt opened the first American Lacrosse Conference season in grand fashion — as regular-season champs.
The Commodores hope they close out the league’s final season with a long weekend in the Windy City.
Vanderbilt enters the last ALC Tournament as the No. 6 seed and opens against No. 3 seed, defending tournament champ and host Northwestern at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday at Lakeside Field in Evanston, Ill., just outside of Chicago. All six games in the seven-team tournament, which runs Thursday through Sunday, can be watched on the Big Ten Digital Network.
“There is a little motivation in the fact this is the last time the ALC Tournament will exist,” coach Cathy Swezey said. “Northwestern and Vanderbilt will no longer be playing each other (on a yearly basis). I feel like this is our last shot to make something big against a great team.
“Our record is one side of the story but we really do feel we can do well in this tournament. We are not counting ourselves out.”
After 13 seasons, the ALC is dissolving as next year Michigan, Northwestern, Ohio State and Penn State head to the Big Ten, which is adding lacrosse. Johns Hopkins is becoming independent and Florida and Vanderbilt are still looking for conference homes.
The final ALC Tournament figures to be nothing short of challenging with five teams ranked in the top 10 in the country. Northwestern is ranked fifth nationally and is no stranger to making deep runs in the conference tournament. The Wildcats (10-5) have reached the championship game all seven years of the tournament’s existence, winning the championship six times.
Vanderbilt (5-11) is trying to win a game in the ALC Tournament for the first time since 2010. That year the Commodores reached the championship game before falling to Northwestern. Three weeks ago, Northwestern edged Vanderbilt 15-9 for its 13th straight win over the Commodores. Vanderbilt is 3-13 against the Wildcats, last winning in 2004.
“I have a great amount of respect for (Northwestern coach) Kelly (Amonte Hiller) and this program and they’re going to have a great game plan and come out ready to go,” Swezey said. “But we’re encouraged because we feel like we’re getting a lot of injured kids back. Our kids are feeling pretty motivated and ready to go. They know right now our record doesn’t mean anything anymore. We’re going into the tournament 0-0 and just ready to try to win some games.”
When Vanderbilt plays Northwestern it will be its 12th game against a team ranked in the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association weekly poll: Florida (3), North Carolina (4), Northwestern (5), Penn State (7), Johns Hopkins (8), Ohio State (10), Massachusetts (13), Penn (15), Louisville (17), Stanford (18) and Denver (20).
To put that in perspective, only five of Vanderbilt’s 16 regular-season foes this year were unranked. Of the top 20 teams in the country, the Commodores have played more than half of them. Twice this season, Vanderbilt received votes in the IWLCA poll.
The ALC Tournament doesn’t offer a reprieve. Five teams — Florida, Northwestern, Penn State, Johns Hopkins and Ohio State — are ranked in the top 10 in the country.
The Commodores snapped a 15-game losing streak against ranked foes with a 15-14 win over then-No. 13 Stanford on March 2. They also handed then-No. 9 Johns Hopkins its first loss of the season. It was VU’s first win over a top 10 team since defeating Duke 7-5 in the 2012 season opener.
Thanks to the tough strength of schedule, Vanderbilt has earned re¬spect in the RPI rankings. The Commodores are currently ranked 37th but were as high as No. 32 earlier in the season.
Spearheading the Vanderbilt offense is a three-pronged attack – senior attacker Abby Wheeler, sophomore midfielder Kelly Chandler and sophomore attacker Mallory Schonk.
The trio has combined for 89 goals – nearly half of the team’s 179. Wheeler leads the team with 38 goals. Chandler is right behind with 26 and Schonk has 25 goals in addition to a team-high 26 assists. Between them, they have 26 multi-goal games this season.
Chandler, who is expected to return against Northwestern after missing the past two games with a leg injury, scored a career-high five against Louisville on March 19.
Schonk tied a career high with four goals against UMass in the sec¬ond game of the season on Feb. 9. She has heated up lately with seven goals in the past three games.
