Sunday, May 19, 2024

Cardinal athlete duo sticks together

Taya Balfour (13) and Lilla Nease (31) during warm ups for their third lacrosse appearance this season April 3. 

 

By Michael Purtell

Graduate student goalkeeper Lilla Nease and sophomore defender/midfielder Taya Balfour will compete together throughout the winter and spring athletic seasons this year. 

Both Balfour and Nease have a passion for ice hockey and lacrosse. Both came to Plattsburgh to compete on the ice, but found a second home with the lacrosse team. 

Despite the quick turnaround caused by hockey’s NCAA tournament appearance, both were excited to contribute on the lacrosse field this season and entered the rotation last Wednesday against the Cortland Red Dragons.

Both Balfour and Nease were drawn to lacrosse after being a part of the programs at their high schools. Balfour last played on a team in her freshman year of high school. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down athletics in her sophomore year, and an increased focus on hockey in her junior and senior years kept her from playing in both overlapping seasons until this year with the Cardinals.

The pandemic didn’t stop Nease’s sports seasons until her first year of college, so she enjoyed an uninterrupted four years of lacrosse at the high school level. At first, she participated to get out of taking a physical education class, but Nease quickly fell in love with the sport.

When Nease decided to recommit herself to the second sport in her junior year at Plattsburgh, she was welcomed with open arms. Now in her third season, she encouraged Balfour to take a similar path, and she was accepted just as Nease was.

“The lacrosse team was so welcoming and understanding,” Balfour said. “And they realized I hadn’t played in a while, so they have been really helpful in giving me feedback – especially Coach (Kelly) Wall.”

Wall has been in charge of the team for three years now, half of the team’s existence as a Division III sport. She said Balfour’s presence helps bring high energy to the team’s practices.

 


By Collin Bolebruch

Taya Balfour (13) mid-play against Fredonia March 30.

 

On the ice this season, Balfour scored two goals and four assists and recorded multiple blocks in six games. Her defensive ability is fueled by an aggressive competitive mindset and speed, which translates well to lacrosse, Wall said.

In her second appearance this season, Balfour barely missed a beat since her time on the ice and scooped up three ground balls, tied for second most in the game.

Nease was one of the top goalies in the conference during the hockey season. She possessed the top marks in goals against average and win percentage, the second-best mark in save percentage and the fourth-most saves.

Standing as the Cards last defense in net, she showed what it meant to play against top-of-the-conference competition for first-year goaltender Chloe Lewis. Now playing in goal for the lacrosse team, Nease will aim to do the same for first-years Hannah Lowder and Jess Loch.

Nease recorded 10 saves against Fredonia which helped the team grab its first SUNYAC win 11-10 on March 30.

Nease’s goaltender skills honed in hockey make an impact on her unique play style in lacrosse. It plays a role in why Wall feels confident in putting Nease in goal as soon as she joined the team out of spring break.

“You can see that she definitely plays hockey in how she saves the ball in lacrosse. It’s fun to watch. She’s willing to use her entire body to save the ball at all costs,” Wall said.

Nease’s tracking ability is also excellent, an effect of her training to track the puck in hockey, Wall said.

 


By Collin Bolebruch

Lilla Nease defends the net against a Fredonia Blue Devil March 30. Nease had 10 saves in the game.

 

Transitioning from the hockey goal to the lacrosse goal has its challenges. Protecting a taller goal in lacrosse presents a more difficult task, and the numbers prove it, Nease said.

“Comparing save percentages is a good example of the difference. In hockey having around .900 is good and in lacrosse a .500 is good. That’s a big change,” Nease said.

Other challenges in transitioning between sports involves the switch from skates to cleats. Balfour sometimes will run with her feet low to the ground, emulating a skating motion, which can trip her up in practice, Wall said.

Nease’s goal this season is to raise her save percentage from last year’s .459 to help the team earn more conference wins. Balfour echoed the sentiment: The goal is to improve and help the team win, as well as to build strong relationships with new teammates.

The lacrosse team set a program best record of 7-8, 3-6 last season. Now, everyone on the team is focused on breaking past that mark.

This drive to improve for the team’s success is what makes the pair fit in seamlessly alongside the other lacrosse players.

“Obviously, our whole thing is that we want to win. That’s our common goal,” Wall said. “The team appreciates the commitment Lilla and Taya have to come in from another sport that’s more than half the year for them. And they know they are good players.”

 

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