2017 SEASON PREVIEW MERRIMACK COLLEGE WOMEN'S LACROSSE

RECAPPING THE 2016 SEASON

Merrimack continued to build a foundation for what should eventually be a contender in the Northeast-10 Conference in 2016, as the the Warriors improved their win total for a third year in a row last spring.

The season began with a thorough five-goal victory over Roberts Wesleyan University at home (16-11) before the team won back-to-back road games as part of a very successful spring break trip in the state of South Carolina. Merrimack also picked up an impressive road win against eventual NE10 Championship participant Pace (12-9), and played in a handful of close matches throughout the season. In fact, four of Merrimack's losses came by three goals or fewer.

Merrimack celebrates a goal from its season-opening win against Roberts Wesleyan last February

While there was balance throughout the lineup, a pair of first-year Warriors stood out in the form of Amber Feminella and Bridget Schofield, both of whom earned spots on the NE10 All-Rookie Team. Feminella was a force offensively, becoming the first rookie to lead the team in scoring since at least 2008 and also posted the most points in a single season since the 2012 season. Schofield, meanwhile, led Merrimack in ground balls and draw controls while solidifying herself as one of the top two-way players in the conference.

In addition, Hunter McCarthy had another strong year up front, ranking second on the team in overall scoring while leading the Warriors in assists. From a defensive standpoint, freshman Erin Blomberg led the team in caused turnovers.

Bridget Schofield and Amber Feminella earned NE10 All-Rookie Team selections as part of their successful freshman campaigns.

HEAD COACH JULIE DUFFY

Julie Duffy was named Merrimack's seventh women's lacrosse head coach on July 27, 2016, and will begin her first season at the helm in 2016-17.

Responsible for guiding the University of Findlay's women's lacrosse program from the ground up, Duffy arrives in North Andover after spending five seasons with the Oilers. She saw her teams improve their win total each season and guided Findlay to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Association (GLIAC) Tournament Final this past spring as part of a school-record 12-win campaign.

Overall, Duffy compiled 34 wins over the last four years with Findlay, leading the team to postseason conference tournament berths in all four years of varsity competition. Duffy also helped get the squad off the ground and running by coaching the Oilers while they competed at the club level for the program's initial year of existence in 2011-12 before becoming full Division II members.

Individually, Duffy helped a number of her student-athletes earn individual accolades, including a two-time Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Association (IWLCA) All-American and All-Region selection, as well as a three-time GLIAC Midlfielder of the Year and a GLIAC Attacker of the Year.

Coach Duffy instructs from the sideline during a game in the fall season

Before last year's 12-win campaign – which also marked the school's first-ever winning season – Duffy led the Oilers to back-to-back eight-win seasons in 2014 and 2015. In the team's first year of competition in 2013, the Oilers won an impressive six games and went an even 4-4 in the highly competitive GLIAC, qualifying the league's postseason tournament and ending the year with a perfect record at home.

Outside of her responsibilities as head coach, the Westhampton, Massachusetts, native formerly served as the NCAA Division II representative on the IWLCA board of directors and is also a member of the IWLCA All-American Committee.

Prior to her tenure at Findlay, Duffy served as the head women's lacrosse coach at Division III Ohio Wesleyan University from 2008-11, compiling a 21-25 record.

She began her collegiate coaching career at Ithaca College, serving as a graduate assistant on the women's lacrosse staff after a successful playing career at Hartwick College.

Duffy graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science from Hartwick in 2007. She then completed her master's degree in exercise and sports science, with a concentration in sport psychology, at Ithaca during the summer of 2008.

Coach Duffy and assistant coaches Emily Boerger (L) and Sarah Lankton following a game from the fall season

ATTACK

Up front, Merrimack boasts a 1-2 scoring punch that should be able to contend with any team it faces, as the Warriors return over 100 points' worth of offense from last spring and will have a variety of ways in which it can find the back of the net this season.

