Lacrosse, Sports, Spring

Lacrosse Eyeing Third Straight Championship Appearance Behind Veteran Squad

Looking at the 2019 season, Boston College lacrosse is easy to analyze: The Eagles are going to be great. Not only do they return the best player in the country last season, Tewaaraton Award winner Sam Apuzzo, but they’re also going to get a full season from Kenzie Kent—a player who, in her limited appearances with BC the last three years, proved she was nothing short of similarly brilliant with the ball in her stick. Head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein has nine returning starters, a strong recruiting class, and back-to-back national championship appearances to work with.

The only question, though, is if this year—with arguably the greatest senior class in program history—is the year the team finally etches its name among the likes of James Madison and Maryland as national champions. The last two years have ended on the last possible day for BC, with losses to the Terrapins and Dukes in consecutive seasons. Lacrosse is a sport that has historically featured dominant runs from teams, as there’s been countless examples of three or more appearances in the title games in successive years, and only time will tell if the Eagles can finally get over the hump—but it sure seems like they will.

Not only is BC the No. 1 team in the preseason poll, but it’s also been picked by coaches to win the ACC. It has five All-ACC selections, is hosting the conference tournament at the end of April, and has won its last 19 regular season games. Walker-Weinstein and her team’s response to this, though, is exactly what you might expect from a seasoned title contender.

“We are working really actively to not pay attention to any of the preseason stuff because those are just estimations from people,” the seventh-year head coach said. “This preseason has been great. We’re just focusing on one practice at a time, one drill at a time, one skill at a time, and I think that’s really the proper mindset.”

With that in mind, consider this: The Eagles finished last season ranked 12th in scoring offense and tied for 13th in scoring defense, and there’s no reason why either of those marks shouldn’t be improved on in 2019. The roster that Walker-Weinstein and assistant coach Jennifer Kent—a defensive specialist—can work with is astounding.

Up top, the group is headlined by Apuzzo and Kent, a duo that is sure to cause headaches for opposing coaches to gameplan for. Kent’s addition alleviates the loss of Tess Chandler and Kaileen Hart, two consistent contributors. Throw in the fact that Apuzzo, who has rewritten the school’s record books, is back for her final season, and the attack is in good shape.

Apuzzo became the first player in program history to win the sport’s most prestigious award, breaking her own single-season program records in goals (88), total points (129), and draw controls (163). Kent, who has played just 30 games with the program after enjoying a prolific career with the women’s hockey team, somehow ranks sixth in school history in assists (58). She opted to sit out last year to save herself for one final year of eligibility, but if you take her 2017 numbers—an absurd 39 goals and 38 assists in 12 games—and forecast them over a whole season, she’d surpass 150 points with ease.

Walker-Weinstein is quick to point out that the unit is deeper than the two most well-known players on the team, however. Cara Urbank (27 goals, 8 assists in 2018), Jordan Lappin (6 goals, 1 assist), and freshman Jenn Medjid are three players that the coach singled out to watch for a team that averaged nearly 16 goals per game last season.

“We have a lot of depth in our attack which is so fun,” she said. “It’s not just about Sam and Kenzie, it’s about this dynamic group of attacking players who are really developing some chemistry and working selflessly to become a unit.”

The middle of the field is similarly strong, as it returns all four starters from last year’s National Championship Game. The obvious name to gravitate toward is senior Dempsey Arsenault, who will be polishing off a prolific career as the position group’s anchor. Arsenault was nominated for the Tewaaraton Award as well after leading her team with 59 ground balls and chipping in her fair share of points—she finished with 64 goals and 39 assists.

Arsenault is joined by familiar faces with a trio of classmates in Taylor Walker, Brooke Troy, and Hannah Hyatt. The midfield has plenty of depth, too, with several players figuring to make an impact in the early going. Walker and Sheila Rietano have both impressed in preseason, with the latter coming off the bench and playing in 22 games last season.

“Taylor Walker is doing so well right now. She’s so consistent on both ends and is turning into a good leader,” Walker-Weinstein said. “Sheila Rietano also stepped into a brand new role and has been doing really great.”

Kent’s defensive prowess as a coach will likely be on display again, even with the loss of three-year starter Carly Bell. The group that is protecting All-ACC goaltender Lauren Daly includes experienced seniors Christina Walsh and Elizabeth Miller, who’ve combined for 84 starts over the last two years. Who steps in to fill Bell’s place will likely be determined as the year goes on, but the team again has the depth—a phrase repeated often in reference to this Eagles team—to post another strong showing in the national scoring rankings.

“The defense, you know, has always been the strength of the BC team,” Walker-Weinstein said. “They play with so much passion and so much IQ that they’ve always been dynamic for us.”

All things considered, the Eagles have every reason to be the early favorite for their first national championship in program history—there’s even historical precedence on their side. Maryland, the best team in history with 13 titles, claimed its first in 1986 after losing back-to-back championship games. The Terrapins repeated that feat in 1992, too, bouncing back from consecutive losses.

Still, it’s alright to be wary. Maryland aside, two other teams—Virginia and Georgetown—have lost two title games in a row, in 1998-99 and 2001-02, respectively. Neither made it back for another chance. Expecting consistent dominance from an up-and-coming program can be a tough thing to buy into. When you look at the roster that Walker-Weinstein has assembled, though, it’s not a big leap to suggest that on May 24 in Baltimore, Md., the Eagles will be back competing for that elusive first crown.

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

February 7, 2019