Like a parent who remains patient while their child goes through inevitable growing pains, Linfield lacrosse coach Kat Enders calls the Wildcats’ 2016 season “our teenage year.” It’s an apt description of a team that experienced its share of growth, though not all of it readily apparent to the untrained eye.
“We were a little awkward and didn't quite know our full potential,” said Enders. “We made huge strides, especially in our transition and offense this year.”
Kelsey Dammarell and Savannah Smith were steady performers throughout a trying season that saw the Wildcats complete the schedule without earning a victory. Dammarell and Smith “both had good senior seasons,” said Enders. “Savannah stepped up as a leader on the defensive end of the field. Kelsey battled a few injuries but continued to be a threat on offense and make first team all conference.”
The leadership and athleticism of basketball carryover Genna Hughes paid key dividends for keeping the team’s attitude pointed in the right direction, even as times were tough. Hughes sat out all of 2015 with an injury but recoverd sufficiently to play in 14 matches this spring.
“Genna was a huge addition for us,” said Enders. “She was a staple in the midfield and, had the best team attitude, and moved into a leadership role for us.”
A freshman class numbering a dozen was both “a blessing and a curse,” said Enders. “We had some of the highest numbers (of first-year players) in the conference. But we had to ask those mostly inexperienced players to perform more like sophomores and juniors.”
Several freshmen took on prominent roles. Emily Mishko and Mae Seifert arrived at Linfield with significant experience. The duo continued to build on that experience throughout their maiden season.
With only a fraction of area high schools offering lacrosse as part of their varsity sports program, the pool of available college-aged players is significantly smaller than in other sports.
“We also had some freshmen that were new to the sport but those kids were able to bring their athletic ability and grow in the sport,” said Enders. “Nicole Lewis, Sarah Stuck and Jordan Lumley all were brand new to lacrosse but made contributions in the starting rotation and on the defensive end.”
The most exciting moment of the season was a road contest at Puget Sound, a narrow 15-12 loss. “We were able to build a lead and then keep up with them the whole game, which was a significant improvement from last year.”
The Wildcats ventured to Texas for a three-match swing over spring break. Though the destination was distant, the trip proved beneficial. “We came back from those three games much stronger and cohesive in the field,” said Enders. “We had a great first half against Southwestern.”
At season’s end, Seifert, Dammarell and Hughes were each appointed to the NWC all-star team. Seifert was the Wildcats’ leading scorer with 25 goals and six assists while Dammarell netted 16 goals. Hughes contributed seven goals, four assists plus a team-best 29 ground balls.
On paper, the still-developing Wildcats struggled to score goals and defend the net. Yet Enders remains undauntedly optimistic. “The great news is we have the experience now to build on for next year. We lose three players – two seniors and another to injury. And so far, there’s a strong class of five players coming to Linfield in the fall.”