For a team that has not lost a conference game since many of us were still in high school, the Fairfield Women’s lacrosse team still feels like it has a lot to accomplish.
Last Wednesday, the Stags clinched their fifth straight MAAC regular season championship with a win over Marist. On Sunday, the team defeated Siena to finish with a perfect in-conference record for the fifth consecutive year as well.
Yet, for a team that has won 30 consecutive conference games, the MAAC Championship remains to be a daunting challenge for the Stags.
In the past five years, the Stags have just one championship title to their name, despite dominating every year during the regular season.
This year’s team is poised to be different. The team ranks second in the MAAC in goals per game and is the best shooting team in the conference, scoring on over 48 percent of their shots. They are also the best team at controlling the ball, as they average the fewest turnovers per game in the MAAC.
Perhaps one area that the team is most dominant in is defense, and at the backbone of the defense is one of the best goalies in the country: Katie Keenan.
She ranked 19th in the nation last year in goals against, allowing 9.14 goals per game, and has improved that number thus far this season, allowing just 8.28 goals per game – the best in the MAAC. Keenan also leads the league in save percentage, at 51 percent on the year.
But Keenan, the five-time MAAC Defensive Player of the Week this year, looks past the stats, remaining focused on that elusive MAAC Championship, and uses the past two years of experience as motivation.
“Losing the last two championships was a real downer on our past two seasons,” said Keenan. “I just want everyone to reflect on how good they can be.”
Keenan pointed to avoiding getting mentally and physically defeated as keys to this MAAC Championship, and took it on herself to try and keep the spirits up even in the event of the team being down.
“[I] … want to keep our team positive no matter what is going on, and just win,” she said.
Other players on the team have noticed the leadership that players like Keenan have shown throughout the year. Freshman Courtney Chmil credited the older players on the team for helping her adjust and grow throughout her first year here at Fairfield.
“They push me to my limits. I tend to get down on myself sometimes and they’re just there to pick me right back up,” said Chmil. “Their experience has said it all. Keenan has been such a big influence on our team for the past three years and just hearing her advice helps me out a lot.”
Of course, Chmill has racked up some pretty impressive stats of her own. The five-time MAAC Rookie of the Week is fifth in the MAAC in caused turnovers, and is third on the team in goals with 23, two of which were game winning goals.
The accomplishments of Chmil, as well as other over performing underclassmen like Melanie Raso and Addie Reilly, have not gone unnoticed by the other players.
“They’ve been a major asset of our team,” said Keenan. “Whenever you get a freshman that can make an impact that strong, it’s always just a blessing, and Courtney … did a really good job stepping up to the occasion.”
Chmil, who finished her high school career with 287 points, was amazed at the skill and competition level that comes with playing in Division I.
“I came from a small high school and our team wasn’t really that great and its such a difference coming here and playing tough games,” she said.
However, Chmil credits her teammates for allowing her to transition to the college game so smoothly: “My teammates are great, they’re all so supportive … they’ve been such a positive aspect to our team.”
We will have to see if the Stags can get over that Championship hump, and see if their veterans can continue their leadership while the young guns continue to play at a level beyond their years. Fairfield kicks off the MAAC Championship in Buffalo on Friday at 5 p.m. as they take on Siena.