The weight of being the juggernaut of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference grows little by little for the Canisius College women’s lacrosse team.
The Golden Griffins have gone undefeated in regular-season league play three straight years – 24 games in a row. They are handling the pressure just fine.
“Every game the bull's-eye gets a little bit bigger,” said Canisius coach Scott Teeter. “We try to downplay it. Just play our style, play our game. I’m on some of the lacrosse websites and even though we’re 24, UMass is in the upper 40s. So I’m like, if they can handle the pressure I’m sure we can.”
Canisius puts its heavy-favorite status on the line this weekend when it aims for a fifth MAAC Tournament title in the last six years. The Griffs play host to fourth-seeded Niagara at 8 p.m. Friday in a semifinal game. No. 2 seed Fairfield plays No. 3 seed Marist at 4 p.m. The winners play at noon Sunday at Canisius for a berth in the 26-team NCAA Tournament.
Only a 2015 title-game loss to Fairfield in overtime interrupted the Griffs championship string, which began in 2011.
“There’s definitely games where we come out slow,” said Canisius junior Jen Reininger. “But I don’t think there’s been a time where every one of us has played bad. And we have so many threats all over the field that if a couple people aren’t at the top of their game, others are there to back them up.”
With No. 1 threat Erica Evans back for her junior season, Canisius’ success this season was expected.
Evans, from the lacrosse hotbed of Peterborough, Ont., was third-team All-American last year after scoring 72 goals and 91 points in 20 games. This year she stands second in the nation in goals per game (3.88), third in total goals (66), third in points (91), ninth in ground balls and 16th in turnovers caused.
She was named one of 25 semifinalists for the Tewaaraton Award, which goes to the top player in the nation.
“Phenomenal,” Teeter said. “Every time she steps on the lacrosse field, year after year, she says, 'What’s next coach? How do you want me to get better?' I’d say she’s a more complete player this year. She has really worked hard on her defensive game. She’s a pure goal scorer and uses her speed to her advantage.”
Teeter, a Canisius alumnus in his 15th year as coach, has built the Griff powerhouse partly by recruiting top talent from Rochester and his native Canada. Thirteen of 23 Griffs are from the Rochester area, and five are from Canada.
The Griffs lost only two of 12 starters from last year’s team and were bolstered by the transfer of Reininger from national powerhouse Syracuse. Reininger is one of three Griffs from Section V prep power West Irondequoit. She’s third on the team in goals with 38 and ranks No. 1 in the nation in shooting percentage, scoring on 65.5 percent of her shots.
“It was just so easy to fit in with this team from the start,” Reininger said. “I played with the whole junior class except for Erica in high school on travel teams.”
“Our expectations were high this year,” Evans said. “We only lost two starters and then we gained Jen, who came from Syracuse. If you shut down one person, there’s other options.”
Canisius’ top six scorers and nine of 12 starters are underclassmen. Sophomore Jourdan Roemer from West Irondequoit has 36 goals and 62 points.
Sophomore Tessa Chad from Ontario has 47 goals and 54 points. Junior Lauren Smolensky from Rochester has 13 goals and 52 points.
Canisius (13-4) stands No. 7 in the nation in scoring at 15.6 goals per game and No. 19 in scoring defense, allowing 9.5 a game.
Three of the Griffs’ four losses are to ranked teams – No. 2 North Carolina, No. 8 Syracuse and No. 15 Northwestern.
“I think playing a tough nonconference schedule early prepares us for our conference,” Teeter said.