If you had been looking for the women's lacrosse team practicing for the Atlantic-10 conference Monday, March 22 you would have been out of luck.

The coaches surprised the team with a spur of the moment bowling trip instead of practice to relax the players going into conference play starting on the first, junior Caitlin Fifield said.

The team played an intense preseason schedule with several top-20 opponents in preparation for A-10s and a shot at a top-20 ranking, Fifield said. This season the team opened with defending national champions the University of Maryland followed by Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Virginia, which are all ranked in the top 10 in the country.

The Spiders are currently 3-7, but team morale has remained high despite the losing record, senior Shannon Cudahy said. "Learning to play with the best is only going to make you better," she said. "There isn't much point in playing teams that aren't going to challenge you."

A home opener against Duquesne will kick off the A-10 season and the team is ready to pull together a winning streak, Fifield said. "We definitely want to go undefeated in league," she said.

Although the team competes in the A-10, there are only eight teams in the league, which means a seven game season with only four teams advancing to the A-10 tournament. Last year the team lost to the University of Massachusetts in the A-10 tournament championship.

If there is one thing on sophomore Gabi Wiegand's mind, it's beating UMass, she said, and Cudahy agreed. "The ultimate goal is to beat UMass whether people say it or not," Cudahy said.

Wiegand also said the team has focused on playing as a more cohesive unit and spreading out the stats this season. Traditionally, the team has had one or two scorers dominate the stat line, but this year the scoring has evened out, making the team even more versatile and dangerous, she said.

In the game against Longwood on March 16 the team scored a program-record 24 goals with nine different players scoring. It is this type of offensive presence that the team is hoping will lead it to a championship, Fifield said.

"We are the ones standing in our way," she said. "Our skill level is there and our speed. We have it all we just need to put it together."

The team would lose nine starters to graduation this year, and an A-10 championship would be the icing on the cake for them, Cudahy said. "I know my class would love to come out with a ring," she said.

Cudahy said she hoped the team could use its veteran experience to carry it into conference and give some of the younger players an opportunity to play.

The team has suffered major injuries this preseason and will be forced to fill gaps in its starting lineup, but the players are confident they have the depth to still win a title, Fifield said. "Going in, we all know we are better than every A-10 team," she said. "We just need to go and prove it."

Injuries have also added an interesting twist to practice, Wiegand said. "Each day is like a tryout," she said. "You never know if your starting spot will be there, so it makes practice very competitive."

Cudahy said she had also sensed the increased competitiveness in practice. "When it comes down to it, if you produce on the field in practice you will play," she said. "Age and experience don't determine playing time."

Going undefeated in conference is the main goal this season, Fifield said, but playing consistently could be a problem for the team. "We tend to play down to the level of the other team so we need to work on putting a consistent 60 minutes together," she said.

Although the team lost in overtime to Towson University on March 19, it was the best game it had played all season, Cudahy said. "We came together as a unit and fought back," she said. "The outcome wasn't what we wanted, but it showed us what we are capable of."

The team hoped to ride that momentum into conference and hit its stride at the right moment, Wiegand said. And Cudahy said she was on board.

"An A-10 title is definitely feasible," Cudahy said. "We are the best team in the A-10. It's just a matter of carrying it out or not. It's not really an option to lose."

Contact reporter Rachael Bilney at rachael.bilney@richmond.edu

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