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Top Freshmen

Top Freshmen

Title IX in Action

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Article and Photos by Leigh Ernst Friestedt

NCAA DI Women's Lacrosse (2018)

Gone are the days when Freshmen ride the bench, waiting for a chance to play behind upperclassmen.  As lacrosse continues to grow across the US, top female student-athletes are recruited from all over the country to help Division I women’s lacrosse teams contend for a national championship.  These Top Freshmen are elite athletes who can handle the physical and mental demands of playing on a top team early in their collegiate careers.

The 2018 season was a breakout year for Freshmen earning starting positions on the top teams and making an immediate impact on the field.  For many of these Top Freshmen, they had to work their way into the starting lineup, but once they were on the field, played a key role for their teams.

The pressure to win at the Division I level is very competitive – coaches increasingly rely on Freshmen to step-up and play their rookie year.  Top Freshmen often bring a new dimension to a team, a fresh approach to the game, and skillset that fills a void in a lineup.

Excited to be at college and play for a Division I program – this eager innocence often results in “fearless play” that is dangerous and difficult to anticipate for an opposing team.  With each game, these Top Freshmen continue to grow and develop, gaining more confidence and playing an increasingly important role on the field.

While most of the Top Freshmen play on attack or midfield, where their stats are more apparent, two of the top goalies: Molly Dougherty (JMU) and Taylor Moreno (UNC), came off the bench to earn starting positions mid-season and lead their teams in 2018 post-season play.

Other Top Freshmen in 2018 include: Grace Griffin – Maryland (Midfield), Jamie Ortega – UNC (Attack), Zoe Belodeau – UPenn (Attack), Charlotte North -Duke (Attack), Kyla Sears – Princeton (Attack), Shannon Kavanagh – Florida (Midfield) and Paige Petty – Virginia Tech (Midfield).

Grace Griffin (Maryland)

Grace Griffin is an all-around great athlete who started in the midfield 18 out of 22 games for Maryland her Freshman year.  With 14 NCAA titles, Head Coach Cathy Reese knows how to build a championship team – by recruiting top athletes like Griffin for the midfield.  Griffin was the only Freshman in 2018 to break into the Terps starting lineup and filled the shoes of Maryland’s top 2017 midfielder and Tewaaraton Award winner, Zoe Stukenberg.

An outstanding multi-sport athlete, Griffin played basketball and lacrosse at Liberty High School earning accolades in both.  As a basketball player, Griffin was an all-around great player averaging over 13 points, 10+ rebounds, 5+ steals and 4+ assists per game.  Arriving at Maryland, Griffin had limited expectations about playing time as a Freshman on the undefeated National Championship team, but her athleticism and attitude earned her a career start in the 2nd game of the season against Florida.

Griffin is a force on both the attack and defense as a key midfielder.  Her exceptional anticipation and defensive skills result in crucial ground balls and caused turnovers.  On attack, Grace is a threat to cage at any time and has the vision to feed the ball when double teamed.

An all-around great player, look for Griffin to continue to develop and lead the Terps in the midfield for 2019 as Maryland looks to capture its 15th NCAA title.

Taylor Moreno (UNC)

Taylor Moreno re-earned the starting position in goal for UNC late in the 2018 season after undergoing knee surgery midseason.  Moreno’s return to goal was integral to UNC’s post-season success – with 17 saves against VA Tech and 11 saves against Boston College – UNC won the 2018 ACC Championship and Moreno was named the ACC Tournament MVP.  Moreno continued to dominate the cage in NCAA post-season play, tying her all-time career high 17 saves in the Quarterfinals win over Northwestern.

Playing with a knee brace, Moreno has tremendous mobility and is one of the most athletic goalies in the history of women’s lacrosse.  A Redshirt-Freshman, Moreno had limited time in goal at Huntington High School playing behind Stony Brook’s starting goalie, Anna Tesoriero.  Missing her senior year due to a knee injury, Moreno relied on her extensive athletic background and club experience on Team Elevate to earn the starting position in goal for UNC her Freshman year.

The first girl in Huntington High School to play on the Varsity Football team as a kicker, Moreno is a model of excellence – breaking barriers as a multi-sport athlete earning varsity letters in lacrosse, soccer, basketball, track and football.  Coming out of the cage to help on ground balls and break the ball out of defense is second nature for an athletic Moreno.

