WATERVILLE, Maine --- A different-looking Thomas College women's lacrosse team takes the field today as the Terriers open up their 2016 season at the University of New England in Biddeford.
Thomas has been tapped for fourth place in the 2016 North Atlantic Conference preseason coaches poll, which was released Tuesday morning. The Terriers accumulated 49 points to rank behind unanimous favorite Castleton (81 points), Colby-Sawyer (71) and Husson (61). Thomas went 8-4 overall last year, including 6-2 in NAC play. The Terriers finished as NAC runners-up after falling to Castleton, 16-3, in the conference tournament final. It was the third straight NAC final appearance for Thomas.
This year's squad is under new leadership, however, as head women's soccer coach Deb Biche-Labbe takes the reigns on an interim basis. Biche-Labbe has built a 16-person roster comprised of nine holdovers and seven newcomers.
Finding consistent scoring will be a priority early on as only 29.5 percent of the team's goal-scoring returns. The bulk of that missing offense is due to the graduation of first-team all-NAC performers Jennifer Day and Brittany Premo. The pair combined for 107 points and 82 goals a year ago and 375 points and 287 goals over their four-year careers.
Also gone are all-NAC second-team defender Jaclyn Hartwell and starting goalkeeper Allie McCarthy. McCarthy started nine of Thomas' 12 games and joined Day and Premo on the NAC All-Tournament Team.
Sophomore Samantha Greenlaw (Windham, Maine / Windham) had a solid rookie campaign in 2015, starting all 12 games and finishing third on the team in goals (16) and points (19). The midfielder also notched 11 ground balls, four caused turnovers and one draw control along with a 76.6 shots on goal percentage.
Junior Sophia LaVallee (Pawling, N.Y. / Pawling), who moves up from the midfield to an attacker position, came on as a goal-scorer and ball-handler in her sophomore season, notching career-highs with nine goals and eight assists for 17 points. LaVallee ranked second on the team in assists, fourth in points and fifth in goals, while registering an impressive 77.3 percent of her shots on goal.
Sophomore MacKenzie Peatfield (Harmony, Maine / Dexter Regional) played in nine games, starting two, and recorded a goal. The addition of newcomer Kimberly Bourque (Augusta, Maine / Cony) will bring depth to the position.
The Terriers will be helped offensively by the return of midfielder Erin Nelligan (Walpole, Mass. / Walpole), who tallied 14 points on 12 goals and two assists in just five games. Nelligan, one of this year's captains, will be joined by sophomore Hailey Mullen (South Portland, Maine / South Portland), who tallied one goal, one assist and 14 ground balls in 10 games (nine starts) last season.
Newcomers Lindsey Allen (Jay, Maine / Spruce Mountain), Mary Turmel (Lewiston, Maine / Lewiston), Ashley Gooden (Lancaster, N.H. / White Mountain Regional) and Kaeleigh Benson (Dayton, Maine / Thornton Academy) give Biche-Labbe some flexibility with personnel. Allen and Turmel are juniors, while Gooden is a sophomore and Benson a freshman.
On defense, Crystal Leavitt (Phippsburg, Maine / Morse) started all 12 games with three points on two goals and an assist, 12 ground balls and seven caused turnovers en route to second-team all-conference honors. She joins Nelligan as a team captain. Sophomore Jordyn Taylor (Waldorf, Md. / North Point) also returns after posting 15 ground balls and causing four turnovers in nine starts last season, while newcomers Cassidy West (Vassalboro, Maine / Erskine Academy) and Aurora LaClair (Jaffrey, N.H. / Conant) will provide support.
Senior Brittany Fox (Lovell, Maine / Fryeburg Academy) and sophomore Tori Grey (Portland, Maine / Deering) will compete for playing time in goal for the Terriers. Last season, Fox started a pair of games, going 2-0 with a 3.50 goals-against average and 12 saves. Grey went 1-0, allowing five goals and making eight saves in a 26-5 win over Johnson State.
The 2016 schedule has expanded slightly, with the number of nonconference games doubling from two to four in addition to the eight-game North Atlantic Conference slate. The Terriers will face in-state competition (U. of New England, Saint Joseph's, Southern Maine) for three of its four non-league contest while the fourth is a trip to Norwich.
Inside the NAC, Castleton handed Thomas two of its four losses last season, while a third came in heartbreaking fashion as Husson scored three second-half goals to top Thomas, 7-6, in last year's regular-season finale.