Lakers reload to make run at playoffs

Senior Mackenzie Kjerstad is one of six players with nine goals or more thus far this season.  (Photo provided by Sports Information)
Senior Mackenzie Kjerstad is one of six players with nine goals or more thus far this season. (Photo provided by Sports Information)

The Oswego State women’s lacrosse team is off to a fast start, and with the conference schedule now here, the Lakers are ready to make an impact in the highly competitive SUNYAC.

Last year the team amassed 11 wins, the most during the six years with head coach Brandi Lusk at the helm of the program. That squad graduated 11 seniors, including the program’s first All-American, goalie Nikki Greco.

Instead of taking the program through a rebuilding phase, Lusk brought back Greco as an assistant coach, and recruited a strong freshman class to fill the shoes of the ones that left.

Adding Greco to her staff was very important for Lusk as she brought back someone who had a lot of experience in the program and to have her continue to assist in a more of a leadership role has been rewarding already.

Lusk said what makes Grecco so valuable is her knowledge of the game.

“She has insight on all the positions on the field,” junior Emily Lange said. “She’s the loudest off and on the field. We’re lucky to have her.”

While also helping with the whole team, Greco has been helping new starting goalie, freshman Angela Ponto. Greco and Ponto have a relationship from before Ponto arrived on the shores of Lake Ontario with Greco personally training her for the last six years. Ponto played previously at West Genesee High School, Greco’s alma mater.

Greco said she is proud of the way Ponto has grown as a player and to be someone who has been playing solid in net for the Lakers so far, starting in all seven of the Lakers’ games.

Greco spoke to Lusk about recruiting Ponto. After trusting Greco’s advice, Lusk is pleased with how it has worked out.

“It’s hard being a freshman goalie against some of the top seniors in the country,” Lusk said. “She’s been able to hold her own. Each and every practice she is becoming a little more composed.”

Most of the graduating class from last year were on the defense leaving questions to the team’s success in 2015. But Lusk said they have found some defensive gems in freshman Nicole Granteed, senior Amanda Hagen, junior Melissa Bulman and also senior Miranda Czechowski.

Czechowski played on the team in her freshman and sophomore years, but worked as a student assistant in her junior year. She played in the midfield but Lusk said moving her back to defense has really paid off to the point where the defense is still a force to be reckoned with.

The offense is also looking solid and producing at a high rate this season, averaging 12 goals per game, an average that is the best rate the Lakers would have in three seasons.

Leading the way for the Lakers on the stat sheet is junior Erannan Shattuck with 16 goals and 15 assists. Lange also has 15 goals. She believes what has led to their success on the attack so far is the connection each player has with each other.

Another threat of this potent offense is freshman Gemma O’Kane, who is currently third on the team in goals with 11. O’Kane plays at the position behind the goalie cage, setting the play up from behind the net in certain situations. Her ability to play effectively there has allowed players like Shattuck and Lange to play at positions they are more comfortable with.

Lusk believes having all of these threats on offense has led to to the early success. With three players already surpassing the double digit goal mark, as well as junior Esther Gabriel and sophomore Briana Kimble at nine goals each. The depth is one of the greatest things the Lakers have right now.

“We don’t just have one key offensive play; we have like four or five of them,” Lusk said. “Anybody can score on any given day.”

Junior Emily Lange (2) has scored twice or more in six straight games. She has 15 goals in seven games.  (Photo provided by Sports Information)
Junior Emily Lange (2) has scored twice or more in six straight games. She has 15 goals in seven games. (Photo provided by Sports Information)

It also helps that when the Lakers run into a solid defensive team that can shut down one player in particular, the Lakers can rely on another top offensive player to step up. Lusk believes it is a huge advantage having multiple goal scorers, rather than one superstar, because it makes them powerful.

One thing that has challenged the Lakers this season has been the weather. Poor conditions, including snow, have hindered the Lakers from competing on their home field, forcing them to use Romney Field House as their only way to practice.

Romney is a quality facility, but it is not big enough to be able to create the same environment when it comes to field size in an actual game.

“There’s nothing like being on a 120 yard field from end line to end line,” Lusk said.

Lusk believes not being able to play under these certain conditions on a consistent basis has led the Lakers to not be able to play at their full potential. As with even having a 4-3 record, them not being able to fully practice their transition strategy, something that is a key factor in the game of lacrosse, it has led to some mistakes in games that might not have occurred, had they had the opportunity to practice that style of play more.

With all that, the Lakers are making due with the cards they are being dealt. They have even had to relocate their home opener against SUNY Oneonta on Saturday to Fayetteville-Manlius High School, outside of Syracuse.

The game against the Red Dragons also begins the Lakers’ SUNYAC play. The Lakers have had struggles transferring their success from non-conference play to conference play. This can be attributed to the level of talent in the SUNYAC has.

But the Lakers believe they can compete with this talent. They have been unable to qualify for playoffs since 2005, but with the SUNYAC adding one more team to the playoffs this season, to now where it will have six teams in the championships, it could benefit the Lakers’ chances as they have finished sixth in the conference the last two seasons.

Lusk believes the Lakers can most certainly make the six-team cut, and even said they would like to finish in possibly the top four in the conference. If the Lakers were able to achieve this feat, it would be the first postseason trip for the program with Lusk as the head coach.

“You can see all of us want to go to playoffs.” Lange said. “We have that want, and that heart.”