LOUDONVILLE — One more victory earns the Siena College women’s lacrosse team a trip to this year’s MAAC tournament championship game and nets the Saints a new program-best total for wins in a season.
That’s impressive stuff for a program that has already guaranteed itself just its third winning season in 23 years of varsity play.
What’s more impressive?
The Saints went 5-12 a season ago . . . and are heading into Thursday’s 6 p.m. semifinal against Monmouth at Fairfield with pretty much the same roster they boasted last year, minus their top scorer who left the program after the 2018 season.
So why is this team so much better than last year? Are these Saints more talented?
“No. I don’t think the talent has changed,” said Siena’s second-year head coach Abby Rehfuss, who took over the Saints after they won one game in 2017. “I think the attitudes have changed.”
That’s a familiar way for programs to explain an unexpected turnaround from one season to the next, regardless of sport or level. Liking each other and buying in are often cited as reasons for improvement — and these Saints are no different in that regard.
“Everyone,” Siena sophomore Kerry Gerety said, “just loves being around each other.”
What’s different about these Saints, though, is that — well — it’s difficult not to believe them. They’re on the verge of achieving a program-best season with a 20-deep roster that includes a dozen players with at least two more seasons of remaining playing eligibility. The team added several solid players to its mix for this season, but no spectacular standouts solely responsible for the change in the team’s level of success were brought in last offseason.
So, besides the natural development of players on Siena’s roster, what’s changed?
“The mindset has really controlled a lot of our success this year because the talent is the same. The roster is pretty much the same,” Rehfuss said. “We lost our top scorer [Alexis Deaken who transferred to Jacksonville] from last year, and we’ve thrived in her absence. She was a great player, but I think right now you’re just seeing such good team lacrosse.”
For most of senior Sammy Horton’s career, that was lacking at Siena. The team went 13-37 in her first three seasons with the Saints, and now Horton — who was named Wednesday as the MAAC's top goalie for 2019 — is a win away from playing for the program’s first-ever MAAC championship.
“Building this program up has just been so cool,” said Horton, whose program reached its only MAAC final in 2005. “It’s been a really amazing experience to watch it grow.”
Before Siena won its quarterfinal last weekend against Canisius, the Saints hadn’t won a playoff game since 2005 — and that 2005 win was their program’s lone postseason victory. Siena hasn’t played in a MAAC semifinal since 2013, and none of the team’s current players had competed in a MAAC tournament game until they beat Canisius.
“It’s really exciting going into this, knowing that it’s all new for all of us,” Gerety said. “So we all get to experience it together and at the same time.”
Siena (No. 3, 11-6) topped Monmouth (No. 2, 12-5) during the regular season, and the teams finished as part of a three-way tie for second place. Rehfuss said her group is ready for its rematch with Monmouth, and continues to carry a quiet confidence within itself.
“I’m not really even sure where that originates from, given that we haven’t been in postseason play before,” Rehfuss said, “but everybody is handling it like veterans right now.”
In a year — perhaps, two — the Saints will feature a veteran roster. This year’s team only has three seniors, and Rehfuss expects to bring into the program a recruiting class of more than 10 players for next season.
The future is bright for the Saints, but they’re still not done with their present.
“We’re still getting better every single day,” Gerety said.