2014 season will be proving grounds for Winthrop lacrosse

bmccormick@heraldonline.comFebruary 7, 2014 

While Southerners everywhere were clearing grocery store shelves and hunkering down over two inches of snow last week, the Winthrop women’s lacrosse team plowed right through a week of practice. It takes a lot more than a light dusting of snowflakes to scare a group of young women from the Northeast off the lacrosse field.

The second-year program’s upcoming 2014 schedule strengthens that sentiment. Last year, John Sung’s team finished 9-8, beating Howard in the first game in program history and then dropping Marquette in the historic home opener. But Sung has presented his team with a considerably tougher challenge this year, starting with a road date at Ohio State in Sunday's season opener.

“This year is gonna be really interesting because the schedule is significantly harder,” said Sung, “whereas next year, the schedule, our ‘15 schedule, is a little bit more balanced. It’s hard, but there’s just a little more balance to it.”

Besides the Buckeyes, Winthrop will also face Cincinnati, Florida, Denver, Michigan and Marquette. Florida is ranked No. 5 in the nation in Lacrosse Magazine’s preseason NCAA women’s lacrosse poll. Denver is ranked 17th. It’s a massive step up from last season’s schedule, from which Sung could not recall a single marquee win out of the nine victories. The Eagles will get that shot several times this season.

“What good is it if you’re the 70th best team in the country. Literally, you’re the best out of the bottom 40,” explained Sung. “That doesn’t really say much. Beating teams with juniors and seniors, that makes a huge difference because that’s something we don’t have.”

Winthrop opens its home schedule on Feb. 14 against San Diego State. April 13 will be another big home game when the Eagles host High Point, one of the early favorites in the Big South. Sung hopes that his players will have been hardened by the non-conference schedule by that point.

“This year is a great character test,” he said. “How are they going to face adversity? Because there is a lot of adversity on the schedule.”

Almost all of the Eagles’ most important pieces are back from last season, including sophomore attacker Shannon Gallagher, who scored 54 goals and was the Big South’s Freshman of the Year. Sophomore Hayley Krause also returns after finishing second in the nation last year in percentage of draw controls won. Winthrop can’t score without first gaining possession, and Krause did that on almost unparalleled level last season as a rookie.

Offense was no problem for Winthrop last season, but Sung admitted “defensively was where we struggled.” Thirteen of last year’s 26 players are back, but the Eagles will likely start two freshman in a revamped four-player defense, which does return starting team captain Maddi Genovese and goalie Camille King.

The most important newcomer is Johns Hopkins transfer Jenna Kasmarik, a junior attacker who is able to play right away because of the NCAA’s more lax women’s lacrosse transfer rules.

“We knocked it out of the park with this kid,” said Sung. “She has the potential to be the Offensive Player of the Year in our conference.”

Kasmarik wanted to play closer to home, Georgia. Sung said she can be the player that changes the team’s dynamic on offense, because she’s capable of creating her own offense, unlike any other player on the team. Gallagher, who at the moment is more reliant on being set up by creative players, will benefit greatly from the attention Kasmarik will likely receive from opposing defenses.

“(Kasmarik) can occupy two people pretty much most of the game,” said Sung. “She’s a kid that we’re expecting multiple points from every game, and she knows it, and that’s what she wants.”

That kind of mindset will be priceless for Winthrop when they face clubs like Ohio State, Michigan, Florida and Denver. With no established reputation, the fledgling Eagles have nothing to lose in a season that will test their mettle, and ultimately begin to forge in earnest the program’s future trajectory. That starts Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.

“We’ll know at the end of (Sunday),” Sung said. “Obviously, if we come up with the upset this weekend, that’s a program-changer. It changes the way you recruit, it changes the way you’re seen. There’s only bonuses for us; Ohio State has everything to lose, and we have nothing to lose.”

Bret McCormick •  803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T

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