The Montclair State women’s lacrosse team approached the 2022 season with high hopes after a historic 2021 season, but the results have been mixed thus far.
The Red Hawks came into the season nationally ranked 19th in the Top 20 preseason poll as head coach Nicol Parcelluzzi returned a nucleus of 11 fourth and fifth-year seniors, with most of them being starters from last season.
With a challenging non-conference schedule this time around, the Red Hawks failed to live up to their expectations as they lost four of their first five games.
Graduate senior midfielder Morgan Connon admitted the national ranking was affecting the team’s performance because they were living off their past success.
“We were trying to keep up with the history we made last year,” Connon said.
Instead of losing hope, Parcelluzzi said her team continued to fight through the adversity.
“Our first few games were against top competition,” Parcelluzzi said. “Even though we were not able to come up with the wins, we were able to learn and grow as a team.”
Connon explained that once their senior class began to worry less about the national rankings and the lofty expectations, they began to have fun together as a team.
“I think we just had to flush that and forget about it,” Connon said. “We did figure out we just had to simplify things. We started to focus on the little mistakes we were making in games and be successful in little ways to make it all come together.”
For All-American senior goalkeeper, Allyn Lilien, their early-season struggles have been an eye-opening experience.
“We do have the potential to compete with the best of our teams in our conference, out of our conference and in our region,” Lilien said. “But when we have those lapses, it does not look pretty. We know that. And we have seen that this season.”
After a 1-4 start, the Red Hawks have won four of their last five games to even their record at 5-5. According to fifth-year senior attack Rhiannon Brown, the key to the Red Hawks’ turnaround has been mostly strategic.
“A lot of people are putting in extra work as well, which I think is definitely transferring into the game,” Brown said. “But we shifted our focus in practice to concentrate on shot placement, taking good shots and making smart plays. And that is what’s been translating into our games.”
Parcelluzzi also credits the leadership of the senior class.
“All of our seniors have made an impact on this program,” Parcelluzzi said. “Their veteran experience has created a positive team chemistry this season. The seniors have been a positive influence on the underclassmen by creating an environment of strong work ethic, discipline and commitment.”
It also helps when the team practices day in and day out against Lilien, who’s one of the best goalkeepers in program history.
“I love having [Lilien] back there,” Brown said. “She is the best goalie I have ever played with and ever will play with. She has been like an absolute brick wall back there, and knowing that she is back there and leading our defense is so comforting to the team. She is such a good player and so reliable on the field that you know she is going to be there to make those big plays every single time.”
As the leader on the backline, Lilien has the best vision on the field from both a defensive and attacking angle.
“I believe that when our defense is our strongest, it leads to our best attack and as a whole our best performances,” Lilien said. “Defensively, I’ve played with the same group of defenders. They are experienced. They know how I play. So, it’s been nice to always be able to confide in them and know they are seeing the same things that I am seeing.”
The Red Hawks started conference play with an 18-3 setback to No. 10 ranked The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), but followed that up with a 19-0 shutout against Rutgers Camden on Saturday. Once again, the team showed its resiliency and ability to bounce back after a loss.
“Hopefully, that will set the tone for us to hustle and to work hard,” Lilien said. “So that if we do play TCNJ again, we will have a different outcome on a competitive level. Our biggest goal is to compete in the [New Jersey Athletic Conference] Tournament and head to the championship again this year.”
Parcelluzzi is counting on the senior class to help this team achieve its overall goals.
“Our goal is to get back to the conference championship game,” Parcelluzzi said. “This team has been working so hard on and off the field to make that happen.”
Unfortunately, the Red Hawks will have to do it without one of their top midfielders, as senior Amber Gonzalez recently suffered a torn meniscus in both knees, effectively ending her career as a Red Hawk.