Fall Ball Focus: Albany Enters New Era With Homegrown Star at the Helm


New York is home to new Albany head coach and former Syracuse star Katie Rowan, who sees great potential for the Great Danes in the America East.

Katie Rowan grew up just a few miles from the University of Albany in nearby Delmar and graduated from Bethlehem High School (N.Y.) in 2005. The Albany area is — and always has been — home for the former Syracuse star.

After spending three years as head coach of the Wagner women’s lacrosse team, Rowan was named the head coach of the Great Danes in June. There won’t be a parade with a marching band, but this is definitely a homecoming.

“This is home for me,” said Rowan, who went 31-27 at Wagner with two NCAA tournament appearances. “I grew up just a few minutes down the road from the University of Albany, and to be able to lead the program here in my hometown is really special to me. The great potential that is here at the University with the program, it was just a really good fit for me.”

This isn’t Rowan’s first stint with Albany. She served as an assistant there from 2011-12 before spending a year as an assistant at Syracuse, where she was a three-time first team All-American.

The opportunity to be the head coach of her hometown team was just too enticing to ignore. Stony Brook has had a stranglehold on the America East for six seasons, but Albany is perhaps the closest team to dethroning the Seawolves. Even if that’s not a guarantee in Rowan’s first year, it gives her and the Great Danes a realistic goal to build toward.

For now, she wants to positively influence the team’s culture.

“I really believe in creating a positive atmosphere, positive environment for the players,” she said. “I’m really big into teaching the game as well as empowering the players on the field by giving them all the tools.”

With degrees in inclusive education/special education and sociology, it’s clear that Rowan’s passion is teaching and building relationships.

“They’re so eager to learn and they’re so receptive of the new coaches and players,” said Rowan, who brought in Leah Gallagher and retained Taylor Frink as assistant coaches. “They’re just passionate and determined people. I’ve always had a true passion for working with others, trying to work for others.”

There’s plenty of talent for Rowan to work with. Sophomore Kendra Harbinger returns as the reigning conference rookie of the year, and the coaching staff is “looking for her to keep building.”

Ally Alliegro, a sophomore, joins Albany after scoring 42 goals in her freshman season at Wagner. She’s joined by Julia Imbo, a sophomore transfer from Coastal Carolina. Kyla Zapolski, another sophomore, is a returning player to watch as well. All three played together at Bayport-Blue Point High School on Long Island.

Overall, there are 13 newcomers after losing just three players from last spring. Rowan said, “It’s been a really great start,” and that’s to be expected with so much returning talent.

That talent took the field on Sept. 29 at Syracuse for its first fall ball tournament. The Great Danes saw Syracuse, Niagara, Lemoyne and Cortland, and Rowan said she’s happy with the results she saw.

The focus in the fall — and in year one as a whole — must be on building. As long as the final record reflects the team’s growth, it should be considered a success. The Great Danes lost their first seven games last season before winning eight of their last nine in the regular season. Consistency will be key in 2019.

Right now, Rowan “just wants to see the development of the players.” With her ability to communicate both as an educator and as someone with significant playing experience, her players could take strides. Maybe even leaps.

The first home game could bring jitters. With some local family and friends as good bets to attend, all eyes will be on how Rowan kicks off her tenure at Albany.

It’s a new era for the Great Danes with a homegrown star at the helm.

“It’s anyone any year,” Rowan said, “so it’s just a new slate for everyone and we’re just excited to get going this spring.”

Fall Focus
America East

As we inch closer to the 2019 season, the America East crown still runs through Stony Brook. But the Seawolves graduated history-making talent, leaving the field more hopeful than in years past. Teams are listed in order of last year’s final standings.

Stony Brook
7-0 America East, 20-1 Overall

The Seawolves graduated record-breaking scorers Kylie Ohlmiller and Courtney Murphy, not to mention five-year defensive standout Brooke Gubitosi. But Stony Brook has won six straight conference titles, and coach Joe Spallina said top returning scorer Taryn Ohlmiller is expected to be back in full swing by the start of the season after tearing her ACL in May.

6-1 America East, 9-9 Overall

The Great Danes fell to Stony Brook in the America East championship, 22-14, but held a 7-6 lead in the first half. All but three players return from the previous season – led by sophomore Kendra Harbinger, the America East rookie of the year – so there’s serious potential in this squad. Kyla Zapolski is another sophomore to watch.

5-2 America East, 8-9 Overall

An historic campaign for the Bearcats ended with a 16-10 loss to Albany in the conference semifinals, the program’s first-ever conference tournament appearance. Binghamton graduated 11 seniors, leaving holes to be filled, but Rebecca Golderman and Taylor Passuello are returning America East second-team selections.

New Hampshire
4-3 America East, 6-11 Overall

Ousted by Stony Brook in the conference semifinals four of the last five seasons, New Hampshire is out to change the narrative. The Wildcats graduated their top three point-getters from a year ago in Krissy Schafer, Carly Wooters and Teagan Northrup, but that leaves sophomore Julia Neyland poised for more opportunities.

3-4 America East, 11-6 Overall

The Retrievers played well out of conference, challenging themselves with matchups against Maryland (a 21-12 loss) and Johns Hopkins (a 13-9 loss). Conference play proved tough, but a roster currently with nine seniors has the leadership to take a step forward. Lauren McDonald, a senior who scored 38 goals last spring, returns as the team’s top scoring threat.

2-5 America East, 6-11 Overall

Much of the offensive punch returns in the person of Elise Koehl, a senior who led the Catamounts with 42 goals last season. Jenna Janes (37 goals) also returns, so Vermont’s offense appears to be in good shape. Former Notre Dame standout Casey Pearsall is on as an assistant coach, and her pedigree could help Vermont improve.

UMass Lowell
1-6 America East, 4-13 Overall

The triumphant return of Noelle Lambert highlighted the River Hawks’ season last spring, and now coach Carissa Medeiros is out looking for a better season in 2019. Primary feeder Kendyl Finelli returns for her senior season, though she might be asked to score a few more goals to replace Taylor Sokol, who graduated. Renee Gonzalez could step into a full-time role in the cage.

0-7 America East, 1-12 Overall

Hartford’s first Division I season went as expected. Now, it’s time to see if the program can make strides in Year 2. Another year of experience for a roster with 18 freshmen last spring should have Hartford better prepared for the rigors of the America East.

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