NORTH ANDOVER — The Merrimack College women’s lacrosse program has gone through an overhaul the last year and a half. A new coach, new systems, and eight new players over the last year have helped reshape the culture of the program.
The Warriors stormed out of the gate in impressive fashion this season, winning three of their first four games after winning just twice all of last season. But since then, Merrimack has dropped seven games in a row. A look a bit closer inside those numbers show a team whose foundation is starting to be built, however.
In Merrimack’s eight losses this season, two have come in overtime and five have come by two goals or less. In comparison, last year’s team only won twice all season (2-15) and only four of their losses came by that slim a margin.
The Warriors averaged 6.35 goals per game last season and 16.8 shots, shooting 37.8 percent. All three of those offensive categories are up significantly this season, including 8.82 goals per game, 21.5 shots and a shooting percentage of 41.1 percent.
It hasn’t all translated into wins for the Warriors, at least not yet, but the program is back on solid footing, and well on its way to finding more notches in the win column.
“We feel like we’re only a few goals away from our record being almost flipped in terms of wins and losses,” said senior tri-captain Olivia Coakley. “We’re really close in almost every game we’ve played. We’re trying to find a way to get over that hump and I think we’re close. We definitely feel like we’re getting better every day.”
Michael Daly came on board as Merrimack’s coach last season and there was a slight adjustment. New systems were installed and as is the case in any coaching change, transition was met with some bumps in the road.
But despite a young team — there are only four seniors on the roster, three juniors and two sophomores to go with six freshmen and two redshirts — being able to return to a system that was well established last year allowed the team to hit the ground running when practices kicked off this season.
“The returning players all helped get the new players up to speed,” Coakley said. “Last year, we were all getting up to speed. We were learning about our new coaches and they were learning about us, too. But this year we definitely were able to get going right away. It was obviously an adjustment with new coaches but they’ve been huge for us. They’ve done a great job working with us and I know they’ve made me a better player and us a better team.”
Like most of Merrimack’s spring teams — like most of the spring teams around the region — getting outdoors was difficult for the Warriors at first. Until a few weeks ago when it was plowed, there was still several feet of snow on Martone-Mejail Field.
The Warriors were limited to gym workouts and work in the weight room for much of the first few weeks.
“It was frustrating obviously, because we wanted to get outside,” Coakley said. “I think we made the most of it though. We were able to do a lot of things away from the game to bring our team together. We’ve really become a really close team. This is one of the closest teams I’ve ever been on.”
The Warriors finally got outdoors on March 3 and romped past Findlay, 18-11.
“I think a lot of us took our frustrations out in that first game after being inside for so long,” Coakley said.
That was the start to the season. The end of the season is scheduled for later this month, April 25, when the Warriors travel to Bentley. But Coakley and the rest of her teammates hope that the season will be extended beyond that.
The Warriors have some work to do in order to qualify for the NE-10 playoffs, though. Merrimack is two games back of a playoff spot with six games remaining in the conference. On Saturday, the Warriors will host AIC and one week later the home schedule will come to a close against Le Moyne.
“One of our goals, which will require us to pull some wins here, is to qualify for the Northeast-10 playoffs,” Coakley said. “We’ve put ourselves in a position where we know we’ll need to win some games, but we’re confident we can do that. We’ll have to beat some top teams, too.