2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 19 UConn (Women)

PHOTO BY STEPHEN SLADE / UCONN ATHLETICS

Lia LaPrise led the Big East with 78 points in 2021.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 19 UConn

2021 Record: 12-7 (7-3, Big East)
Final Ranking (2021): Unranked
Coach: Katie Woods (12th season)

In some ways, without the COVID-19 pandemic, the UConn women’s lacrosse team would not have authored one of the great underdog stories of 2021.

2019 was simply a dismal season in Storrs, Conn. The Huskies went 3-14 and went 1-4 in Big East play. Little, if anything, went right.

In 2020, the year of the COVID-19 shutdown, UConn was off to a fiery start. At 5-2, hopes of contention were echoing through the program. But then it all ended as the pandemic took shape in the United States.

The pause, while disappointing out the outset, proved fruitful. When teams were able to return to the field, lacrosse became an outlet — even more so than before. Because of campus-wide COVID-19 restrictions, the lacrosse field became the only place players could interact with each other. It created a newfound sense of joy for the sport, and it gave head coach Katie Woods the opportunity to reimagine her program.

“A blessing of COVID was that lacrosse was the only thing that was fun for the kids,” Woods said. “We changed some things around in the way we do things, and we made sure that we were going to work hard but have fun doing it.

“All of a sudden, things started to come into place. The players were doing things they hadn’t necessarily done in years past.”

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Boston College

2. North Carolina

3. Syracuse

4. Northwestern

5. Stony Brook

6. Maryland

7. Notre Dame

8. Duke

9. Loyola

10. Florida

11. Virginia

12. James Madison

13. Princeton

14. Stanford

15. Denver

16. Rutgers

17. Drexel

18. Jacksonville

19. UConn

20. Penn

Even as it became clear early on that UConn was different, Woods said the team’s turnaround didn’t truly hit her until the Huskies played Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In a game UVA won 19-13, Woods was still proud of her team’s success.

“I don’t think [I realized we were that good] until halftime of our NCAA game against Virginia,” she said. “Last year, you were living until your next COVID test. I couldn’t look past anything else. What could our lineup be if we have a COVID outbreak? It almost was better because you just had to live in the moment.”

An offense that ran through Sydney Watson and Lia LaPrise blossomed, and Landyn White excelled in the cage. A conference once thoroughly dominated by Denver became a contested battle, even if the Pioneers took all three meetings between the two teams. Now, UConn has its sights set on unseating Denver at the top.

Rival coaches think it’s a possibility. One coach claimed that UConn is one of the most underrated teams in the country. Another suggested that the Huskies can give just about any team in the nation a run for its money.

With White and much of the defense back and 88.3 percent of the scoring returning, Woods and UConn could be in for even more of a breakout.







TOP RETURNERS

Sydney Watson, M, Sr.

The USA Lacrosse Magazine Division I Women’s Preseason Midfielder of the Year is dynamic in every phase of the game. The first IWLCA first-team All-American in program history last spring, Watson earned those honors thanks to a season in which she recorded 56 goals, 13 assists, 136 draw controls, 14 caused turnovers and 18 ground balls.

Lia LaPrise, A, Sr.

One of the fastest players on the field — both of terms of foot speed and mental acuity — LaPrise was an offensive anchor in 2021, scoring 37 goals with 41 assists. Often overlooked because of Watson’s profound impact on games, LaPrise is just as valuable to UConn’s strategies and successes. Her 78 points led the Big East.

Landyn White, G, Sr.

White was pivotal to UConn’s NCAA tournament berth last season, leading the Big East in saves (167) and ground balls per game (2.67). She comes up big against top opponents, recording 18 saves against Denver on April 9, 14 saves against Denver on May 8 in the Big East title game and 13 saves against Virginia in the NCAA tournament.

KEY ADDITION

Grace Coon, A, Sr.

Katie Woods says this will essentially be Coon’s first full season without being “all bandaged up.” She played in 17 games last spring but needed hip surgery in the offseason, the result of a nagging injury that hampered her play — a frightening thought for opposing defenses considering she still scored 41 goals. Earlier in her college career, she had surgery on the other hip. So while she’s not new to the program or the starting lineup, Coon could emerge as a reinvigorated asset this spring.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Kyra Place, Jr., M

Place started two games and made 14 appearances in 2021, netting a hat trick against Georgetown in a game that Watson could not play. That alone gives Woods confidence in Place, as stepping up for an All-American and producing is a tall task. “She’s just a kid who loves playing,” Woods said. “She has this huge smile with her mouthguard beaming through.”

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Huskies:

“UConn is a team that has a lot of people back, and I expect them to have another strong season. Sydney Watson is just a relentless athlete, and I think she’s going to take that team far.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

92.4

Sydney Watson had a stellar 2021 campaign for UConn. She had 56 goals and 13 assists, but that actually undervalues her overall contributions. When we add up everything she did and use the expected goals model to convert it to EGA, her 92.4 mark was good for fifth in all of D-I women’s lacrosse. With so many players back this year, Watson and the Huskies would appear to have a bright 2022 ahead. — Zack Capozzi

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