After a 363-day long break, the Fairfield University women’s lacrosse team has finally returned to Conway Field at Rafferty Stadium. The Stags challenged interstate rivals and a fellow Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference team, the Quinnipiac University Bobcats, for the 2021 season home opener on Saturday, March 6. 

Head coach Laura Field was ecstatic for competition to be underway, describing the new season as “cathartic” and joyful. “It has been really healing to have the cadence of a normal season starting in an abnormal environment,” she said.

The Stags seemed to feel the same way, and that showed on the field. They played with a vengeance managing to dominate the Bobcats, 13-10, to secure their first win since March 1, 2020. 

“I can see the weight lifting from the girls. I can hear their laughter… Just to hear them on the field has been the greatest indicator that we’re back. Things are becoming more like they were,” said Field of the girls, many of whom haven’t played in almost two years. 

The top four goal-scorers of Saturday afternoon’s game were mostly veterans to the team, with two juniors and two seniors on the top of the leaderboard, along with Brooke Lennon ‘24. Leading the charge were midfielders Diana DeVita ‘21 and Ellie Grefenstette ‘22 who each contributed three goals and one helper apiece to the victory. Both Arianna Lavelle ‘22 and Lennon added two goals and an assist, while Kelly Horning ‘21 scored two goals and dished out two assists. 

The Stags played their second match of the season two days later on Monday, March 8, again against Quinnipiac, and narrowly edged out the Bobcats, 14-13. Unsurprisingly, Horning netted three goals that afternoon, setting the pace for scoring. Other Stags who had a hand in upending the Bobcats were Grefenstette, Lennon and DeVita, each with two goals and two assists, Lavelle with two goals, Rylee Harrell ‘24 who added a helper and a goal, as well as graduate student Meaghan Graham with a pair of goals herself. 

Last year, the group never saw conference play, ending on a rather low note cemented in by a 21-11 loss against the then #14 University of Denver pioneers. Because of this, current sophomores are right alongside the rookie class in terms of MAAC experience. “If you think about their year we pretty much have two classes of freshman in terms of their time played,” noted Field. “When we talk about MAAC teams they have no reference points. They don’t know who people are and who are playing which can be great.” 

Underclassmen make up over half of the roster, with 24 freshmen and sophomores and 17 juniors and seniors. It is clear that throughout such an uncertain year, the upperclassmen have really helped guide their younger teammates in more ways than one. 

“I, as a human, rely on their leadership, their guidance, their pulse and I always have. They’re a very strong class in terms of personality and a very strong class in terms of play and ability,” said coach Field of these older players.

Practices have been a time where the teammates can bond and find their footing as a unit. During this time, all types of talent and styles of play are able to come together to prepare for a cohesive experience on MAAC stage. Uptempo drills have been used to condition and keep the energy high and ahead of the season opener.

One of the major factors that set this season’s preparation aside from that of past years is that there was no true basis of a previous season to compare anything to. “This isn’t a direct parallel,” said Field, “this is a whole new year.” She went on to say that there is no fair or accurate benchmark to base this year on, so it is best to prepare for anything. 

In addition, typically at this point the athletes would be well into the season. Constant pauses, COVID-19 quarantines and abbreviated semesters have made it challenging for the Stags to be in the best shape, however this is not a precarious situation unique to Fairfield. Nationwide, Division I teams are grappling with the same effects of COVID-19, so these challenges have no real impact on the goals which are set at the beginning of each year. “Our goals remain the same,” said Field with confidence. “We want to defend our MAAC championship. Our goals are to win the MAAC. Our goals are to advance in the NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] Tournament.”

Field assures Stags fans that her, along with the rest of the coaching staff anticipate that this season will be a great one for the team, as they are prepared to face anything. “We’re up for the challenge. We’re up to handle the adversity. We have a good group of people that were able to lean on and we are as resilient as anybody out there so I have confidence in that and I take a lot of stock in that,” said Field. 

As for Fairfield’s second place designation in the MAAC preseason coaches’ poll behind Monmouth University, Field and her athletes are prepared to fight to establish themselves where it counts. “We have to prove people wrong,” said Field confidently.

The next game on the schedule will be another home game, this time against Niagara University on Saturday, March 13 at noon. The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and ESPN3.

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