Opportunity knocks but once, and Niskayuna graduate Mia Valletta is ready to grab it.
A senior midfielder with the Le Moyne College women’s lacrosse team, Valletta will play in the NCAA Division II semifinals Saturday against top-seeded Adelphi in Garden City.
In three years as a Division I independent program, the Dolphins never played beyond their regular-season schedule. Valletta said she and her five senior teammates set the goal of playing for a national championship at the beginning of the year.
“For our group of seniors, we realized this is our last year and we dropped [to Division II], so this is the opportunity to compete and possibly win a championship,” Valletta said. “I think we’re taking it a little more seriously, even as far as eating right, getting enough sleep, every little thing. It’s all built up to this weekend coming up.”
Of course, taking it seriously has never really been a problem for Valletta.
Her coach, Beth Hewitt, said Valletta’s competitive nature was immediately apparent, and comes through in every aspect of her play and practice.
“No matter what game we’re playing, whether it’s NCAAs or Northeast-10 or a regular-season game, she’s probably the most competitive kid we have on our team,” said Hewitt, who is in her second year with the Dolphins. “In whatever we do, she goes 150 percent all the time.”
She also has used her competitiveness to try to set a standard for the team, leading by example. Hewitt said she’s not the loud one in the locker room, but she leads on the field.
As a freshman, Valletta was coming off the bench as a defensive middie. She scored seven goals and assisted on two in a 12-5 season for the Dolphins. The team went 5-12 her sophomore year, but her numbers blew up to 30 goals and four assists.
Another number that inflated was her fouls (116). She worked with her new coaches in the spring of her junior year to control that aggression.
“In my first few years, I had a lot of fouls on defense, and that’s something my coaches worked with me on, to really lessen those fouls,” Valletta said. “I think I’ve grown in that aspect, last year and this year.”
As a junior, she turned in 24 goals and two assists as the team finished 9-6. She cut her fouls down to 39.
Also, Hewitt wanted to take the athleticism she saw in Valletta and mold it to fit the balanced attack she wanted from the Dolphins.
This season, Valletta has a career-high 34 goals and seven assists. Hewitt said she has become one of the most selfless players on the team.
“I think she’s someone who coaches have always looked at and said, ‘I’m just going to let her play, because she’s the most athletic kid I have and she’s going to find a way to score.’ ” Hewitt said. “But what she’s really worked on over the past two years is understanding the game better and, not only setting herself up, but setting up teammates.
“As a senior, with her production, she’s someone the other teams are matching up on, so she’s worked hard on getting her teammates involved, getting some of the less-high-profile players involved.”
The 2011 squad is 18-2 overall and 11-1 in the Northeast-10. The Dolphins’ two losses were both to Adelphi, once in league play and once in the conference tournament.
They are hoping their two previous games with Adelphi have prepared them for a win Saturday, as Hewitt said, “Third time’s the charm.”
For Valletta and the other five seniors, though, the relevant experience goes back farther.
“We’ve played a lot of top-20 [Division I] teams in the last three years, so we’ve played against some of the top athletes in the country,” Valletta said. “That’s definitely prepared us. We know what we’re going up against when we get to bigger games, like conference championships and national championships.”
Categories: College Sports