SETTING THE STAGE
Merrimack entered the season looking to continue a building process that had begun over the previous two years. The Warriors had improved their win total in each of the previous three seasons and were looking to do so again in 2017.
The team returned of a pair of NE10 All-Rookie Team honorees and eight upperclassmen while adding 10 newcomers to its ranks for the 2017 campaign. Leading the Warriors would be first-year head coach Julie Duffy, who had arrived in North Andover after a highly successful tenure at the University of Findlay, where she helped develop a women's lacrosse program from scratch and ultimately helped the team qualify for its conference tournament as part of a school-record 12-win campaign in her final season there. Juniors Annette Ruggiero and Carly McKenna were named first-time captains, as well.
Merrimack's challenging schedule featured eight home games and matchups against five of the top-20 teams ranked in last year's final IWLCA Coaches' Poll, including the national runner-up in Adelphi University. That would not faze the young Warrior squad, which opened the season on the road against a nationally ranked team in NYIT in late February.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
Despite having to make the five-hour trek from North Andover to Long Island extremely early for a Tuesday afternoon game, Merrimack put the region on notice after playing the No. 15 team in the country, NYIT, as tough as they could have imagined. While the Warriors ultimately fell short of the upset bid by a goal, the effort they put forth in only their first game of the season was phenomenal and helped set the tone for a strong March.
The Warriors would net their first win of the season on the road at the start of their spring break trip, downing Roberts Wesleyan by a 15-11 margin. Four days later, Merrimack embarked on another long road trip, this time south, to battle Wilmington University. That game featured one of the Warriors' best all-around efforts in recent memory, as the Navy and Gold powered their way to a 22-6 win, marking the first time the team had crossed the 20-goal threshold in nearly four years.
Merrimack nearly secured its third straight victory when it returned home in mid-March to take on Southern Connecticut State but fell just short in a one-goal loss. However, the team would get back in the win column one game later when it cruised to a 13-6 victory against Saint Michael's College in its first night game of the season.
The Warriors had two more challenges left on their March schedule, including a Saturday trip to the 12th-ranked team in the country in New Haven. Just like it did so against NYIT in the season opener, Merrimack gave the Chargers everything they could handle and had a lead at several points in the game before ultimately dropping another tough one-goal decision, its third of the season. The Warriors would then drop a shootout on the road at Southern New Hampshire in another close contest. Still, there were plenty of positives for a young team that featured a lineup with nearly half of its starters comprised of first-year Warriors, and they would continue to build on those experiences in April.
Merrimack would battle valiantly throughout the last month of the year, which featured bouts with four ranked foes. The Warriors netted another impressive win against AIC later on in the month in one of its best performances of the season.
Merrimack ended the year with an impressive array of statistical figures and trends that indicated vast improvement from previous seasons. Among those notables were:
- Merrimack enjoyed its best offensive season since 2013, averaging just a tick under 10 goals per game (9.76). That figure is higher than the team's scoring average in each of the last three years and is its best such mark since 2013 (11.19).
- Merrimack featured eight double-digit scorers, with six of those players tallying 20 points or more. Five players had 20-plus goal seasons, while two of them recorded double-digit assist totals.
- Sophomore Amber Feminella led the team up front for the second season in a row, leading all Warriors with 42 points on a team-best 29 goals and 13 helpers.
- The Warriors ranked among the top teams in the country when it came to converting free position shots; Merrimack finished the season second in the NE10 in free position percentage (.467) and 20th nationally in that category.
- Five of Merrimack's losses were by three goals or fewer, including a pair of one-goal losses against nationally ranked foes (#15 NYIT, 6-5; #12 New Haven, 11-10).
- Merrimack's challenging schedule also featured six opponents that were ranked in the current Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) national rankings, including the national champions in Adelphi.
- Merrimack also was in the middle-third of the conference in scoring defense, yielding 12.76 goals per game.
- Sophomore Bridget Schofield (pictured) was one of the Warriors' top two-way players, ranking third on the team in overall scoring (34 points) while also leading the team in draw controls (49), caused turnovers (21) and ground balls (32).
- Junior Annette Ruggiero also had a fine season after missing last year; she had 22 goals and caused 14 turnovers.
- Merrimack's goalkeepers included sophomore Lauren Trepaney, who logged 12 starts and recorded 129 saves and a .442 save percentage, as well as junior Alexa Petzold, who posted a 10.10 GAA in five starts and nine appearances.
Thank You Seniors
With a young nucleus intact for what promises to be a bright future, the program would not be in that position to succeed if not for the seniors who put in the time and dedication over the past four years.
Merrimack honored its five graduating seniors in April: Clare Blomberg, Alexa Emma -- who graduated early after an impressive three years in the classroom -- Charlotte Fitzgerald, Hunter McCarthy and Meghan Wiseman. The quintet of Warriors have helped the program continue to build a foundation for a promising future and have been part of several important victories over the past four years.