As a freshman, Amber Feminella became the first Warrior to lead the team in scoring in over a decade after she turned heads with a 53-point campaign. The Cortlandt Manor, new York, native found the back of the net 45 times (seven free position goals) while dishing eight assists and finished with the most points in a single season in four years to cap off a freshman season that ended with her being named to the NE10 All-Rookie Team. She also ranked second in draw controls while scoring on 62.5 percent of her 72 total shot attempts. She ranked 19th in the league in overall scoring and ninth in goal-scoring and was also was third-highest in the conference in goal-scoring by rookies.

Rising senior Hunter McCarthy, who turned in a career year in 2016 with 44 points (27g, 17a), will be another one to watch; her ability to create offense has been demonstrative over the past two years as she became the team's leader in assists last year and was also lethal from free position with six goals in 12 tries. She, too, was an all-rookie team selection back in 2015.

Senior Hunter McCarthy led the team in assists last spring

Sophomore Emma Bonassar and freshmen Ally DaCosta and Kyra Schwartzman should see plenty of action up front and will contend for starting spots alongside Feminella and McCarthy as the season commences. Bonassar impressed as a walk-on last year and chipped in seven points (1g, 6a) in 17 games (13 starts). DaCosta arrives after playing for St. Mary Academy - Bay View (New Bedford, Mass.) and earning all-star team selections for the Fall River Herald and Standard Times, as well as being named a Boston Herald All-Scholastic Team pick. Schwartzman, meanwhile, was a four-year letterwinner at Kennebunk High School and helped her team win the Maine State B championship in addition to a pair of sectional titles. She was a four-time all-conference selection and was the Journal Tribune's Co-Player of the Year as a senior.

Seniors Charlotte Fitzgerald and Meghan Wiseman, junior Alexa Emma and freshman Cailin Bahret round out the attack unit. Fitzgerald will be making the shift to offense after most of her junior season was cut short due to injury, while Wiseman and Emma will look to provide additional depth and experience after both combined to play in 28 games in 2016. Wiseman ranked fifth on the team in scoring last year while Emma was a key contributor in 11 games. Finally, Bahret was a three-year letterwinner at John Jay High School in New York and earned all-league and all-section honors and was picked to the Poughkeepsie Journal All-Star Team.

MIDFIELD

A mix of both experienced returners and new blood will power Merrimack's midfield ranks this spring, as the unit will have more depth than any other point in recent seasons and should see contributions from everyone at the position.

The return to the lineup of junior Annette Ruggiero coupled with the expected improvements of sophomore Bridget Schofield should make for a versatile duo that possesses both scoring prowess and the ability to take care of the ball. Two years ago, Ruggiero earned NE10 All-Rookie Team honors after ranking third on the team in scoring with 22 points and 19 goals; she also led the team in draw controls as a freshman. She was named one of the team's two captains for the upcoming campaign, as well.

Junior Annette Ruggiero returns to the lineup after an all-conference rookie team campaign back in 2015

Schofield might've been Merrimack's most underrated player last spring. Another NE10 All-Rookie Team selection, the Littleton, Massachusetts, native led Merrimack with 43 ground balls and 47 draw controls, solidifying herself as one of the top-two way players in the conference. She was also a force defensively, causing 14 turnovers, and finished with 19 goals and 22 points overall. At the conference level, Schofield's numbers were equally impressive, as her 43 ground balls ranked fourth-most in the NE-10 – and the most for a freshman – while she also figured 16th in draw controls.

Sophomore Tess Destino was a regular in the lineup last spring and will look to improve on a solid rookie season that saw her appear in all 17 games while finishing with three points (1g, 2a) and 15 ground balls. Freshman Olivia Colletti will likely be in the starting mix, as well; the Massapequa (N.Y.) High School product was a letterwinner in both lacrosse and track & field and earned all-county honors.

DEFENSE

Perhaps Merrimack's strongest area last year was in its defensive corps after the unit finished the season ranked fifth in the NE10 in total caused turnovers (139) and contributed to the second-most ground balls (350) in the league, four shy of the league leader, Le Moyne. The good news for Merrimack is that most of the key components that drove the back line to such a successful spring are back in 2017, and they will be complimented by several new faces who should factor into the lineup right away.

