The University of Richmond women's lacrosse team will start the season Sunday at home in a match-up against the reigning NCAA champions, the University of Maryland Terrapins.
The game, which begins at 2 p.m., is the team's first in Robins Stadium.
"The day is definitely going to be a whirlwind," head coach Stephy Samaras Mantziaras said.
The team is excited to play in the new stadium, senior captain Bria Eulitt said, but Maryland is the toughest opponent it will face all season.
Maryland not only won the 2010 NCAA Division I national championship, but came from behind in the game to erase the worst deficit in women's lacrosse championship history.
The team obviously has a lot going for it, Mantziaras said.
"Right now, we're the only ones that believe that we can win," she said.
Junior captain Mary Flowers said the Spiders had high expectations.
"I think we can definitely hang with them, and we're going to play our hardest," she said.
The Spiders were picked to finish second in the Atlantic-10 Conference this year - just one point behind the University of Massachusetts - in a preseason coaches' poll.
The team is especially strong this year, Eulitt said.
"We've only lost two seniors so we've been building with this core group now for two solid years," Eulitt said. "The depth of our roster is unbelievable."
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In Mantziaras' second year as head coach, she is continuing to focus on building the team's fitness and speed, but also trying to foster a more creative style of play, she said. The team has fewer set plays than it did two years ago when the style of play was more regimented, she said.
"We're opening the creativity gates and seeing where they run," she said. "It's been a little wild."
Richmond's first four games of the season are against powerhouses of the Atlantic Coast Conference: Maryland, Duke University, the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia.
The first 10 games, in fact, are all outside of the Spiders' conference. The Spiders then have a two-week break before playing their seven conference games - which tend to be easier than playing against ACC teams, Flowers said.
The schedule is crafted that way on purpose, Mantziaras said, because the beginning of the season was the best time to catch the top teams off guard.
It's also good to get the anxiety of playing such formidable teams out of the way before playing important in-conference games, she said.
"It makes us better for A-10 play because we're playing against the best at the beginning of the season," she said. "It gets the tremors out early on."
With the schedule this way, she said, the team should be able to peak when it goes into conference play.
"By everyone's standards, we technically should start the season with a losing record," Mantziaras said.
The team's goal is to win two of its first four games, she said, which would be no small feat considering their opponents were all ranked in the top 10 in the country.
Not all A-10 teams play such a difficult schedule as Richmond, which is normally ranked among the top teams in the country for strength of schedule, Mantziaras said.
Eulitt said the players generally liked it that way.
"Our A-10 conference play isn't as strong so it gets us a head start," she said.
Flowers had just one hesitation about the schedule.
"To play the top five teams in the country all at once, it could be a confidence killer if they do beat us by a lot," she said.
The Spiders are expecting a good turnout at the Maryland game, Eulitt said, and were looking forward to a real home field advantage now that they can finally play on campus.
"It's going to be a drastic difference from last year when we had to drive down to Carytown," Flowers said.
Eulitt agreed that there were a number of advantages to Robins Stadium.
"Now that there's actually places for fans to sit, and there's going to be a concession stand open," she said. "I think there's going to be a lot of reasons for people to want to come."
Contact reporter Ali Eaves at firstname.lastname@example.org
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