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‘We’re ready to rock and roll’: Navy women’s lacrosse anxious to compete after 11 month layoff

The Brigade of Midshipmen marches on to the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis (Kevin Harber/Flickr)

Navy women’s lacrosse has waited 340 days — more than 11 months — to play a game.

The Midshipmen’s almost year-long wait will come to an end Saturday morning.

Navy is hosting George Mason to open the 2021 season and simply stepping on the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium against a team wearing a different colored uniform.

“You can feel it in the air. There is definitely great excitement to get back out on the field,” Navy coach Cindy Timchal said. “It feels good to know we’re so close to the starting line after almost a year.”

Navy lost to No. 8 Florida on March 10 and was preparing for its Patriot League season opener at Bucknell four days later when the sports world stood still. By the week’s end, college athletics were canceled as the pandemic began ravaging the country.

For Navy women’s lacrosse, it brought an abrupt end to the careers of standout seniors Kelly Larkin, Kayla Harris and Annelise Heyward, to name a few. Plans to conduct some sort of Senior Day celebration never materialized and now those players are off serving in the Navy or Marine Corps.

Few would have imagined the world would still be in the throes of the pandemic when the 2021 college lacrosse season was set to begin. There are daily reminders from the NBA, NHL and college basketball about how tenuous athletic competitions are amidst COVID.

Sunday’s season-opening showdown between Big Ten Conference rivals Johns Hopkins and Maryland was postponed due to positive tests within the Baltimore school’s program.

“We’re going to do our best to get through this season. We have to be as vigilant as we possibly can. Fortunately, we’re playing outside and that helps,” said Timchal, who is entering her 14th season at Navy and 39th overall as a Division I women’s lacrosse coach.

The Patriot League has developed a special schedule designed to reduce travel and overnight stays. Navy is part of the South Division along with American, Bucknell, Lehigh and Loyola Maryland.

The Midshipmen will play just one game against a North Division opponent, and that’s at home against archrival Army. Despite the precautions, the Patriot League basketball season has shown postponements are inevitable.

“We do have to be prepared for some sort of pause. There could be some challenges, some hiccups along the way. We have to be ready for anything to happen,” Timchal acknowledged.

Navy has just three nonconference contests — at home versus Mount St. Mary’s (Feb. 20) and at George Washington (Feb. 27) in addition to Saturday’s opener.

Timchal is disappointed she was unable to schedule challenging games against ranked opponents as she’s consistently done in the past. Last season, Navy played three Top 10 programs in Florida, Maryland and Virginia along with No. 21 Duke.

Timchal is not giving up on the possibility of playing such a top tier opponent this season.

“We’ve always been defined by playing the toughest nonconference competition possible,” she said. “We never know what might happen down the road.”

For now, Timchal is completely focused on George Mason, which has a notable new coach in former Northwestern and United States national team standout Kara Mupo. She has a reputation for building high-powered offenses as an assistant at Stony Brook and Stanford.

“This home opener against George Mason is going to be a tough one. Kara is an outstanding coach who will make an immediate impact on that program,” Timchal said. “What we need more than anything else early in the season is competition. We’ll discover as we go along about our strengths and weaknesses.”

Navy is ranked No. 17 in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll and picked to place second behind Loyola in the Patriot League preseason poll. The Midshipmen have three preseason All-Patriot League selections in senior attacker Nicole Victory, junior attack-midfielder Reagan Roelofs and junior midfielder Gil Eby.

Victory was named to the 2019 Patriot League All-Tournament team and finished that season second on the team in scoring with 63 points (32 goals, 31 assists). A native of Washington state, Victory needs five points to reach 100 for her career.

“Nicole is a great finisher and possesses a high lacrosse IQ,” Timchal said.

Victory will spend considerable time serving as the offensive quarterback behind the cage but can attack from anywhere on the field, Timchal said.

Roelofs has established herself as one of the top draw specialists in Division I, having captured 173 in 27 career games. A standout ice hockey player at Apple Valley High in Minnesota, Roelofs transitions to attack after leaving the circle and has scored 36 career goals.

“Reagan brings excellent leadership and is a real hard worker. She’s outstanding on the draws and just a very dynamic, strong player overall,” Timchal said. “Having a player that can consistently help us gain possession and push momentum is a big plus.”

Eby was a dangerous offensive player at Notre Dame Prep but has exclusively played line defense in two seasons at Navy. The Towson resident has started 25 of 27 career games, amassing 34 ground balls and 18 caused turnovers.

Timchal said Eby will move into a midfield role this season and will be more involved with the offense, while still marking dangerous threats on the defensive end.

“Pure speed and unreal athleticism are what come to mind with Gil,” Timchal said. “She will play an important role in the clearing and transition game.”

Victory and Roelofs will be joined on attack by senior Ellie Lecker (22 career points) and junior Moriah Snyder (18 career points) with senior Grace Zagaja in the mix.

Navy’s offensive midfield corps was hit hard by the graduation of Harris, Heyward and Natalie Irwin. Senior co-captain Marina Lazarides is the most experienced returning midfielder with classmate Karoline Nease close behind.

Eby bolsters the unit, while Timchal expects a pair of plebes — Leelee Denton and Isabelle Thornburg — to contribute.

Senior co-captain Caroline Kwon, who has made 18 career starts, anchors the line defense along with sophomore Erin Carson — a starter in all six games as a freshman. Junior Christine Fiore and sophomore Athena Corroon are looking like the other starters on the back end.

Abby Young returns between the pipes after starting all six games last season and recording 64 saves. The 5-foot-6 junior played in 15 games as a plebe and has a .459 career save percentage.

“We’re really excited about Abby. I think she’s a really solid goaltender,” Timchal said.

Young has a top-notch personal coach in Meg Taylor, a two-time Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Association Goalie of the Year. Taylor was the Tewaaraton Award winner as most outstanding player in Division I after leading Maryland to the 2019 national championship.

Navy women’s lacrosse started preseason practice later than usual since the academy did not bring the midshipmen back until mid-January. All midshipmen were required to quarantine for two weeks upon return to Annapolis.

Timchal and staff spent a week working with four pods of 10 players each. That was followed by a week of practicing with two pods of 20 players each.

“We’ve been practicing at 100 percent for about a week,” Timchal said Tuesday. “It’s not ideal, but here we are. It’s game week and we have to be ready to go. We’re excited to get out and compete. I’m excited about this team and we’re ready to rock and roll.”

Loyola was the overwhelming favorite to capture the Patriot League championship. The Greyhounds had five preseason all-league picks, including projected Offensive Player of the Year Livy Rosenzweig and Defensive Player of the Year Katie Detwiler.

Coach Jen Adams has a loaded squad that includes numerous fifth-year seniors and other players that took advantage of the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to all spring sports athletes.

“Loyola might be one of the teams to beat in the entire country, not just the Patriot League,” Timchal said. “That is a very talented, experienced team.”

What to know about Navy women’s lacrosse

Head coach: Cindy Timchal, 14th year

2020 record: 2-4

Top players: Seniors Nicole Victory (attack), Abbi Young (goalkeeper), Marina Lazarides (midfield) and Caroline Kwon (defense); juniors Reagan Roelofs (attack/midfield) and Gil Eby (midfield/defense).

Season opener: 11 a.m. Saturday vs. George Mason


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