Leading the defense are sisters Clare Blomberg and Erin Blomberg, both of whom were fixtures on the back end last spring. The former won 27 ground balls and caused 13 turnovers while contributing six points (3g, 3a) offensively in 15 games played, while the latter led the team with 23 caused turnovers -- a figure that ranked 11th among all players in the entire NE10.

Freshman Courtney Capobianco during a game from the fall season

Two freshmen appear to be in the mix to start on defense at the onset of the year; rookies Courtney Capobianco and Gretchen Krall were impressive both in fall ball and during preseason and could find their names called for the opening day starting nod. Capobianco was a four-year letterwinner at Oceanside (N.Y.) High School and earned three all-conference selections while helping the team reach the state tournament each year. Krall played her high school career at Notre Dame Academy; the Hanover, Massachusetts, native helped her squad reach the MIAA state semifinals three times over the course of her career.

Junior co-captain Carly McKenna has appeared in 16 games in each of her first two seasons and should provide plenty of depth and experience on the back line entering her first year as an upperclassman. The Saco, Maine, native set single-season career-highs in goals (6), assists (3) and points (9) last year while causing a career-high 12 turnovers and securing 29 ground balls -- also a new personal best. Sophomore Delaney Brandon, another returnee, saw action in 12 games last year with four starts and finished with four ground balls.

Finally, a number of first-year Warriors will add plenty of depth on the defensive front, as sophomore Teagan Mockus and freshmen Danielle Schweitzer, Danielle Galli and Amy Puchini all look to make impacts during their first seasons with the Navy and Gold. Mockus was a four-year letterwinner at Branford (Conn.) High School, while Schweitzer helped West Islip (N.Y.) High School claim a state title as a junior and reach two other state tournament finals while earning all-section honors. Galli attended John Stark Regional High School in New Hampshire and was a two-time all-state selection, while Puchini brings plenty of athleticism after lettering in cross country, basketball and track & field during her high school career at Guilford (Conn.).

GOALKEEPERS

Merrimack will look to a pair of returners and a rookie to battle it out for the goalkeeping duties this spring.

Junior Alexa Petzold brings the most experience after starting all 34 games she has been a part of over the course of her first two seasons. After serving as the team's primary netminder as a freshman, she split time last year and finished with 92 saves and a 12.57 GAA over the course of 577:31. The Ridgewood, New Jersey, native has logged just over 1600 minutes in 34 appearances and has 222 career saves.

Sophomore Lauren Trepaney is one of Merrimack's three goalkeepers

Sophomore Lauren Trepaney saw action in 16-of-17 games as a rookie in 2016 and often played the entire second halves of the contests she appeared in; she finished with a 10.79 GAA and 68 saves over the course of 444:46 in net.

Finally, freshman Tammy Nguyen has been pushing the other two during practices throughout the fall and spring preseason; a nearby Lowell native, she earned Merrimack Valley All-Conference honors and was named the MVC Goalkeeper of the Year to cap off her high school career.

NEWCOMERS

Merrimack adds 11newcomers to its ranks in 2017 by means of 10 freshmen and a first-year sophomore.

SEASON OUTLOOK

Merrimack was picked 12th in the Northeast-10 Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll

Merrimack was picked 12th the 2017 Northeast-10 Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll, but the team's success will be measured in more ways than just their end-of-year finish in the conference standings. That being said, after the number of close games that the team found itself in last year and knowing that a few swings of momentum could've possibly resulted in at least a few more victories, the Warriors are confident knowing that they can play with anyone, as the team aims to return to the conference tournament for the first time since the 2012 season.

Merrimack's schedule features eight opponents that are ranked in the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) preseason national rankings, and the journey starts with a trip to No. 15 NYIT on Tuesday, Feb. 28. Merrimack's home opener falls on Saturday, March 4, against Mercy, and the team's NE10 slate begins on March 18 against Southern Connecticut State at home. The NE10 Championship begins on May 3, and the NCAA Tournament starts on May 12.

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