Neither the nation’s top goalie in saves-per-game nor a near two-week break between games were enough to cool off a surging USC women’s lacrosse team on Monday at McAlister Field. Playing their second of five consecutive matches at home, the Women of Troy leapt to a 12-3 halftime advantage over the visiting Lady Flames from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, en route to a dominant 20-6 victory.
USC came out of the gate firing, outshooting Liberty, 24-6, in the first half. The relentless offensive barrage was led by sophomore attacker Michaela Michael — who scored four first-half goals — and junior midfielder Amanda Johansen, who scored a hat trick of her own. The pair also combined for six of USC’s 10 draw controls in the opening half, equaling that of Liberty’s entire team output during the same timeframe.
“We were really ready for the zone Liberty brought against us today,” Michael said. “We moved the ball really well and either had a lot of shooting space or were able to draw fouls. Personally, I was lucky to get a few eight-meters that I was able to put home.”
The game was the first since Feb. 24 for USC, who took advantage of the break in action to implement some new offensive sets, as well as prepare for the intensity of their upcoming games. If Monday’s outcome was any indication, the Women of Troy are fast learners and hard workers.
“Today’s performance was really a testament to how hard we’ve worked over the last couple weeks,” head coach Lindsay Munday said. “We asked a lot of the girls, whether it be physically or in learning some new sets and schemes. As coaches we held the girls throughout every practice to the standard that we want to play at, so I’m really proud of the way we came out strong today and performed.”
Perhaps even more impressive than the Women of Troy’s offense, however, was their airtight defense against a Liberty squad that entered Monday’s game boasting two attackers with 14 goals each in Sam Struss and Katy Pridemore. The two talented Liberty scorers were shut out in the first half and managed just one goal apiece on the game.
“We get great scouting reports from our coaches and so we know how the opposing team’s players want to play, and what moves they have,” Johansen said. “We have great defenders on this team and so when you couple that with our great preparation, we are going to be able to match up well with the other team.”
In particular, the first-half defensive effort stood out for USC, as the team dominated possession via 12 caused turnovers and won nearly every hustle statistic, including draw controls (10-6) and ground balls (17-9). Sophomore attacker/midfielder Gabby McMahon was instrumental in this effort, snagging five ground balls and forcing three turnovers alone in the half.
The second period saw a brief slowing of the scoring, as the teams traded just a pair of goals each in the first 12 minutes. Over the final 18 minutes, however, USC closed on a 6-1 run en route to the 20-6 final. The Women of Troy saw 11 different players put home goals, a testament to the team’s depth.
“Having a big team like we do gives us so many options depth-wise,” Johansen said. “In games like today when we are able to get everyone in, we are really able to learn how to play with one another and mesh on the field.”
Munday echoed her player’s sentiments.
“It’s great to have so much depth, as it really raises our competition level,” she said. “As coaches, we are always looking, always evaluating, and we want practice to be as hard as possible so that games almost feel easy for us. We have a number of people that are threats which makes scouting us more difficult.”
Though the scoring might have slowed slightly to start the second half, the pace and physicality of the play most certainly did not. The game saw 53 fouls called, with girls hitting the field throughout. The intense physical play did not faze the Women of Troy, however. In fact, it was embraced, if not by design.
“If the refs allow that physicality, we definitely welcome it,” Johansen said. “I don’t think it bothers us at all. If anything, I think it gets us fired up.”
“We are definitely trying to be as aggressive as we can and remain in charge of the game,” Munday said. “That’s something that we have moved towards over the three years of being a program here. Now that we are older, faster and stronger, it has really helped us ramp up our physicality while still being able to play without fouling or giving up too many eight-meters.”
Monday’s big win kicks off a three-game week for the Women of Troy, who will be spending a majority of their spring break at McAlister Field.
On Friday, the team takes on California in its second conference matchup of the season before hosting Marquette on Sunday. A conference bout with Saint Mary’s on March 20 will wrap up the extended five-game homestand for the team that began with a 17-6 victory over Fresno State on Feb. 24. That game followed a Feb. 21-22 trip to New York to play two tough opponents in Stony Brook (L, 7-4) and Marist (W, 11-7).
Now winners of the three consecutive games, the Women of Troy look to carry their success into Friday’s matchup, which will kick off at 4 p.m.
“We’ve worked really hard for these last two weeks,” Michael said. “We have three games this week, and we are really excited to start this stretch so strong with a big win. It is always great to play at home, and we are planning on keeping the momentum going into Friday.”