May 9, 2012
Cortland’s Stegeland defensive glue for SU
It’s all a matter of confidence.
That sums up the success Janelle Stegeland has had in transitioning from the offensive powerhouse she was for the Cortland High girls’ lacrosse team to a senior captain, defensive stalwart and three-year starter for the Syracuse University women’s squad. The SU squad, now16-3 and ranked fourth nationally in Division I, was recently selected as the school’s Women’s Team of the Year.
Stegeland, the daughter of Mick and Jacquelyn Stegeland, scored 200 goals and added 61 assists during her four years as a midfielder for the Purple Tigers, leading the team in scoring three times in that span. That included a 91-point senior season on 64 goals and 27 assists.
She was an all-league first-team selection all four seasons and, as a senior, was an All-CNY second-team pick and an honorable mention All-America selection as well as winning the Norma Riley Award as Cortland High’s top senior female athlete.
Her focus on the game changed once she decided to accept Orange coach Gary Gait’s invitation to head north just a bit to continue her playing career in college. Stegeland and the fourth-seeded Orange, which has allowed opponents an average of 8.68 goals a game this spring, will host Dartmouth Sunday in the first round of this year’s NCAA Division I Tournament.
“I knew coming in that they were looking for defensive players,” said the 22-year-old sociology major, who in addition to her shut-down defensive work has 41 ground balls, 17 draw controls and 21 caused turnovers in her career and was an All-Big East second-team selection this spring as well as an SU Scholar Athlete of the Week for the week of April 30. “I was excited to be part of the team and was ready to fill any role I could. Being a midfielder in high school helped me a little with confidence, knowing how to carry and hold the ball. Now I’ve been a defender for all four years, and I don’t think I could go back.
“Being a scorer in high school was fun, but we have a great offense here. Every player on the field has a role, and I love it. It’s been a positive experience. Coach Gait has the philosophy in practice that it’s OK for us to make mistakes, and that’s played a big role. We’re not afraid to try new things, and he’s OK with that. He handles the offense; (assistant coach) Regy Thorpe works more with the defense and has helped me become more confident overall, in school and on the field.”
“I saw Janelle play a couple of times in high school and said, ‘That’s a player I’d love to have,’” said Gait, himself a legendary player for the SU men’s team in the late 1980s. “She has the kind of athleticism we look for. Her stickwork wasn’t quite at the level of some of the nation’s elite players, but she was a natural fit on defense, which was where we needed help.
“She saw it was a better fit for her, and embraced it. She started working hard and developing better footwork, making sure she stepped and turned in certain ways, and turned clearing the ball, which was a concern, into one of her strengths. It was a learning process for her. She worked hard, and it’s paid off for her — and for us. She’s one of the most reliable defenders in the country, very consistent, and has helped develop this program. She has been here for four of my five seasons and has helped us shape the style of lacrosse we play now.”
“I’ve been here three seasons, and when I started she was just making the transition (to defense),” said Thorpe, another former SU men’s standout. “I started working with her, and she bought in, She’s a great listener and learner, and she absorbed it.
“Janelle’s a very good athlete, a great team player and does really well on defense, especially low, playing crease defense. She’s grown as a player; I think she’s one of the best defenders in the country. She covers one of the opponent’s top players every game. We can rely on her to shut them down.”
“I definitely focused on improving in one-on-one situations, and I’m able to stop (opponents),” Stegeland said. “The added confidence, and working on footwork, helped me improve that.”
In Stegeland’s four years as a college player the Orange has compiled a record of 55-23, including a 16-3 mark this year, and has won 27 of 31 regular-season Big East games. SU has claimed three of the last four regular-season league championships, including this season’s. The Orange saw its program-record 15-game losing streak broken last Saturday in a 13-7 loss to Loyola (Md.) in the championship game of the Big East Tournament at the Carrier Dome.
Another person who isn’t surprised about Stegeland’s successful transformation since heading to SU is Kim Pace, who was her coach for the last three years of her high school career.
“Janelle was an all around strong player in high school and took her game to a whole new level when she went to college,” Pace said. “She was always a student of the game. Every time she stepped on the field she worked hard to learn something new to improve herself or find a new way to help her team. She was never satisfied with where she was and always wanted to be better.
“Watching her play in college, it is clear that that same work ethic continued. Combine her natural athleticism, amazing work ethic, desire and drive to always improve herself and those around her and it doesn’t surprise me that she has gone on to have an outstanding college career at Syracuse. In high school she was an extremely versatile player and could fill any role the team needed her to fill on a given day, scoring the goals, setting up her teammates or causing turnovers on the defensive end. That is one of the reasons she could transition so well into a strong low defender at the college level.”
Stegeland is one of four captains of this spring’s Syracuse team, as chosen by the coaches and players, and is repaying the program for all she’s learned and gained. “I can help the younger players gain more confidence in themselves,” she said. “As a younger player I tried to learn from the coaches and players, and this year I’m one of the leaders on the team.”
While a shot at the national championship is a definite possibility for the Orange, Stegeland insists that it’s something she and her teammates haven’t dwelled on. “Our motto is to take it one day at a time,” she said. “We’ve done that from the beginning of the year, before our first game. We’ve thought about the national championship, and hope to be there, but for now we’re just focusing on our next game.”
For now, at least, Stegeland says that the standout memory of her college career comes from earlier this season — March 10, to be exact, when SU visited Maryland.
“They had a 36-game home winning streak going back to 2008, and we beat them by one goal (10-9),” she said, obviously relishing the memory. “That’s my most exciting moment — but I know there will be more to come.”
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