Fall Ball Focus: The Bar Has Been Raised for Rutgers Women's Lacrosse

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Meghan Ball is a returning USA Lacrosse Magazine All-American and leader of the Rutgers defense.


The bar has been raised for the Rutgers women’s lacrosse team.

The Scarlet Knights are coming off their most successful season, a year in which they set a program record with 16 wins, knocked off No. 4 Northwestern to reach the Big Ten championship game for the first time and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament for a second straight year.

“When you have success, and a taste of some championship games, you want to work that much harder to get back to that point again,” head coach Melissa Lehman said. “We can't just relax and rest on a season that was successful. We have to continue to put in the work.”

While attackers Stephanie Kelly and Taralyn Naslonski, both All-American selections by USA Lacrosse Magazine, will be sorely missed, there’s plenty of high-level talent on the Banks of the Raritan.

That includes Big Ten Midfielder of the Year Cassidy Spilis (69 goals, 72 draw controls), a USA Lacrosse Magazine second-team All-American and defender Meghan Ball (54 caused turnovers, 64 ground balls, 114 draw controls), a USA Lacrosse Magazine third-team All-American.

“We have to set higher bars for ourselves at practice and for individuals and getting better because as individuals get better, the team gets better,” said Lehman, who was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year last season. “I think for us, we obviously lost a lot of points with two attackers graduating, so it's been figuring out what's our chemistry going to look like this fall and putting people in a lot of different situations who maybe haven't seen a ton of field time and putting the ball in their hands a lot more.”

LAST SEASON

It was a banner 2022 for the Scarlet Knights, who had six wins over ranked opponents en route to a third-ever NCAA tournament appearance. Rutgers finished the season ranked No. 10 in the country by USA Lacrosse Magazine.

“I think what I saw from my team was just so much growth,” Lehman said. “They learned from a lot of the games that they had been in before of what it takes and how to win and I felt like that gave my team a lot of belief. And the belief really carried them to such a successful year.”







BIGGEST FALL QUESTION

Who replaces Naslonski’s offensive impact?

Naslonski, who has joined the coaching staff as a volunteer assistant, is the program’s all-time leading scorer. And, as Lehman said, there is no like-for-like replacement.

“TT did a lot of different things, not just scoring, but offensive movement,” Lehman said. “To understand how to create that flow, we need players who are willing to drive, so that's been a focus. It's got to be by committee to replace what she did for this offense.”

Chairing that committee will be Marin Hartshorn and Jenna Byrne from attack, while midfielders Ashley Campo and Ashley Moynahan are also excelling this fall in advanced roles.

MARQUEE ADDITIONS

Ava Kane and Gianna Eglauf.

Lehman has been impressed with a pair of freshmen this fall. Ava Kane, a 5-10 attacker and draw specialist who played for Garnet Valley (Pa.), has stood out due to her physicality and love of competing on the draw. Midfielder Gianna Eglauf of Westlake (N.Y.), who Lehman calls a “gritty ground baller,” should also earn valuable minutes.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATES

Marin Hartshorn and Jenna Byrne.

Marin Hartshorn (35 goals, 22 assists and 53 draw controls) and Jenna Byrne (42 goals, 18 assists) are known commodities, but Lehman believes both are ready to take the next step up this year, both in terms of offensive production and leadership.

“Jenna Byrne is stepping into a great leadership role this fall. And I just see her confidence at a very high level,” Lehman said. “And Marin Hartshorn is a leader of this team and we're looking for her to step up big and really not just be the quarterback but produce a lot of points for us.”

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