Seven months after arriving on the Towson University campus, Olivia Malamphy, Natalie Miller and Nikki Sliwak — three of the newest members of the women’s lacrosse program — are still getting their bearings.
“We got lost coming here today,” Miller acknowledged with a laugh, referring to finding the office of Mike Gathagan, the senior associate athletic director in charge of strategic communications, inside the Towson Center.
And when more veteran teammates mention names of campus buildings, area restaurants and landmarks or share an inside joke, the three transfers sometimes give one another quizzical looks.
“There was this sense that we didn’t know as much as the other girls in the aspect of where things were or how things went,” Malamphy said. “So we were all learning that process together. It was kind of like freshman year all over again.”
What hasn’t been confusing is the impact the three players have had on the No. 18 Tigers, who are 7-2 and rose to as high as No. 11 in Inside Lacrosse media polls.
Sliwak, a graduate student attacker who transferred from Maryland, leads the offense in assists with nine and ranks third in goals with 16 and points with 25. Miller, a graduate student defender who also spent her first four years with the Terps, is tied for second in caused turnovers with nine and is tied for sixth in ground balls with 10. And Malamphy, a sophomore defensive midfielder who played for Boston College last spring, is tied for second in ground balls with 14 and caused turnovers with nine and ranks fourth in draw controls with four.
Their presence has been a boon for coach Sonia LaMonica.
“We’ve definitely got some fast athletes on the team, but when you add three more to the mix, now you’re talking,” she said. “That was probably one of the more noticeable things, that we’ve got a really fast team here whether it’s defensively, in the midfield or on the attacking end. … On and off the field, it’s been a seamless transition from day one with all three of them.”
Of the three, Miller was the first to agree to play for Towson, doing so in April. When the coronavirus pandemic prematurely cut short the 2020 season, the West River resident and St. Mary’s graduate considered getting a job after graduating in May with a bachelor’s in American studies.
After Miller made her decision, Sliwak reached out to her. Two weeks later, she chose the Tigers over Hofstra despite the latter being just minutes away from her hometown of Wantagh, New York.
“College Park was home for four years. I just needed something different, I just needed a new environment,” said Sliwak, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s in kinesiology. “I didn’t get as much playing time there. So I felt like I have this opportunity in front of me and that if I didn’t take it, I would regret it. So I found a new home for a year.”
Malamphy was the last one to commit to Towson, joining in late summer. The Crofton resident and Archbishop Spalding graduate wanted to be closer to home during the pandemic and has known sophomore midfielder Blair Pearre (McDonogh) since they were sixth graders.
“Everything with the whole transfer situation happened so fast, and she reached out to me and was welcoming me with open arms to the school,” Malamphy said. “So it just made sense, and everything fell into place from there.”
LaMonica said the trio’s athleticism stood out right away during practices. She added they bring a certain level of expectation after playing for Maryland, which has captured a record 14 national championships, and Boston College, which has played in the past three title games.
“Whether you play or start at these programs or not doesn’t matter because you’re practicing against your team day in and day out,” LaMonica said. “They’re coming from programs where they’re playing amongst great players whom they’re practicing against every day. That in and of itself brings some great experience and a level of competitiveness. But I also anticipated that here are three individuals that are hungry to compete, and that is great motivation to come in and get a bit of a fresh start at another program.”
After a quiet start, Sliwak grabbed the limelight with a four-goal, one-assist performance in the Tigers’ 13-7 upset of then-No. 10 Loyola Maryland on Feb. 24. She admitted being “a little rusty” after appearing in 24 games for the Terps, totaling seven goals, three assists, four draw controls and four ground balls.
“I hadn’t played in a full game or started a real game since high school,” she said. “So I think there were a little nerves with that, but the girls and the coaches, everyone is so encouraging and so welcoming. They only want success for you and the team. So that really helped with the nerves and doubts.”
Malamphy is regarded as one of the team’s fastest players, which is why LaMonica tasked her with marking Stony Brook graduate student midfielder Ally Kennedy on March 7. The Seawolves won, 10-8, but Kennedy — considered one of the favorites to win the Tewaaraton Award, college lacrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy — scored only two goals, her second-lowest output of the season.
“I definitely embraced the challenge,” Malamphy said. “I’m very competitive. I know that she’s a very competitive and amazing athlete. So I was definitely up for the challenge. I can’t say that I wasn’t intimidated by her speed and her athleticism, but that only pushed me to want to compete more at her level.”
Miller is prized for her ability to hawk opposing midfielders and knock down passes to cutters. She said she is happy to contribute after playing in only 10 games for the Terps.
“It’s exciting for all three of us and especially for me because coming from Maryland where I didn’t get as much playing time, I didn’t really add to their success,” Miller said. “So finally having it here, I kind of feel like it’s a confidence booster, and I appreciate the opportunity to play again.”
Miller and Sliwak said they still text former teammates like redshirt senior defender Lizzie Colson (Manchester Valley), fifth-year senior attacker Brindi Griffin (McDonogh) and senior midfielder Grace Griffin (Liberty).
Terps coach Cathy Reese said she is especially delighted that they are playing well for Towson, which is headed by three Maryland alums in LaMonica, who was a three-year starting attacker and Tewaaraton candidate for the Terps from 2000 to 2003 when Reese was an assistant under then-head coach Cindy Timchal; assistant coach Shana Brady, who was a three-year starting defender for Reese from 2012 to 2015; and assistant coach Michael LaMonica, Sonia’s husband, who was a four-year starting midfielder for the men’s team from 1999 to 2002.
“So I love when we can keep these people in-house,” Reese said. “It’s so great for both Nikki and Natalie to have been able to hit the field and help Towson gain the success that they’ve had so far. I do follow them, and it’s fun to kind of watch them. Nikki’s putting up some great numbers, and they’re still really close with people on our team. So we’re really happy for them and their success.”
Although Saturday’s Colonial Athletic Association opener at Delaware was postponed because of COVID-19 issues within the Blue Hens program, the Tigers trail No. 17 Drexel in the North Division standings by only a half game and could challenge James Madison, which has won four of the past five conference tournament championships. Earning that opportunity is the top objective, according to Sliwak.
“You step on the field and you want to win and whatever that takes, that’s what we’re here for,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to gel so quickly with these girls, and they have been so welcoming. It’s nice to work hard for each other and get those wins.”