UNH women's lacrosse eyes return to NCAA tournament
Jess Burnap

DURHAM, N.H. -- In 1984, the University of New Hampshire women's lacrosse team advanced to the NCAA tournament and lost in the first round. One year later, the Wildcats won the national championship. Can history repeat itself 20 years later?

A total of 16 school records - including consecutive wins (14) and most wins in a season (15) - fell in 2004 as UNH won both the regular-season and tournament America East titles, advanced to the NCAA tournament and ended the year with a 15-5 overall record.

Nine starters and a total of 15 letterwinners return to build on that success in the 2005 season.

"In winning the conference tourney and getting to the NCAA's, we took another step forward last year," ninth-year head coach Sandy Bridgeman said. "We got a taste of what it's like last year and we're hungry for that. We want it again.

"But this is a new year and it's back to basics," she added.

ATTACK / MIDFIELD

One of the basics: score. And that's something New Hampshire did with great proficiency in 2004 as the 'Cats ranked No. 3 in the nation in scoring at 13.60 goals per game en route to breaking the school single-season records for goals (272) and points (358). Just for starters, the Wildcats have two prolific scorers in senior tri-captain Jess Burnap (New Canaan, Conn.) and junior Katie Leland (Timonium, Md.) who accounted for 49% of the team's goals.

Burnap, a 2004 IWLCA All-America Second Team selection and the America East Player of the Year, broke UNH's single-season record with 72 goals and also surpassed the points benchmark with 81, but that total was second to Leland's 90 points. Leland's 60 goals tied the second-best single-season total and her 30 assists ranked third on UNH's list of superlatives.

In addition to ranking 1-2 in points in America East, Leland and Burnap were among the national leaders. Leland was eighth in points (4.50 per game), 15th in goals (3.00 gpg) and 17th in assists (1.50 apg) while Burnap was No. 5 in goals (3.60 gpg) and No. 14 in points (4.05 ppg). In addition to her gaudy offensive numbers, Burnap also ranked second on the team in draw controls and third in caused turnovers.

"Those two will be the ones that other teams focus on, but our success is how we attack as a unit," Bridgeman said.

Three other 20-goal scorers give the 'Cats an experienced, balanced attack. Senior tri-captain Laura Dosdall (Wellesley, Mass.), an America East All-Conference First Team selection last year, was sixth on the squad in both goals (25) and points (28). She also made a significant impact in other aspects of the game as she ranked second in both caused turnovers and ground balls.

Jill Albee (Pembroke, N.H.), another senior, had a breakout season in 2004 with 27 goals and 29 points. She and junior Kristin Blanchette (Sudbury, Mass.), who had a comparable 26 goals and 32 points, are expected to continue their upward offensive production.

"I feel we've added depth this year," Bridgeman said. "There will be a number of people playing, not just a set seven and with the numbers we have to work with, every player will contribute."

Sophomores Leanne Ferretti (Sound Beach, N.Y.) and Alexa Webster (Aurora, Colo.) saw time in last year's rotation and will be more productive in 2005 with a year's experience.

GOALKEEPER

Often overlooked by the high-scoring offense was the Wildcats' outstanding defense, which ranked No. 5 in the nation (7.90 goals allowed per game).

The anchor of that strong unit was goalkeeper Stacey Plati (Nashua, N.H.). She immediately stepped into the starting role as a rookie and garnered America East All-Conference First Team and All-Rookie Team honors by recording an 8.21 GAA, which was ninth-best in the nation, and a .503 save percentage. Those numbers improved in conference play, where she went 6-0 with a 4.64 GAA and .532 save percentage.

Junior Julie Bevad (Sea Cliff, N.Y.), hindered in her bid for the starting job a year ago by preseason illness, played well when called upon in relief during the 2004 season. In seven games, she recorded a 5.11 GAA and .500 save percentage. Bevad also recorded impressive numbers - 2.39 GAA and .667 save percentage - vs. three America East opponents.

And this year, coach Bridgeman has a third option in freshman Ashley Milley (Sudbury, Mass.).

"We have as many options in goal as we do in the field," Bridgeman said. "There's the experience of Stacey. Julie brings a different style and her athleticism makes her an extra defender on the field. Milley is also athletic with quick reactions."

DEFENSE

New Hampshire's defensive unit limited the opposition to single figures in goals 10 times, including six games in which the 'Cats surrendered less than five goals.

Cristina Covucci (Concord, Mass.), the reigning America East Rookie of the Year and an IWLCA North All-Region Second team selection, is listed as a midfielder but her strength is on the defensive end of the field. In addition to being among the national leaders in caused turnovers, Covucci ranked third in ground balls (3.85 per game) with her school-record 77. She led the 'Cats in both of those stats, as well as draw controls.

"Cristina Covucci is a key player for us," Bridgeman said. "With her, Renee Nemmers at full strength, Lauren Zerbinopoulos, Melissa Bourque and Christine Carbone we have a lot of players who can step up with strong performances."

Nemmers (Englewood, Colo.), a senior, will once again lead this unit. She started the first 13 games of the 2004 season before incurring a season-ending injury; at that time, Nemmers ranked third on the team in ground balls and was tied for fourth in caused turnovers. Classmate Lauren Zerbinopoulos (Kennebunk, Maine), despite just one career point, contributes to the offense as her speed through midfield sets up UNH's quick counterattacks.

Bourque (Topsfield, Mass.), who has started all 37 games in two years, and Carbone (Nashua, N.H.), the player who stepped in for Nemmers last year as a rookie, are two more solid defenders in a unit that also returns senior tri-captain Sarah Hutchinson (Portland, Maine).

SCHEDULE

Playing the top teams in the northeast, as well as some strong out-of-region teams, led to UNH's 2004 run through America East to the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats look to repeat the same formula in 2005 as two of this year's non-conference opponents advanced to last year's quarterfinals (Dartmouth and Northwestern) and another advanced to the semifinals (Vanderbilt).

After opening the season at the College of the Holy Cross on March 1, the 'Cats return to the site of last season's first-round NCAA game - Scully-Fahey Field in Hanover (N.H.) - to play Dartmouth.

The Wildcats then look to extend their nine-game home winning streak March 9 vs. Yale. Following a trip to the University of North Carolina, the 'Cats close March with four consecutive home games.

UNH opens April at home vs. Vanderbilt before playing five of six on the road. The 'Cats close the regular season with home games vs. Vermont and Boston University, which is a game that could determine first place in the conference.

New Hampshire looks to add to its conference record of seven consecutive tournament appearances by extending its season to March 5 - the date of the America East semifinals.

"Last year we were a little under the radar screen," Bridgeman said. "With the success we had last year we're not going to take people by surprise. They're going to be ready to play us."

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