Moreno continues to be a major force in and out of the cage for the Tar Heels in 2019 recording 100+ saves on the season.  While UNC lost in overtime against Maryland, Moreno exemplified her athleticism when she came out of the cage to recover a ground ball and cleared the missed shot over 60 yards down field with only five seconds left in regulation time to give UNC a last second shot at the game – Maryland and the 3,696 fans watched in awe.

Molly Dougherty (JMU)

Molly came into her own and earned the starting goalie position midway through the 2018 season and led JMU to their first national title.  As a Redshirt Freshman, Molly watched the game from the sidelines before she officially stepped onto the field, but her growth and development into a top goalie in the women’s game is astounding.

The poise, maturity and confidence that Molly exhibits on the field and at press conferences is a model of excellence which speaks to her overall commitment to being a great student-athlete.  As a goalie who must face failure with every goal scored, Molly has a positive attitude and appears to not only love the game of lacrosse but more importantly her teammates and the opportunity to play for JMU.  The ability for a goalie to provide an underdog team this level of leadership from the goal at such a young stage of her collegiate career is truly remarkable.

Molly continues to dominate in goal for JMU in 2019 – with 100+ saves this season, Molly’s positive attitude is leading the “We Are JMU” Dukes to repeat as National Champions.

Zoe Belodeau (Penn)

A natural righty who plays lefty, Zoe Belodeau arrived at University of Pennsylvania with an opportunity to fill the key role as a low attacker.  Zoe had an outstanding pre-season and earned a starting position on the Quakers for every game in 2018.  Playing the important role as a lefty feeder, Zoe also has the ability to cut across the cage and score on a quick release.  Her smaller size and quick feet, make her difficult to mark.  Zoe is relentless on the ride – a track star in high-school, Zoe sprints the full field to pressure the ball down to an opponent’s restraining line.

A clutch player for Penn, Zoe scored the game-winning goal with a behind the back shot against Penn State in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.  In 2019, Zoe continues to be a force on the attack, scoring Penn’s game-winning goal against Duke.

Quiet and reserved, Zoe is also very effective on draw controls as a quick lefty who grabs ground balls and is a constant threat to score.  Zoe set records as a Freshman with the most draw controls (103) in the Ivy League and led Penn’s Rookie record for goals (45), assists (35) and total points (80).

Jamie Ortega (UNC)

Jamie Ortega is a quick lefty who can spin and dodge her way to the goal while maintaining an intense focus and presence on the field.  Ortega has a unique ability to find her way to the cage under pressure and finish with a powerful lefty shot.  Ortega also has the vision and game sense to feed her teammates – a seamless part of the UNC attack who broke into the starting lineup as a Freshman.

Ortega had a record-breaking year in 2018 recording the most goals (70) and points (86) in UNC history for a Freshman.  A top recruit, Ortega was ranked as one of the top three rookies coming out of high-school as the Long Island Player of the Year and two-time US Lacrosse All-America.  The multi-sport athlete, Ortega was also a standout soccer player – a five-year varsity starter who earned all-county recognition.

In 2019, Ortega is leading the UNC attack with 52 goals and 69 points against top-ranked teams.  Despite being face guarded at times, Ortega continues to score and assist on goals to help the Tar Heels contend for another ACC Championship and national title.

Charlotte North (Duke)

Charlotte North is an elite athlete who had an outstanding Freshman year to earn a starting position and lead the Blue Devils in goals (59) and points (64) for the 2018 season.  Coming from Dallas, TX – North took Division I women’s lacrosse by surprise with her love for the game, passion to play and basketball moves to attack the cage.

North has an excellent shot – dropping her top hand to generate a whip that accelerates the ball at different trajectories, making it difficult for a goalie to read until the ball is in the back of the neck.  Charlotte has one of the most dangerous free positions in the women’s game, going 11-for-18 at the eight-meter to lead the Blue Devils in 2018.

Midway through the 2019 season, North has already reached a new record as the youngest player at Duke to reach the 100 goal milestone.  As the leading attacker for the Blue Devils, North is often face guarded and playing with an injured right knee, but still scoring against top teams with five goals against Northwestern and Villanova.  In addition to being the leading scorer for Duke (57 goals), North is leading the team with assists (19) and feeding her teammates to score when she is double-teamed.

