GVSU lacrosse to face tough early-season schedule
Lakers open season with five nationally ranked teams
GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Erika Neuman
Despite having never lost a game in GLIAC play, and owning all of the conference's regular season and tournament titles, the Grand Valley State lacrosse team is still seeking its first NCAA Division II tournament appearance.
The question of if Lakers are ready to perform at an elite level has stayed in the minds of GVSU players and coaches through the offseason. The Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association tabbed the Lakers as the No. 15 team in the nation, and they're ready to build on early high hopes.
“We just hang our hat on ‘if we do what we need to do, we can beat any team in the country,'” said GVSU head coach Alicia Groveston.
This year, the Lakers are eyeing their first NCAA postseason berth in program history, and the optimism isn't lacking.
“I think we know what we’re getting into with Division II bracketing. There aren’t many spots available, but it’s growing this year to 12 teams from eight. Knowing that it’s expanding gives us some hope," Groveston said. "It is very hard to win your conference and to have a .750 win percentage and be done as of the first weekend in May, but at the same time we realize that we do need to prove that we belong there.”
Erika Neuman, reigning All-American and team captain, noted that the Lakers take the snubs as learning experiences, using them as extra motivation.
"We want to make it to the tournament this year and I think this year we have a better chance at making it," Neuman said.
To kick off the season, the Lakers will square off with five consecutive nationally ranked opponents: No. 5 Florida Southern, reigning national champion No. 1 Adelphi, No. 3 Lindenwood, No. 18 Bentley and No. 2 Le Moyne.
Both Neuman and Groveston emphasized the importance of getting off on the right foot against these tough teams.
“I think the main thing with our first couple games is that we need to show up and play our game and not worry about the other teams," Neuman said. "We need to show that we’re good enough to play with these teams."
“It’s trial by fire, but we don’t really have a choice because our conference season starts the second-to-last weekend in March. We had to pick five really good teams to set us up for success,” Groveston said. “We want to play opponents that will push us toward competitive greatness. We want to see where we’re at. We could realistically walk away 0-5 or 5-0.”
Running the table on the powerhouse programs that loom on the docket is feasible, as GVSU is stacked with talent, according to senior attack Carolyn Kraus.
“We definitely have a talented team. It’s unreal," she said. "Erika Neumen was lights out last year and we expect that again. We have a sophomore, Meghan Datema, who’s going to make a major impact this year. Sarah Zwilsky has been solid for us in cage and we expect her to be even better this year."
Neumen led the Lakers with 75 goals and 16 assists in 2015. Junior Ryan Skomial posted 25 goals and 28 assists, but the next five Laker leaders in points graduated following last season. GVSU has depth and talent, but will be especially young among the defensive ranks.
Neumen, Kraus, Kira Dosenberry and Ashley Bailey were all named captains for the 2016 campaign.
“Our No. 1 expectation is that we perform at the highest level we can and we haven’t done that in the past few years," Groveston said. "We need to be consistent and perform for a full 60 minutes."
The Lakers are again aiming to win their conference, but above all, they yearn to clinch a spot in the national tournament and compete for a national championship.
The Lakers kick off the back-breaking schedule on Feb. 18 when they take on the No. 5 Florida Southern Moccasins in Lakeland, Florida.