The playoffs are always the goal. Any team that you talk to will tell you that. But when you have been so close, it just makes that craving even worse. It tends to become all you think about, and it can consume you—or you can find ways to create little goals that you check off one by one.
The latter is exactly what the SRU Women’s Lacrosse Team is hoping to do.
Last year, the team was led by Emily Benham, who dominated on the offensive end. It seemed as if the team had pulled themselves together and that they were set to make the playoffs. But a 6-6 record in conference play was not enough for them to be one of the top three teams in the conference. Thus, they were left on the outside.
That didn’t sit right with them.
“We spent a lot of time in the fall, just even outside of the X’s and O’s, just building relationships within the team and each other,” head coach Taryn Burkholder said. “We really got to know one another, and it’s really created this family atmosphere, and I think with that aspect, when they’re on the field they trust each other.”
That trust will go a long way, especially when games are coming down to the wire like they did last year. There are multiple cases of a game being decided by only a few goals. Unfortunately for The Rock, the team was on the losing side of such games a lot last year.
They now find themselves gearing up to hit the field for the first time in 2023 with the goal of playoffs in mind.
Luckily for them, the team earned itself respect last year. In the preseason poll, they were picked to be fourth, but that number will still need to jump in order for them to make it to the postseason.
“We like to keep it as outside noise, but at the same time we ultimately want to be in the top three and make the postseason,” Burkholder said. “In order to do that, we need to be in the top three, so it’s kind of motivation for us.”
This will be a little harder for them after losing their top scorers, but because of that, the team will look to rely on their depth. That depth is going to make the difference this season.
“We lost quite a few offensive powers, but we have a few sophomores and juniors that saw some time last year, so we really leaned on them to help our freshmen,” Burkholder said. “Our freshmen are really talented, so it definitely helps that we got those sophomores and juniors experience last year [so they can help the freshman].”
The team leaned on some freshmen last year, but more so than that, they learned from the seniors and got playing experience. Still, the return of key players like Charleigh Rondeau can’t be understated.
“Charleigh works so hard; she’s a captain for us this year, and she just leads by example each day,” Burkholder said. “To be able to control the draw circle is huge, because there’s only about 40 possessions per game, so to win off the bat is big.”
Rondeau is already second in program history in draw controls, a record she will likely break this upcoming season. Being able to have the upper hand on draws will prove to be vital in games if the season is anything like last year.
The Rock will also get to take a trip to Florida for spring break. Down there, they will play two games. One will be at Lynn University and the other will be at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
“I think it’s huge [for chemistry] because we’re obviously not in classes and they’re excited to go down south,” Burkholder said. “We’ll be able to build on the fall with team building, so ultimately if you can have the chemistry outside the X’s and O’s, you’ll have more success on the field.”
The hope is that those games will be able to help prepare The Rock for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) gauntlet. Every year, games swing back and forth. There are opportunities for upsets every season, and that is something Burkholder knows.
“We always say to the girls that we are playing in one of the best Div. II conferences in the country for lacrosse, so we try to schedule at least one ranked opponent,” Burkholder said. “This year, we play Lynn [University], who is a ranked team, so that will give us a good test.”
The PSAC West is always competitive, so Burkholder’s thinking is that these games against ranked foes will get them ready for teams like Mercyhurst University.
“Anyone can kind of upset anyone on any given day, so we try to go into each game not underestimating our opponents,” Burkholder said.
The Rock looks to pull off upsets on Mercyhurst this season though. The Lakers were ranked No. 18 in the preseason poll in the nation. The last time that Slippery Rock stole a game in the series was in 2015, but they have historically been within just one or two goals.
If things rolled their way in multiple games in the past few years, the story could be very different right now. But as it sits, the team has not gotten past Mercyhurst in eight years.
“One of our goals is that we’d love to beat Mercyhurst. I think the overall record is something like 18-1 in Mercyhurst’s favor,” Burkholder said. “We’ve got little goals like that with each conference team.”
The main focus isn’t on the Lakers, but a win against them would certainly give any team in the conference a spark. The Rock will also have two bouts with No. 14 Seton Hill University. Burkholder explained how important it will be to try to sweep as many season series as they can.
“We want to finish in the top three, so we can’t be splitting with teams when we play them in the regular season,” Burkholder said.
As the season creeps up on them, the goals all remain the same—the playoffs being the main objective.