Coming off of a record-setting 2016 season, the No. 4 USC women’s lacrosse team has high expectations going into its 2017 campaign.
Before being knocked out of the NCAA quarterfinals by Syracuse last year, the Trojans won 16 straight games during the regular season, captured an MPSF championship and became the first-ever West Coast team to host an NCAA tournament game.
Aside from last year’s postseason success, however, USC has the potential to make an NCAA title run with a potent mixture of youth and experience in its newest championship crusade.
Reigning MPSF Coach of the Year Lindsey Munday returns to lead a Trojan team that will play without 2016 MPSF Player of the Year Courtney Tarleton, third-team IWLCA All-American Amanda Johansen and all-league selections Kelsey Dreyer, Kaitlyn Couture and Caroline deLyra.
While defensive dynamo Tarleton (41 ground balls and 52 caused turnovers last season) and offensive guru deLyra (40 goals, 29 assists and 61 shots on goal) will be difficult to replace, Munday has a loaded roster.
USC still has returning key leaders in junior goalie Gussie Johns (19 wins), leading scorer and senior attackers Michaela Michael (68 goals, 31 assists and 107 draw controls) and Kylie Drexel (40 goals, 18 assists and 25 ground balls).
Johns, a U.S. National Team netminder, will return to the cage for her third straight season and hopes to build off an NCAA-best 6.04 goals allowed average in 2016.
Assisting Johns in the backfield will be a collection of talented defensive threats such as senior defense Nina Kelty (24 ground balls and 14 caused turnovers) and junior midfield Lydia Sutton (37 ground balls and 28 caused turnovers) who can thwart potential goal scorers.
On defense, the Trojans can also rely on veteran senior Glade Nugent to guide first-year defenders freshman Emily Shields and sophomore Avery Hogarth.
Meanwhile, USC features a wealth of freshmen in its midfield, including Kelly Johansen, Natalie Byrne, Morgan Kuligowski, Kaeli Huff and top national recruit Kerrigan Miller. Along with them, the Trojans will also roster freshman attackers Sarah Larkin and Ashley Hill, who will likely learn a thing or two playing with senior attacker Cynthia Del Core (24 goals and eight assists).
As favorites in the MPSF and NCAA, USC will have to survive a schedule rife with top-30 talent this season. This year, the Trojans will face No. 9 Northwestern (Feb. 18), No. 3 Florida (Feb. 24), No. 22 Dartmouth (March 17), No. 16 Cornell (March 19), No. 5 Stony Brook (March 24), No. 25 Ohio State (March 26), No. 27 Colorado (April 14) and No. 12 Stanford (April 21).
But to start, the team kicks off its 2017 MPSF title defense this Saturday at noon, as the Trojans battle the visiting St. Mary’s College Gaels at McAlister Field.
Along with compiling a 0-14 record in 2016, St. Mary’s lost its lone contest with USC last season 3-20, and the Gaels allowed two hat tricks from senior midfielder Drew Jackson and senior attacker Kylie Drexel.
USC owes much of its success to the leadership of Munday, who enters her fifth season as head coach of the Women of Troy.
For a coach and a program that played its first game a mere five years ago, the only thing better than a 51-26 record is a NCAA title.