After dropping its first two games of the season — one in heartbreaking, overtime fashion at the Coliseum on Feb. 7 to then-No. 5 Northwestern, 12-11, and the other in a low-scoring 7-4 affair with Stony Brook in New York on Feb. 21 — the USC women’s lacrosse program has successfully whipped a 180-degree turn.
Following the loss to Stony Brook, the Women of Troy rallied for an 11-7 win over Marist on Feb. 22 to secure a split on their New York trip before returning home for their first conference game of the season at McAlister Field on Feb. 24 against Fresno State. Despite the short rest and long travel, the team put together a wire-to-wire game and won by a wide 17-6 margin in front of its home crowd. The impressive collective showing was highlighted by a record-breaking individual performance from sophomore midfielder Michaela Michael, who set an MPSF conference single-match record with 15 draw controls.
USC now sets its sights on Liberty University, who will visit Southern California from Lynchburg, Virginia. The Women of Troy have had ample time to prepare since their previous game — nearly two weeks — a stretch that head coach Lindsey Munday feels has been beneficial for the team.
“This two-week break has really been great for us,” she said. “It has given us the opportunity to get back to the basics and have some really intense competition in practice, where we have been getting better at things that we saw needed improvement after our first couple games.”
Despite opening the season with five-straight home games, Liberty enters Monday’s matchup with a record of just 1-4. The Lady Flames have struggled defensively thus far, surrendering an average of 16.4 goals per game while scoring a respectable but significantly lower 10.8 goals per game.
The Women of Troy match up very well on with Liberty on offense, currently averaging 10.75 goals per game. Defensively, USC has been taut, however, giving up just eight goals a game despite playing two of their four matches so far against opponents that are currently ranked in the top-20 of the IWLCA Coaches Poll (Northwestern at No. 7, Stony Brook at No. 18).
Leading that defensive effort for the Women of Troy is a trio of talented defenders in junior Courtney Tarleton, who has caused six turnovers thus far; senior Elizabeth Eddy, who has picked up eight ground balls; and sophomore Nina Kelty, who has started in every game she has played in since arriving as a freshman last year. Most of USC’s defensive reserves are upperclassmen as well, which Munday says has been a big factor in the success of the back unit.
“Defense is our most veteran position, and it has really been a strong suit for us so far,” she said. “In fact, it has been for the past couple seasons. We have quite a number of juniors and seniors that are playing back there that have been able to gel together over the last few years, and so they are really playing well as a unit.”
The last line of defense for the Women of Troy is touted freshman goalie Gussie Johns, who has had an immediate impact with 10 saves and just 29 goals allowed in her first four collegiate games.
Together, the defensive unit will be tasked with slowing down two high-scoring Liberty attackers in senior Sam Struss and freshman Katy Pridemore. Struss and Pridemore have each put home 14 goals apiece for the Lady Flames, with Pridemore also adding five assists and Struss four to form a prolific one-two offensive punch for Liberty.
Also notable for the Lady Flames is junior midfielder Kallie Britton, who has forced 11 turnovers, picked up 11 ground balls, scored 7 points on five goals and two assists and won seven draw controls thus far.
In goal for Liberty is junior Juliann Elmer, who has surrendered 82 goals thus far this season. But be wary of that number: Elmer has also made 80 saves already this year, and her 16 saves per game is currently top in the country. The high number of goals surrendered is likely a product of having faced a whopping 184 shots in just five games so far this year.
“Elmer has made a ton of saves already this season,” Munday said. “We know she’s good, and so our focus offensively Monday will be on putting away those good scoring opportunities we do get.”
Looking to add to Elmer’s shots-faced and goals-surrendered tallies this year for the Women of Troy will be star junior attacker Caroline de Lyra, who has 17 points this season on 10 goals and seven assists, Michael, who has 13 points on nine goals and four assists, and junior Amanda Johansen, who has nine points on eight goals and an assist.
De Lyra has had tricks in three of the team’s four games, while Michael and Johansen have been dominant in winning draw controls for the Women of Troy.
Michael leads the team with 27 and Johansen has added 15, helping the team gain a 58-27 advantage in the area so far this season.
By comparison, Liberty has secured just 61 draw controls to its opponents’ 84. That discrepancy could prove critical come game time Monday.
“Controlling the draws, no matter the game or opponent, is a huge focus of ours,” Munday said. “While we have done pretty well in the first four games, we know that come 3 p.m., it’s a brand new game, Liberty is a good team, and especially after the long break, our girls are excited and ready to get back out there.”
Monday’s match kicks off at 3 p.m. at McAlister Field.