Staying positive while testing negative: the 2021 AU lacrosse preview
After an undefeated 2020 season was cut short, AU begins a new season with a new coach but familiar faces
Staying positive, while testing negative is the American University lacrosse team’s motto this year. The resilient slogan has served the team well, given the roller coaster of the past year, and on Saturday the Eagles will play their first game since March 2020.
“We’re all just really excited to play games, and just win a bunch of games,” team co-captain Emma Vinall said.
It hasn’t been easy to stay positive in 2021. The pandemic and winter snowstorms have complicated team practices, and a 10-day shutdown forced the Eagles to halt practice just 22 days away from their first game.
Last year, the team was under interim head coach Maureen Breslin, who had no prior experience coaching lacrosse at any level, after former head coach Jenna Petrucelli was released. The lacrosse team was undeterred by the change and several players dealing with injuries, and finished the year with a 7-0 record, the first undefeated season in program history.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, the pandemic cut the best season in program history short, and nearly ended Casey Harkins’ and Erica Skowron’s collegiate careers. However, Harkins and Skowron were able to obtain a fifth year of eligibility, and the players are excited for the season to start.
New head coach Lindsay Teeters has inherited a challenging situation. She will lead the Eagles as the fourth head coach in four years, the pandemic has restricted her access to the players and campus, and she hasn’t even set foot in her office yet.
“I think we are the one team that had their season cut mid-year,” Teeters said. “This season will be more important to them, and I think they understand the sacrifices that need to be made for us to continue playing.”
Teeters’ team will also face a tough schedule in 2021. AU has gone 49-138 all-time against the 10 teams it will play in 2021, and is 27-81 against the four Patriot League teams in its schedule. The team has never beaten Loyola Maryland, Delaware or Drexel, and has only bested Navy once.
“In years past our team has struggled in the Patriot League,” Vinall said. “ I think our team focus is to get back to where we were last year and make an impact in the PL.”
However, the Eagles are undeterred by historical trends.
“In order for us to get better we’d rather play the best teams,” Teeters said. “If we’re going to win a Patriot League championship, we are going to have to go through Navy and Loyola. I’m up to the challenge and I think the girls are too.”
Teeters will face this challenge with an experienced, united team this season. 88 percent of the 2020 roster is returning for the 2021 campaign, and the team has bought into the new culture.
Chemistry has always been a strength for the Eagles, and they are each other's biggest supporters. Those bonds helped the team endure the pandemic and coaching upheaval, and Teeters’s presence has only further united the Eagles.
“As someone who has had a lot of coaches over the past four years, she provides the perfect mix of things we’ve really wanted and needed in a coach,” senior Cate Golden said.
The Eagles’ strength will lay in its offense. AU led the Patriot League in goals per game, points per game and were second in shot percentage. Returning seniors Vinall, Harkins, Skowron and Goldblum scored 74 percent of AU’s goals last year and will lead the offense once again.
“I’ve been playing with Erica and Casey since freshman year, and we feel like we're connected on the field,” Vinall said. “Sometimes I can just look at Casey, and she’ll know what to do.”
Vinall led the Patriot League in goals and shots per game points in 2020, and fifth-year senior attacker Harkins led the Patriot League in assists and points. Vinall, who was named Patriot League All-League Preseason and Inside Lacrosse All-American honorable mention, is also 32 goals and points away from tying AU’s career record for both statistics.
Vinall said she didn’t know about the records, and that any potential history-making was not solely because of her.
“I feel like it’s a lot more of my teammates than me,” Vinall said. “It’s definitely more of a testament to our team than me.”
Teeters said that Vinall was a great team player and that the Eagles’ strategy for the season would be a balanced offensive attack. She also said she wasn’t aware of how close Vinall was to breaking both records, but is confident she would ink her name in the record books.
“Emma is a goal-scoring machine,” Teeters said. “She will break that record. I don’t have a doubt in that mind.”
Despite the experience on the team, the Eagles will have to rely on new faces to step up. Seven freshmen joined the roster, and the six sophomores on the team saw little playing time in the shortened 2020 season.
“I just want to shout out the whole freshman class,” Golden said. “They’ve had probably the worst freshman year possible, and I think they’ve done a great job going with the flow and doing their best.”