Ocean City High School girls lacrosse coach Alyssa Preis doesn't want to call this a rebuilding year.
The Red Raiders, who lost six seniors - at least one each in the attack, midfield and defense - to graduation are instead looking at a "re-creation" year, as Preis put it. They want to re-create what they do offensively, defensively and how they use their overall talent to defend their Cape-Atlantic League title.
"It's spread out pretty evenly this season," Preis said Wednesday as the Red Raiders prepared for today's season opener against Millville. "We need to pick it up this year, and it's not just one person. The seniors really ran the field last year, and now we want this group to lead."
Among the challenges will be replacing Tess Solazzo, who scored 110 goals last season and led all of New Jersey with 111 assists. She now plays for Ohio State University. She was just the ninth girl in New Jersey scholastic history to score 300 career goals (319).
"She really knew the game and played with confidence," said senior attack Julie Cusack on Saturday.
"Playing with her, you grew more confident because she found you. And if you messed up, she would help you. She was the person to show us how to take shots and do certain things the right way."
Cusack scored four goals last season. She and classmate Abby Lyons (16 goals) will be relied upon in the attack this season, and their offensive production likely will increase.
"We want to be like (Solazzo) and fill in what she did," Lyons said Saturday.
Senior attack Lauren Zetter and junior midfielder Mikala Gillespie also are expected to join in the scoring. They will help fill the 48-goal void left by midfielder Casey Hanna, who now plays for Monmouth University.
Junior Kristi Rohrer and junior captain Kelly Hanna (Casey's sister) will provide experience at midfield. They will be joined by senior Meghan Kelly.
Preis said that Hanna, who started last season as a sophomore, will be the link between last year's senior leaders and this year's returning players and newcomers.
"It's a tough position to step into because I am a junior," Hanna said. "I'm making it my goal to be a leader on the field and distribute the ball, to get people where they want to be on the field and be that encouraging voice."
Ocean City has nine seniors, and seven of them are expected to contribute immediately, Preis said.
Two of those seniors will control the Red Raiders' backfield in Erin Meehan and Rachel Young. They are expected to help replace two tall defenders who graduated - Sarah Dalsey (Manhattan) and Natalie Landi.
Meehan and Young aren't the tallest defenders in the league, but they have good footwork and body placement so they don't need their stick do all the work, Preis said.
Maura Twiggs will be the starting goalie. As a sophomore last season she was a second team Press All-Star.
Ocean City is heading into this season with a target on its back. The Raiders have won three consecutive CAL titles.
But it could be tougher this season as the league continues to get better and deeper. The league consists of nine teams this season, and three more (Cedar Creek, Atlantic City, Holy Spirit) will join in 2015.
The Red Raiders' scheduled season opener was rained out Saturday in West Deptford. After a preseason filled with rain and a mad scramble to get scrimmages in, they are eager to play.
"We're ready to get the season started finally," Preis said.
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