Lacrosse: The elite eight

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April 28, 2009

1:55 AM

College of William and Mary women’s lacrosse Head Coach Christine Halfpenny was watching as her sophomore class, her first recruiting class at the College, assemble for a group picture. The players posed in goofy positions, threw up hand signals and tried not to laugh as their coach looked on in the background.

“They just don’t look very bad-ass,” Halfpenny said with a smile.

That’s a statement the rest of the CAA might find funny, considering the Tribe’s sophomore class has been, to use Halfpenny’s word, very “bad-ass” this season. The eight-member group has led the College to a second-straight CAA regular season title and the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

But to judge the class simply by their numbers would be misleading.

When Halfpenny took the head coaching position in 2006, she had about a month to put together her first recruiting class. A few, like attacker Ashley Holofcener and midfielder Grace Golden, were already looking at the College. However, the majority of targets on Halfpenny’s recruiting list were players she knew from her time as an assistant coach at Duke University.

To make matters worse, Halfpenny had not yet picked out a house in Williamsburg.

“I wasn’t even living here in Williamsburg,” Halfpenny said. “I was living down in North Carolina and making special trips up for unofficial visits for top student athletes who were giving us a look.”

The eventual eight-member recruiting class stuck with the Tribe, arriving at the College after a 3-13 record in Halfpenny’s first season. In their first season, the newcomers helped lead the Tribe to a co-CAA championship, while managing to avoid the friction that sometimes occurs between a new recruiting class and the previous year’s team under a new coach.

“One of the unusual things about our team is how close everyone is. There is no divide,” attacker Maggie Anderson said. “On other teams, we hear stories from our friends about how the freshmen don’t even talk to the seniors. We were welcomed.”

The sophomores and Halfpenny give credit to the upperclassmen for their success.

“We have such a good relationship with them that it was easy for them to show us how to do things,” midfielder Kaitlyn Gambrell said. “We were doing big things on the field, and they weren’t looking at that in a negative way. They were happy for us.”

As freshmen, Golden, goalie Emily Geary and Holofcener made the CAA-Rookie Team, with Golden winning Rookie of the Year. This season, Golden and Holofcener rank in the conference’s top ten in points. Four of the Tribe’s top five points leaders are sophomores.

The most impressive thing about the sophomore class is their confidence, a trait which Halfpenny specifically sought in her first recruiting class.

“I think the kids were a little skeptical,” Halfpenny said. “They knew what William and Mary had to offer academically, but they were looking at a brand new, young head coach coming in. But the bottom line was at the end of the day, they were able to come in, sit in my office and say, ‘I want to win championships.’”

The legacy of this class will be decided in championships — and not just those of the CAA variety. The class is accustomed to winning on the biggest stage possible and will settle for nothing less.

“I came in wanting to win it all,” Golden said. “I want to win a national championship and I think everyone in our class, everyone on our team and the coaches could say the same thing.”

Small differences distinguish the sophomores: defender Sarah Jonson is the best athlete, and also the best rapper, although she loathes bringing it up in public. Golden is the most talkative, while midfielder Molly Wannen and Geary are the two quietest.

But if it was a desire for championships that brought the members of the sophomore class to the College, it’s the experiences they’ve shared since arriving on campus that have made them friends. Whether it was leaving practice last year by piling eight people into defender Emma Starnes’s car, going to a Halloween party dressed as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — Wannen was Snow White — or spending long bus rides singing team song “Jumper” by Third Eye Blind, the sophomore class shares an uncommon bond both.

“I don’t think everybody can say this about their own classes, but not only do we click so well on the field, the seven other girls are legitimately my best friends,” Holofcener said.

The feeling is mutual.

“We talk about how lucky we are that we wound up here together,” Anderson said. “It wouldn’t be the same without any one person in our group, which is so special.”

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