On Saturday, the USC women’s lacrosse team will kick off its 2015 season in style at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Looking to build upon a 2014 campaign in which they finished 6-3 in MPSF conference play and 9-9 overall, the Women of Troy are hoping to find and maintain a high level of consistency throughout their performances this season, an objective that has understandably been tough at times for a program entering just its third year of existence.
“Last season we had some really exciting games, like when we upset No. 13 Stanford, but also some games where we were disappointed with the outcome,” senior captain and midfielder Kaila Sommi said. “We weren’t as consistent as we would have liked to be, and so this year, we hope to improve that.”
A main factor in the team’s up-and-down play over the past two seasons can probably be attributed to the plethora of young players that filled the roster, as there were only two total recruiting classes in team history. As the inaugural 2013 recruiting class progresses into their third season donning the cardinal and gold, however, the team finds itself in an unfamiliar position: For the first time, the Women of Troy will have more upperclassmen than underclassmen. Twenty-one of the 36 listed members on the team’s online roster hold junior or senior class standings. The leadership, maturity and experience provided by these older members is already paying dividends so far this year.
“Being in our third season, we finally feel like we have been together as a team for a while,” junior captain and defender Courtney Tarleton said. “The first two seasons we had huge freshman classes, but this year we only have four new freshmen, so there haven’t been nearly as many new faces that we have to get used to playing with.”
This heightened familiarity should prove to be a positive factor in the team’s success this year, and if the preseason is any indication, the Women of Troy are headed for an exciting third season under accomplished head coach Lindsey Munday.
“Year three has been great so far,” Munday said. “It is not only on the field, it is also off the field. It’s been awesome to watch, and we are really excited about the direction this team is heading.”
Munday emphasized that there has been a noticeable leadership presence among the now-majority upperclassmen, something that has accelerated the team’s cohesion and confidence so far this year.
“Our junior and senior classes have really stepped up so far,” she said. “I’m beyond proud of them in terms of how they are taking ownership of this program and living out the ideas and philosophies that we preach as a coaching staff.”
Among those upperclassmen is standout junior attacker Caroline de Lyra, who led the team in points scored last season with 49, as well as junior midfielder Amanda Johansen and junior defender Tarleton, both of whom started all 18 games for the Women of Troy last season. The senior class features midfielder/defender Kaitlyn Couture, midfielder Sommi and defender Elizabeth Eddy. The underclassmen feature potential impact freshmen in 2014 Under Armour All-American goalie Gussie Johns and midfielder Lydia Sutton, who played for the 2013 Canadian national lacrosse team. The returning sophomore class for the Women of Troy features great talent as well, led by a duo of attackers in Annie Ruland, who was third on the team in points (36) last season, and Michaela Michael, who finished fourth in points with 31, and defender Nina Kelty, who was named to the MPSF All-Conference Second Team as a freshman last year. The standout sophomore class lost a key member from last year’s team in attacker Alex Moore, who led the team with 35 goals and was second on the team with 46 total points as a freshman. She transferred to North Carolina this past summer.
With the upperclassmen leading the way, the Women of Troy have been working tirelessly during the preseason in preparation. While the copious hours of training and practice that the team has put in so far have been mentally and physically taxing at times, both the players and coaches alike are already seeing some payoffs.
“Every day in practice is such a battle going back and forth with our offense and defense,” Tarleton said. “I’m already seeing improvement from last season.”
Munday, along with assistant coaches Devon Wills, the defensive coordinator, and Alyssa Leonard, the offensive coordinator, heads what comprises one of the more idiosyncratic coaching staffs in the country: All three coaches are still active as players, and at the highest level too, representing the United States on the women’s national team. Having an opportunity to learn from three coaches with such rich playing experiences — and particularly, three coaches who are still playing — provides a distinctive and unique experience for the players.
“It’s awesome having coaches who play for Team USA,” Tarleton said. “Sometimes they will just jump into practice and start chasing us around the field. It is great to both have them coach us and play against us, because they are so talented and help us get better.”
“You know they know what they are talking about,” Sommi said. “You trust them because you know they are the best in the world at the moment, which really brings a lot of weight to what they say.”
With the rigorous last month of workouts wrapping up, the team will have its first opportunity to evaluate its preseason progress this Saturday against perennial powerhouse Northwestern. The Wildcats, who are ranked No. 5 in the IWLCA preseason poll, have made 10 straight trips to the NCAA semifinals, winning championships in seven of those trips and losing to the eventual national champion in the other three.
The game is sure to be exciting for the entire USC team. It will be especially meaningful for Munday and Leonard, however, who are both Northwestern graduates and contributed to the Wildcats’ remarkable run of success over the last decade. Munday (class of 2006) was a two-time first-team All-American who helped lead Northwestern to back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006 and left the school as the Wildcats’ all-time assist leader (128), third-best points scorer (268) and fifth-best goal scorer (140). Leonard, who just graduated last year, exited Northwestern as the all-time NCAA Division I career draw control leader, a two-time national champion (2011, 2012) and a 2014 IWLCA All-American.
When asked about her excitement level for Saturday’s game, Munday acknowledged that she and Leonard are looking forward to it, but that the best thing about the weekend matchup is that it will be a great opportunity for the Women of Troy to see how they measure up against premier competition.
“This first game against Northwestern is definitely special for both Alyssa and me,” Munday said. “It’s a special game for us, being alumni, but more importantly this is a big game for our girls, getting to play against a top team.”
The tilt between the Women of Troy and Wildcats will launch into action at 3 p.m.