LATHAM — They’re not starting from scratch, but the UAlbany women’s lacrosse team will look very different Sunday afternoon when it opens its season against Stanford than on May 8 when the Great Danes were last on the field in their America East Conference tournament championship game loss to Stony Brook.
UAlbany heads into its 2022 season with four of its top five scorers from last season — Kyla Zapolski, Madison Conway, Kendra Harbinger and Julia Imbo, who combined to total 135 goals and 66 assists in 2021 — having moved on. Zapolski, who scored a team-high 50 goals last season, and Clancy Rheude, the America East Co-Defensive Player of the Year, have both transferred to other programs, with Zapolski at Stony Brook and Rheude at Maryland.
Picking up the pieces was a major focus of the Great Danes’ offseason.
“There was a lot of rebuilding we had to do,” junior midfielder Sarah Falk said Wednesday after the team’s practice at Afrim’s Sports Dome. “Our seniors did a great job of picking that up from where we left off. We have a big freshman class that’s coming in and making a good impact. I think it just had to start from the bottom up, getting to know each other and getting comfortable with each other.”
Though UAlbany returns only three players who started double-digit games last season — midfielder Katie Pascale, and defenders Mackenzie Beam and Eliza MacCaull — the cupboard’s far from bare for head coach Katie Rowan Thomson’s team, which was 11-7 in 2021 and lost to Stony Brook in the America East championship game for the seventh straight season.
Pascale, in particular, was a breakout star in her freshman year, earning America East Rookie of the Year honors after scoring 34 goals and leading the Great Danes with 29 assists and 63 total points.
With what she saw throughout the fall and in the Great Danes’ preseason scrimmage with Dartmouth, Rowan Thomson is confident that her retooled team is ready to roll.
“We’ve had a lot of game experience already,” she said. “The team is ready to go. We have a lot of depth at each position.”
UAlbany will be opening its season Sunday at 1 p.m. against a Stanford team ranked No. 13 nationally.
The Cardinal will be visiting Albany less than 48 hours after playing its season opener Friday at Syracuse.
“We don’t really play a lot of West Coast teams,” Pascale said. “That’ll be a nice change. They’ll be coming off playing a really good Syracuse team. Hopefully, we hit them just as hard as Syracuse does.”
The game is scheduled to be played at UAlbany’s John Fallon Field, though last week’s snowstorm has forced the Great Danes to do their game-week preparations indoors.
“Our field,” MacCaull said, “at this point, is very icy.”
With forecasts for temperatures in the high 40s on Friday and Saturday, Rowan Thomson was optimistic the field would be clear in time for Sunday’s opening draw. However, there are backup plans that could be forced into action, including the potential of playing at Siena’s Hickey Field.
“The plan is still to play at Fallon,” she said.
Temperatures in the mid-20s are predicted for Sunday afternoon, and with Stanford making the cross-country trip from California — though most of the Cardinal’s roster consists of East Coast natives — for Pascale, the colder and icier the conditions, the better it’ll be for UAlbany’s chances.
“We’re all used to it,” Pascale said. “We’re out there almost every day, whether it’s just walking around or playing.”
“I think the conditions, when they’re worse,” Falk said, “will make us better.”
SIENA SQUADS SET TO OPEN
While the UAlbany women kick off their season on Sunday, the Siena men’s and women’s teams will both play their season openers Saturday with road games. The men visit LIU at 11 a.m., and the women face New Hampshire at 1 p.m.
The Siena men are coming off an 0-8 campaign in 2021 while facing a schedule composed entirely of fellow Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference teams. Seven of Siena’s eight losses came by two goals or less, with four one-goal losses — two of which were overtime games.
The two head coaches, Siena’s Liam Gleason and LIU’s Eric Wolf, are both 2007 UAlbany graduates who later spent four years together as assistant coaches under Scott Marr at their alma mater.
The Siena women are coming off an 11-3 season in 2021 that saw the Saints reach the championship game of the MAAC tournament, where they fell to top-seeded Fairfield. New Hampshire went 4-7 last year, failing to qualify for the America East Conference tournament.