RICHMOND, Va. – VCU women's lacrosse is set to begin Atlantic 10 conference play on Friday, April 1st as they travel across town to face off against the rival Spiders of Richmond. Richmond, a preseason selection to finish second in the conference, will prove to be a tough test for the Rams who are playing in the program's first conference game.
The Spiders were a preseason A-10 selection to finish second in the conference. Richmond is coming off a season in which they finished as the runners up to seven-time defending champion UMass after completing back-to-back seasons with 10 or more wins for the first time since 2007-08. The Spiders have competed in five of the last six A-10 championship finales and return 17 upperclassmen, including 2015 Rookie of the Year, Kim Egizi.
"We are excited to play in such a competitive conference where every single games matters. We fully believe our girls are ready for this challenge and prepared to make their own mark in the A-10." – Head Coach Jen O'Brien
VCU enters the game with a 2-6 record after falling to Old Dominion 19-2 on Saturday. Despite early struggles, the first-year program has made significant strides throughout the first half of the season. The Rams are ranked among the Top 40 in the nation in assists per game (14), caused turnovers per game (26), points per game (38) and draw controls per game (40). VCU is ranked second in the A-10 in assists, caused turnovers and groundballs per game, as well as free position percentage.
O'Brien and her staff are thrilled with the way that they have seen from their squad come together and handle adversity, "We are so pleased with the on field adjustments our girls have been able to make. When we focus on making a change to one part of our game they quickly respond and put those changes into play the next game."
The coach acknowledges that, as instructors a lot of focus will be put towards helping the team improve as lacrosse players and athletes, but admits that the staff has been more impressed with "how our girls have improved as people, teammates and leaders. While our record may not reflect it, we have seen tremendous growth out of our group, on both an individual and team level."
She continued by stating the impact that challenging games can have on a young squad, "tough losses provide an opportunity to grow whereas wins may just mask issues. We have seen our group unite and learn to be better teammates through our tough out of conference games."
As VCU enters conference play, they will continue to lean on Molly Barcikowski and Sky Hyatt, the team's leaders on offense. The two lead the Rams with 18 goals apiece. Barcikowski has also served up the most assists on the team and has scored the most points. The forward is ranked 12th in the nation in assists per game and 24th overall in assists. She is second in the conference in these categories. Hyatt leads the nation and the conference in free position percentage (.750)
As a new program, the Rams are at a slight disadvantage, but nevertheless have the talent and experience to surprise in conference play. Though VCU was picked to finish last in the conference, the first half of the schedule has prepared the Black and Gold well for A-10 action, "We have faced one of almost everything at this point in the season; close games, not so close games, handling a lead, having to make a comeback. We are fortunate to have all of these experiences under our belt before conference play."
It is this experience combined with the team's growth that has O'Brien confident that her team will be able to compete with conference rivals and perhaps lead to a postseason berth, "We are beginning the third quarter of our season on Friday. The first and second represent our preseason and out of conference schedule. The third signifies our conference regular season play which will hopefully set us up to play a fourth, the A-10 Tournament."
While the Rams sit at 2-6 overall, they are well aware that with the conference schedule comes a clean slate, "Our record is 0-0 at this point, just as we play as if the score was 0-0 coming out of every halftime. It is important to remember the experiences we have faced in the second quarter, we cannot let that define our season."