Winthrop University

Winthrop lacrosse soars to program’s first NCAA tournament bid

Winthrop defeats Liberty University for the Big South Conference title in women's lacrosse, 5-3-2015. Winthrop will play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program’s short 3-year history.
Winthrop defeats Liberty University for the Big South Conference title in women's lacrosse, 5-3-2015. Winthrop will play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program’s short 3-year history. Special to The Herald

Typical of a program that’s been playing for three years, Winthrop lacrosse still has some things to work on. Like how to properly dump Powerade on its coach after winning the Big South Conference title.

After beating Liberty 13-8 to secure the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, Winthrop players hunted down Winthrop coach John Sung and dumped a bucket of Powerade on him. But they also dropped the bucket, nearly clobbering their coach in the process.

“We’ve got to work on our celebration tactics,” said attacker Jenna Kasmarik, grinning. “We were like, ‘We’ve got to get this moment, it’s got to happen,’ and we kind of messed it up, so now we’ve got to get another year under our belts to make sure we can correct it next time.”

Sung showed some quickness in avoiding a Powerade bucket concussion, and also in leading his program to the promised land so soon. He lauded his players for driving the program from birth into the NCAAs.

“It was hard, it was a lot of sacrifice,” said Sung, who started the Eagles’ program in 2012. “Through everything we’ve built and everything we’ve done, they’ve given their heart to the program.”

Kasmarik, one of two Winthrop seniors, scored five goals and Danielle Ellis dished out three assists to lead the Eagles’ metronome-like offense. Sung preached offensive patience to his team and it was a nearly 3-minute possession that tipped the final momentum swing in Winthrop’s direction.

Leading Liberty 8-7 with about 20 minutes left, the Eagles swung the ball around the perimeter and took turns jogging the edges of the Flames’ defense, ducking and feinting while looking for an opening. When Eagles freshman Katie Clark appeared to lose control of the ball, Winthrop (17-3) scooped it back up and Kasmarik popped open, catching and scoring after weaving through two Flames defenders. From there, Winthrop scored four straight and put the game beyond the reach of the No. 2-seeded team.

“It just kind of took the wind out of our sails a little bit because we had such a great defensive possession,” said Liberty coach Kelly Nangle. “And then scoring that goal kind of, whoosh. Had we made a stop there the momentum could have swung a whole different way.”

Instead, Winthrop scored the next three goals, Abigail Blevins, Danielle Ellis and Kasmarik growing the lead to 12-7. When Liberty (9-11) scored with 3 minutes, 15 seconds left, there was too little time left to make a move because of the Eagles’ offensive head-lock.

The Flames’ finish didn’t match their start. They were quickly in front 2-0, before Winthrop roared back for a 5-3 lead after Krista Frowein’s goal. Liberty later tied the game at 6, before Clark fired in an unassisted goal with 15 seconds left to send the Eagles to the break leading 7-6.

At halftime, Sung quoted Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, telling his team “just breathe.” Winthrop’s coach felt his team was feeling an emotional hangover from its 11-10 win over High Point on Friday night, in which the Eagles overcame a six-goal deficit to win and advance.

“They really just needed to get their feet under them,” said Sung. “Friday’s game was so emotional so it just took us a little time.”

Winthrop shook that feeling midway through the second half and will now play in the NCAA tournament. The Eagles proved to be quick learners on the field, and also on the sidelines. After almost beheading Sung, they cleanly drenched assistant coach Amanda Shimp with water. And held on to the bucket.

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

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