Having the best season in school history is a lot of pressure for a brand new coach to live up to, but first-year SRU Lacrosse head coach Kelsey Van Alstyne is more than ready to take up the challenge of keeping the ball rolling.
“It’s actually really exciting to inherit a team that had success last year and build off of it,” Van Alstyne said. “I think the challenge this year is getting [the team] to buy into my philosophy. They’ve been really excited and truly bought into everything we’ve thrown at them, which is great.”
The Green and White had the best year since program reinstatement in 2007 last year, going 12-6 with an appearance in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) tournament which was cut short by a 5-4 loss against rival Indiana (Pa.) in the first round. As a PSAC veteran (played at Bloomsburg), Van Alstyne knows the challenges that playing in the conference can bring.
“I’ve always kept tabs on the PSAC, it’s an exciting conference. There were a lot of upsets by one or two goals last year,” Van Alstyne said. “I’m really excited to be back in the conference.”
Even after bowing out in the first round, SRU was ranked nationally in the IWLCA poll at number 25, which Van Alsytne acknowledged that garnering some respect is a confidence booster.
“It is a nice change for the program and for the school, that we’re not upsetting people, we’re contending,” Van Alstyne said. “I’m a big believer that I don’t care what the polls say before the season, it’s what they say at the end. I think it’s awesome that we got some respect, but it doesnt really mean anything until we hit conference play. “
Slippery Rock is a team that will return five of its’ seven top scorers from last season, a factor that Van Alstyne said will aid the transition to a new offense.
“We have the philosophy of a run-and-gun offense, we’re going to need those five and a lot of other people to step up and score a lot more goals,” Van Alstyne said. “Were going to be tough to defend, everybody will be able to assist, feed or whatever we need. If a team thinks they can shut down one or two of them, by all means go ahead, the other five will step up.”
The top returning scorer will be senior midfielder Tia Torchia. Torchia was second-team all-PSAC last season, and did so by scoring 38 goals and totaling 41 points, the most among returning players. The other four top scorers returning are senior attacker Bre Vodde (33 points), sophomore midfielder ShyAnne Toomer (24 points), Senior attacker Ally Culhane (15 points) and sophomore midfielder Tori Penders (12 points).
Another bright spot for The Rock will be returning second-team all-PSAC goalie senior Emily Bitka, as well as first-team all-PSAC defender, Danie Porath. The defense will also be changing philosophies under Van Alstyne, so having returning starters is a big help.
“To have the starting goalie from last year and have Raelyn [White] and Danie [Porath] coming back, who had tremendous seasons, it makes it really easy to implement different concepts. Our underclassmen are doing a great job filling in for the players that graduated.”
Even while returning a solid corps of starters, depth is always an x-factor for any team, and Van Alstyne is very pleased with her team’s abundance of it.
“What’s really cool about this team is that everyone is going to get time. There’s going to be a lot of different goal scorers, opportunities and defenders,” Van Alstyne said, who rattled off a myriad of names that will help contribute. “Rachel Shaw has really solidified her place in the defense. Kelsey Thoenson and Sami Gentzler, they didn’t get a lot of time [last year], but they’ve really stepped up this year and I think there gonna be key contributors.”
Van Alstyne kept listing off players who she thinks will be key factors, but cut herself off eventually.
“We have a lot of speed and depth in the midfield in the terms of Audrey Napp, Katie Hart and Caitlyn Byerly. Kelly Muenster and Erin Brown didn’t play a lot last year and I think they’re going to have tremendous seasons. It’s really exciting, we toy with the starting lineup a lot. I could literally sit here and list off every single kid [on our roster].”
With all of the brimming positivity Van Alstyne has for her team, only something completely out of her control could be of concern.
“My biggest concern is that it’s snowing way too much, we’re not outside doing full-field as much as I want, we have a scrimmage at Duquesne this Sunday which will be three mini-games, so that will get us on track.”
Slippery Rock will start their regular season February 25th, with a home game against West Virginia Wesleyan.