2018 Season Highlights: After waiting for over 2 hours in a epic rain delay in ACC Quarterfinals on a drenched field at Duke, North emerged from the locker room to lead her team with 5 goals in the rain – almost coming back against Virginia Tech.  Scoring seven goals in the game, including three from the eight-meter, Charlotte was on fire and unstoppable.  Her passion and love for the game is infectious and exemplifies a true leader for the Blue Devils at an early stage of her career.

Shannon Kavanaugh (Florida)

Shannon Kavanagh is a top offensive midfielder for the Florida Gators.  An elite player from the Yellow Jackets club program, Kavanagh was a top recruit who broke her way into the starting lineup of the Gators her Freshman year.  Scoring 36 goals as a Freshman, Kavanagh uses her height to post up inside the eight-meter to fire the ball or finds an open teammate with 28 assists.  In addition to being an offensive threat, Kavanagh is a draw specialist who gained control of 89 draws her Freshman year.

Kavanagh continues to lead the Gators in 2019 with 55 draw controls and 41 goals and counting for the season, behind top scoring Lindsey Ronbeck (50 goals).  In addition to being a constant threat to cage, Kavanagh is relentless on the ride with her defense creating key caused turnovers in the midfield.

Kyla Sears (Princeton)

Kyla Sears entered Princeton as a top recruit and met every expectation by setting records her Freshman year as the All-Time leading scorer for Princeton and the Ivy League with 64 goals.  A strong righty on attack and fan favorite for Princeton – Kyla knows how to score and assist her teammates to find the back of the net.  A multi-sport athlete, Kyla was also an All-League soccer player from upstate New York.

Sears underwent ACL surgery in high-school and missed her junior year, but has come back strong with a greater appreciation for the opportunity to play.  Sears credits the Princeton upperclassmen and coaching staff for helping her transition to Division I lacrosse and becoming a dominant force on the attack as a Freshman.

Sears scored every game her Freshman year with a hat trick in 13 games.  A consistent and disciplined player, Sears fit perfectly into the Princeton attack and continues to develop her Sophomore year making her one of the top attackers in the game.  In 2019, Sears scored six goals against Stony Brook to help the Princeton comeback and win a close game 15-14.  As teams try to shut Sears down from going to goal, she has stepped up with 20 assists this year to help the Tigers fight for another Ivy League title.

Paige Petty (VA Tech)

Paige Petty is on all around great athlete who came back from being sick early in the 2018 season to earn a starting role in the midfield and developed into a top player for the Hokies, leading VA Tech to their first NCAA Tournament appearance, the ACC Semi Finals and winningest season to date in 2018.

Petty had a breakout year as a midfielder with 65 draw controls and 29 ground balls her Freshman year.  On attack, Petty led the team with 58 goals for the season including seven against Louisville and five against Syracuse.

As a Sophomore, Petty has already reached 100 career points (March 12, 2019) and continues to be a dominant force for her team in a tough ACC conference where she is often closely marked, but already scored over 50 goals for the season and brought down 53 draw controls for her team.  Petty continues to grow and develop in 2019, gaining confidence with each game as the Hokies look to capture their first ACC Championship and contend for a national title.

Stepping up Sophomore Year

As a Freshman the pressure is off, the expectations for an upperclassman with the experience and training at the DI level are different than for a teenager coming out of high-school.  But after that first game, when the coaches see that a player is ready to make the transition to Division I lacrosse – their expectations increase with each game.

While some Freshmen can go under the radar for a few games until they are properly scouted, once they demonstrate that they are a threat, the intensity ramps up, and only the Top Freshman handle this pressure and continue to be a dominant force on the field.

The Future of Women's Lacrosse

The future of women’s lacrosse is tremendous with the game growing every day and top players coming from all over the country.  With the new shot clock, the game is as fast as ever and top athletes are essential for any successful program.  Coaches are no longer just relying on the traditional hot beds for lacrosse (Baltimore, Long Island…) – top players like Charlotte North from Texas are coming from all over the country.

Top Freshmen in 2019 who are already making their mark in the women’s game include several players from Syracuse: Meaghan TyrrellMegan Carney and Sarah Cooper (Defense). Taylyn Standler UPenn (Attack), Izzy Scane Northwestern (Attack) and Tayler Warehine UNC (Midfield). Follow the top women’s lacrosse teams on the Road to the Final Four and a 2019 National Championship.