090408 NU Lax/coach

090408 NU Lax/coach/sports DAN CAPPELLAZZO/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Lewiston - Niagara University woman� Lacrosse coach Mike Mansour speaks to his players after Emily Chayka� tying goal against Canisius in the first half at Niagara Field.

A season that concludes with just four wins in 15 games might not seem like much of a success. But given the rocky road the Niagara University women’s lacrosse team has traveled in recent years, a 4-11 record indicates steady growth and certain potential for a winning 2010.

“There were a lot of ups and downs this season, but we felt that there were definite strides made in improving and becoming a more competitive team for next year,” head coach Mike Mansour said.

Mansour, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at LaSalle Preparatory School in the Falls, is coming off his eighth season at the helm — he was the head man from 1996 to 2000 and again took the reigns in 2007. The program went through a lot of challenges on and off the field during Mansour’s absence as head coach, so they Purple Eagles have been playing catch-up in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference ever since his return.

Things do appear to be turning around, though. Not only did the team boast its best record since going 6-9 overall in 2006, but Mansour led the squad to its first MAAC win since April 2006, downing rival Siena on the road, 16-12, on March 29.

“To finally win a conference game was a big boost for us,” Mansour said. “It kept us focused on every step forward, trying to improve, sticking together and getting better.”

Despite finishing 1-5 in MAAC play, Niagara proved it could remain competitive against the league’s upper echelon. Case in point, the team’s spirited second-half effort at Fairfield in the season finale on April 19. Entering the locker room trailing 11-2 to the Stags (14-2, 6-0 MAAC), the NU women scored seven times in the second half to match Fairfield goal-for-goal.

“The girls fought tooth and nail,” Mansour said. “Finishing like that even without the W ended us on a real positive note.”

Mansour praised the efforts of junior midfielder Courtney Formato (Lancaster), who led the team in goals (25) and points (32) and demonstrated superior draw control at her position. The coach also acknowledged the goaltending work of senior captain Whitney Gill, who made 208 saves in 15 games. Gill finished her career second on the school’s career saves list.

The Purps will lose five seniors, but Mansour is hopeful he’ll bring in some new talent for next season. He pointed to the Niagara Frontier League’s girls lacrosse program, formed this year, as a possible source for recruiting.

“They obviously don’t have the years of experience, but if you find a very talented and gifted athlete who can learn sports quickly, I’m certainly not going to ignore places like Niagara Falls High School.”

Added Mansour on NU’s rising talent level, “The core of the team will still be intact, and they made improvements as they went along, which is a very good sign for the future.”

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