Veteran Squad Readies for Challenging NE-10 Slate

COLCHESTER, Vt. - Simply by being a member of the Northeast-10 Conference, the Saint Michael's College team's schedule is annually chock full of national and regional powers, as evidence by seven of the Purple Knights' 12 league counterparts recently earning national recognition.

A year after Saint Michael's posted a 4-12 record, including 1-11 in the gauntlet that is her team's NE-10 slate, third-year head coach Ashley Hughes points to a narrow 11-9 loss against seventh-ranked Stonehill College last March as one of the signs that the Purple and Gold can compete with some of the top teams in the league.

"We try to approach every game in the same way that we approach every practice, in that we want to be better than the day before," said Hughes. "Last year was a great example of that, when we came out against Stonehill and really almost shocked them, ourselves and the conference by taking it down to the end."

Against a Stonehill team that has lost only seven league games in 14 seasons, the Purple Knights forced 24 turnovers, the most by the Skyhawks against an NE-10 foe in two years. Following that contest, which came after an overtime setback against eventual NCAA Division III Tournament qualifier Keene State College, Saint Michael's stayed within three goals of eighth-ranked Bentley University on April 4 until more than seven minutes were gone in the second half in another setback. The season came to an end, however, with the Purple Knights upsetting non-league foe Queens College, which was receiving national votes, by an 11-9 final on April 29.

"We proved to ourselves last season that we have the potential to surprise some people, but we have to put it all together every day for 60 minutes," said Hughes. "That's the toughest part of being in this conference, that if you let up for one minute, you're going to be exposed."

Hughes is joined by sixth-year assistant coach Cara Gorman and a pair of alums in third-year assistant Maddie Cave '10 and first-year assistant Sandy Palumbo '12, the team's lone goalkeeper last spring. Among the dozen teams the squad is set to face in NE-10 action alone, five were ranked in the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association's (IWLCA) March 5 national poll, and two others were receiving votes.

Thirteen of the 16 Purple Knights who recorded points last year return, and after one graduated senior scored nearly one quarter of the team's goals, Hughes is looking for a more balanced attack in 2013.

"Knowing that a lot of our sophomores got a ton of playing time last year and are starting to mature and develop, we're looking now for a more collaborative approach as opposed to depending on one or two people to be the goal scorers," said Hughes. "We've built an offensive set that really fits the talents that we have, finding skills in people that were already there and pulling them out even further."

Juniors Caroline Casper (Norfolk, Mass./Thayer Academy) and Crystal King (South Burlington, Vt./South Burlington) made major contributions to the attack last year, with King notching 15 goals and 20 points, and Casper turning in a team-best 12 assists en route to 17 points. Casper is also a member of the field hockey team. Sophomores Kate Boyer (Standish, Maine/Bonny Eagle) and Courtney Piper (Wolfeboro, N.H./Brewster Academy) both collected 19 points during their debut seasons, with Boyer totaling 17 goals and Piper potting 14.

Junior Alexa Coleman (Boxford, Mass./Masconomet Regional) totaled seven points while appearing in every game on the attack last year, drawing 10 starts, and classmate Shannon Murphy (Boxboro, Mass./Acton-Boxboro Regional/UMass) also notched seven points but was limited to eight games, including five starts. First-year Maggie Dougherty (Verona, N.J./Verona) rounds out the attackers.

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