Wheeler has scored four goals or more five times this season. She notched a career-high seven goals, including two in the final 35 seconds of overtime, in a win against Stanford on March 2. The seven goals were the most for VU this season and second-most in program history.
Freshmen and sophomores account for 17 of the team’s 28 players, but the Commodores aren’t low on experience. They returned 20 lettermen and 14 played in at least 11 games in 2013. Five (Mallory Schonk, Alexa Kunowsky, Brandi Byner, Alyssa Dunlap and Alex Duckenfield) started all 17 games.
In addition, three of last year’s top scorers returned, including Abby Wheeler (28 goals), Schonk (25 goals and 10 assists) and Kunowsky (19 goals). Wheeler was tabbed a preseason ALC player to watch.
Vanderbilt’s eight freshmen were ranked as the eighth-best recruiting class in 2013, according to Inside Lacrosse. Midfielders Caroline Peters and Jill Doherty were Top 50 recruits by ESPNHS. Identical twins Shelby and Sydney Trentzsch played together for Sky Walkers Club. Doherty, Callan Kent and Abby Quirk played together for Mass Elite Lacrosse. Eliza Clemens and MacKenzie Lange were teammates with TLC Lacrosse in Maryland.
All eight have played, with five appearing in at least 10 games. Doherty has played in all 16 games and made 13 starts. The midfielder leads all VU freshman in goals, assists, points, ground balls, draw controls and caused turnovers. Peters has played in 16 games and Trentzsch has played in all but one. Both are tied for the second-most goals among VU freshmen with seven. Lange has played in 13 games. Kent has made two starts in goal, including making three saves in Vanderbilt’s big win over then-No. 9 Johns Hopkins on March 29.
Jill Doherty has provided a huge lift in her first collegiate season. The freshman midfielder from Reading, Mass., leads all VU rookies in all offensive and defensive categories.
In 13 starts, she has 15 goals, 16 assists, 31 points, 26 draw controls, 16 ground balls and 16 caused turnovers. She has notched six multi-goal games and on five occassions she has dished out two or more assists in a game. Against Michigan in the final regular-season game on April 19, she tied a career high with three assists. One game before, she matched a personal-best with three goals against Jacksonville.
The senior captain trifecta of Brandi Byner, Alyssa Dunlap and Abby Wheeler has been an integral part of the 2014 season. Not only have the three provided tremendous leadership, but the close friends have been extremely productive on the team.
Wheeler, an attacker from Charlottesville, Va., leads the team with 38 goals in addition to seven assists. Byner, a defender from Franklin, Tenn., leads the team and ranks third in the conference with 22 caused turnovers. She also ranks second with 28 ground balls. Dunlap, a defender from Villanova, Pa., is second on the team with 30 draw controls. She consistently fills up the box score as she also has 27 ground balls and 15 caused turnovers.
Combined the trio has made 160 starts in their four years. All three have started all 16 games this season. Dunlap has started all 64 games of her career, Byner has made 61 starts and Wheeler has started 35.
FOUR EARN WEEKLY HONORS
Four Commodores have earned weekly accolades from the ALC office this season — the most in one year for VU since 2010. Mallory Schonk was named the offensive player of the week the first week of the season. Jill Doherty collected rookie of the week honors the fol¬lowing week. In March, Abby Wheeler was named offensive player of the week after she scored a career-high seven goals against Stanford. Kelly Chandler collected the same honor in April.
DUNLAP CLIMBS UP CHARTS
Alyssa Dunlap has been playing some of her best defense the last few weeks. The senior, who has started all 64 games of her career, is also moving up the VU career charts. With 27 ground balls this year she now has 116 in her career to tie Michelle Allen for seventh-most. Dunlap also has 65 draw controls, which is eighth-most at VU. She is five ahead of sophomore Kelly Chandler, who ranks ninth.