The Next Step

Commodores aiming for NCAA Tournament berth in 2020

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s been 10 years since the Vanderbilt lacrosse program made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

The Commodores won’t shy away from that fact hanging over their heads going into the 2020 season.

“I think it’s important to say it,” Vandy head coach Beth Hewitt said. “We try to not dwell on it and make it more focused on the process and getting ourselves better every day, but I think it’s important to put it out there and say it so that everybody knows this is what we’re shooting for.

“It’s not about coming out and winning a few games. It’s about coming out and getting yourself on the national spotlight and national stage. Everyone is really excited about that.”

A year after winning 10 games (their most wins since the 2010 NCAA Tournament season), the Dores will set out this spring to reach new heights under second-year coach Hewitt. Vanderbilt has a young, yet experienced and talented roster giving the program flexibility and diversity in its game plans.

Early indications are improved depth will help Vandy improve internally before showcasing its abilities externally.

“We did our first preseason scrimmage the other day, and just putting some lineups together it’s still fluid and still a work in progress, but I think it also puts a chip on people’s shoulder and gets them ready to go,” Hewitt said. “The day after that scrimmage we had an awesome practice. Competition is what it’s all about for us.

“To me this year our goal is to potentially have a new lineup for each game. If that’s the case I want everyone fighting for their position every single day. I think we have the ability to do that this year.”

Vanderbilt has just five seniors on its roster, but that group includes attacker Mattern Burnett and midfielders Gwyn Devin and Emily Mathewson. The Commodores also return leading scorer Sophie Furlong, Gabby Fornia’s 36 assists and Nicki Dadino, Melissa Hawkins and Halle Regan on defense.

Hewitt also signed highly-touted recruit Paige Gunning to come in and compete at goalie.

“There’s a lot of experience in our junior class which is kind of nice,” Hewitt said. “In terms of some the underclassmen, we’re really excited about the freshmen class and what they’re able to bring and the depth they’re able to bring to the midfield position and the goalie position.

“I just think, in general, the depth is something we’re really excited about through preseason. It just feels like one through 31, anyone can step up any given day.”

The Commodores were picked to finish third in the American Athletic Conference in a preseason poll by the league’s coaches. And they have a gauntlet of a schedule inside and outside of the AAC.

Vandy faces six teams ranked in the preseason top 25 – four of those squads will start the year in the top 10. The Dores begin the campaign with three games away from home and the start of March features four straight home matches against Denver, Michigan, Penn State and Notre Dame, respectively.

All that should mold Vanderbilt into a unit ready to fight for a conference championship April 30-May 2 in Gainesville, Florida.

“I think our thought process with the schedule was we are looking to be the best. We want to get to get back to the place that we know Vanderbilt lacrosse should be. I think you don’t do that without playing the best,” Hewitt said. “The more competitive our schedule was – the more we get used to that’s who we’re playing every day, that’s who we are, that’s who we want to become. We feel like we have the talent and the ability to do that, but it’s time to prove it to everyone else, too.

“It’s going to be challenging. There’s going to be some really good lacrosse this year. I’m sure there’s going to be some times where we have some growing pains, but we’re going to figure out.”

Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for Follow him @MrChadBishop.