Retooled Boston College Hopes to Hit Stride
Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Boston College women's lacrosse team heading into the 2016 campaign was how fourth-year coach Acacia Walker was going to replace the prolific output of Mikaela Rix and Covie Stanwick, the program's all-time leading scorers who finished their careers a year ago.
One of the answers lied in senior midfielder Sarah Mannelly, whose 50 goals last season tied for the team lead. Problem solved, right? Well, not exactly. Mannelly, a Tewaarton finalist last year, has been working her way back into shape after tearing her ACL in the Eagles' final game of 2015, a 19-12 loss to Loyola in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Tewaaraton finalist Sarah Mannelly is rounding into form after ending last season with an ACL injury. (John Quackenbos/BC Athletics)
"She (Mannelly) was cleared at the start of the season but she wasn't herself," Walker said by phone this week. "She's just finally getting back to her normal self."
Mannelly made that evident this past Saturday, when the 5-foot, 5-inch midfielder tallied a game-high four goals and two assists in the host Eagles' 13-9 upset win over visiting Syracuse.
It was easily the most notable win last week among those teams in the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine Top 20, as the Eagles jumped up five spots in the rankings to No. 11 after holding the Orange the their fewest goals scored all season. It also marked the first win in Atlantic Coast Conference play for Boston College (6-3 overall, 1-2 ACC), and just the second all-time victory over Syracuse (7-3, 1-1 ACC) in the series.
"She just so dominant everywhere," Walker said of Mannelly's performance last Saturday. "She's a presence on the draw control. She's not just scoring goals. She's creating stuff in transition, she's creating as an off-ball attacker, and it's leading to other players scoring because she can feed. And she's fast."
Mannelly's four goals and six overall points in Saturday's win matched season-highs, as she currently leads the team in total points (31). Quite impressive considering she's not even back to full health just yet.
"I think she's about 85 to 90 percent there," Walker said. "She's a pretty phenomenal athlete."
And she might be relied upon to carry even more of a load this Saturday when Boston College hosts No. 3 North Carolina (7-2, 1-0), as the status remains unclear for Eagles' freshman phenom Sam Apuzzo, who sustained an injury towards the end of the game against Syracuse.
"We are not sure yet," Walker said when asked if Apuzzo will play Saturday against the Tar Heels.
Apuzzo leads the team in goals (21) and draw controls (33), so it would be a big blow for the Eagles to be without its 5-foot-6 freshman, as Apuzzo and Mannelly have gone a long way in being the solutions to the departures of Rix and Stanwick. And Walker said the team is about a week away from seeing the return of the two-sport athlete Kenzie Kent, who just finished up the ice hockey season this past Sunday when Minnesota downed BC, 3-1, in the national championship game.
A year ago, Kent helped lead the women's ice hockey team to the Frozen Four and then joined the women's lacrosse team in early April and went on to score 22 goals in just eight games, including five goals in an overtime loss to Syracuse in the ACC tournament.
"I'm thinking maybe she (Kent) will be back with us for the Virginia game (next Saturday, April 2)," Walker said.
Then again, Boston College's stout defense, led by returner Zoe Ochoa (.429 save percentage) in goal, is still intact after holding Syracuse to a season-low eight goals. And like Apuzzo on the offensive end, BC has standouts on the defensive end who have slid into starting roles as freshmen in 5-foot-8 Dempsey Arsenault and 5-foot-5 Elizabeth Miller.
"She (Miller) is definitely our quickest defender," Walker said. "We knew that she would be a four-year starter for us when we recruited her. She's such an athlete. She's so quick and so fast. She's really smart about what she's doing on the field."
With new starters, and other returning starters moving to new positions, Walker said it has taken her 2016 squad some time to get used to each other in the first month or so of the season.
"It's more just teamwork and working together instead of 12 individuals," Walker said. "That's what is gonna be our strength this year: when the girls play pretty well together they're pretty unstoppable."
And it will again be a point of emphasis on Saturday when UNC comes to town for a 1 p.m. showdown.
"We have to play as a unit," Walker said. "Carolina is a different team from Syracuse. Our offense is gonna have to face a man defense. We're gonna have to stop several high-threat attackers. They're very good at the draw."
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