Looking through the crowd, one could tell this was more than just a game. University president C. L. Max Nikias was there. Athletic director Pat Haden was there. Even USC head football coach Lane Kiffin was there, albeit sitting alone on the opposite side of the Coliseum. But, more importantly, 2,887 other fans were also in attendance on a brisk Saturday afternoon to watch the first-ever NCAA match for USC’s women’s lacrosse, the school’s newest varsity sport.
The Trojans fell 18-5 to the No. 1 Northwestern Wildcats, the reigning champions and winners of seven of the last eight NCAA titles, but the excitement of finally making their program debut outweighed the sting of the loss.
“It was just an awesome feeling,” said freshman midfielder Amanda Johansen, who scored the first goal in program history 12 minutes into the first of two 30-minutes halves. “We’ve been working so hard for this, and to have [everyone] just cheering at the same time felt so awesome.”
The matchup was a reunion of sorts for USC head coach Lindsey Munday and offensive coordinator Hillary Bowen, who both starred at Northwestern under Wildcats head coaching legend Kelli Amonte Hiller.
Some were perplexed as to why USC scheduled to play against the best squad in the nation for their program debut, but Munday is taking a “watch and learn” approach.
“It shows [USC’s players] what the top of women’s lacrosse is right now, and I think that’s a great thing that’s going to prepare us for our conference,” Munday said. “It’s going to help us because you can’t get away with anything.”
On the Coliseum field, the Women of Troy were outmatched from the start. The Wildcats jumped to a quick 4-0 lead, then a 9-1 advantage by dominating face-offs and outshooting USC 47-9 for the game.
USC’s flashiest goal was its second, as Johansen found herself behind the goal before lobbing the ball to freshman midfielder Paige Bonomi to reduce the deficit to 9-2.
“I tried taking a step back and seeing how the whole field would look and, right when I took a step back, I saw somebody wide open in the middle,” Johansen said. “I just hit Paige [Bonomi], and I know she can finish everything.”
The addition of a women’s lacrosse program at USC was one of Nikias’ first initiatives after being inaugurated in August 2010. Munday was hired away from her assistant position at Northwestern in January 2011, and wasted no time getting to work, with her and her coaching staff recruiting up and down the East Coast for players interested in being part of a program different from the traditional eastern powerhouses. Eleven of the team’s 17 recruits in the class of 2012 hail from the lacrosse hotbeds of New York or New Jersey.
“We can never replicate this,” Munday said. “These 26 players will go down in history.”
The most refreshing part of Munday and her young squad is their unconcealed championship aspirations.
“It’s something that is there for us, and we are not scared to go out there and say it,” Munday said about winning a national title. “We know that there’s a lot of work to be done and that there’s a long journey to get there, but that is our goal. We have to put it out there.”
The Trojans might not be championship contenders this year or the next, but with 17 of the team’s 26 players being freshmen, most of this team will play four years together and carry the program along with them.
“We walk around on campus and have people cheering for us,” Johansen said. “It’s really nice bringing over the whole sport with this team and showing people in California, who’ve never seen it, how lacrosse really is.”