Western Washington University’s women’s lacrosse team captain Chelsea Hultz saw the early signs. She knew this season’s team could be even better than it had been in years’ past during the team’s tournament play at the Santa Barbara Shootout in mid-February.
“This was the first time we ever won any of our games (at the Shootout), because teams there are usually really good,” Hultz said. “So that was a good start to the season.”
And things just kept going up for the team from there. It went on to beat every team in its league, the Northwest Women’s Lacrosse League (NWWLL), and winning the postseason regional tournament at the peak of its performance.
“They weren’t easy games, and so that we were able to (beat every team) is exciting,” Hultz said. “In the regional semifinal against Oregon, that was the best lacrosse I’ve seen us play in my four years.”
But WWU found out just before the season that its league would not receive an automatic bid to the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association National Championships, and the winner of the league would only get a chance at an at-large bid.
So despite its most successful season, and a league and regional championship, WWU learned last week it will not be making the trip to Virginia Beach this year for the national championship.
“We really thought we would be chosen, but we weren’t,” Hultz said, “and one of the teams we almost beat in Santa Barbara is going, so we were that close.”
Despite missing out on the biggest stage at this level of lacrosse, WWU has plenty to hang its hat on this season. Aside from beating every team in the league, winning the league title and winning the regional playoffs, even.
This season is the first that the NWWLL has done MVP awards, and WWU nearly swept them. With six of the 12 nominees for the four MVP awards (attacker, midfielder, defender and goalie) coming from Western, the team “settled” for two of the four awards.
Amanda Hultz, Chelsea’s sister and sophomore attacker, won the attacking MVP, and Kate Ades, a junior, won the defender’s award.
“Amanda is really good at leading the attack,” Chelsea Hultz said. “People look to her because they trust her knowledge and skills. That’s a big deal for people to look up to you even if they’re older. Kate is a really good athlete and defender. She played in high school, but it wasn’t her main sport. She’s just a really good player and knows what to do. The way she plays is so textbook.”
Even though Chelsea Hultz was the captain who specialized in defense, she knew she could rely on Ades to be another coach on the field who would help direct the other defenders, she added.
That fact that the women’s lacrosse team was self-coached made the successful season even sweeter for the captains and the team. Chelsea Hultz, along with Linnea Whisman and Hannah Gose, made up the trio of captains/coaches.
Hultz took the reigns on defense, Gose specialized in midfield defense and Whisman was the leader for the attackers and attacking midfielders. Whisman also had to sit out the year to recover from a concussion, so she managed substitutions, Hultz said.
That captain trio changes most years, and so too does the playing style of the team, consequently.
“I think in years past, with the attack, it’s been a lot of one-man-show kind of thing,” Hultz said. “This year it was different and that worked well for us because we had so many players having goals and assists, that was just due to the different style of coaching because we wanted it to be a team sport. Defense has been pretty much the same, we just tried to be more aggressive.”
The bright side is team’s run of success shouldn’t be limited to this season. Only three players have used up their four years of eligibility — Chelsea Hultz, Callie Gionet and Sophie Schiefeleein — meaning the team returns 17 players next season.
“Next year we’re hoping and expecting to get the automatic bid back, so I fully expect the team to go to nationals next year,” Hultz said.