By: Sean Neidig, sports information graduate assistant
COLUMBUS, Ohio – In many ways, 2017 was a banner year for Capital University Women's Lacrosse. The team finished with the highest winning percentage in program history, scored the second-most goals of any Capital team while allowing the second-fewest and advanced to the Ohio Athletic Conference tournament semifinals. Even with all of that success, the team was left wanting more.
The 2017 Crusaders finished with an overall record of 11-4 and went 6-2 in conference. All four of the team's losses were by one goal.
"Last year was huge because we came so, so close," said fifth-year head coach Stacey Wood. "They never let it go, they still talk about it. They know that it's the little things. It's the little things that we're doing in January and February so we can play in May."
With the bittersweet memories of 2017 in their minds, the 2018 squad is hungry for more. Eleven members from last year's team will return for this season while seven new faces will enter the picture.
"Each year we've improved with the talent of the team and as the rules change I think you'll see the talent get just a little bit better," Wood said. "We're going to try a lot of new things this year and I'm anxious to see how it plays out. This year we're implementing a lot of new things to keep up with the pace of the game."
New this year is the introduction of a 90-second shot clock to speed up the pace of play, so Wood and the team have emphasized attacking as a unit with speed but also patience.
Four of Capital's top-five scorers from last season are back, including Regan Hanood (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington North) and Kara Hines (Columbus, Ohio/Worthington Kilbourne), the team's two leading scorers. Now seniors, Hanood led the team with 54 points (20 goals, 34 assists) and Hines found the back of the net 50 times as a junior. Both earned spots on the All-OAC First Team in 2017.
"I know this senior class is going to go all-out," Wood said. "I recruited this senior class, specifically, very hard and they are the most talented class we've had at Capital University. I know that every game they're going to ball out because it's their last chance and they want nothing more than to win an OAC championship."
Five juniors will fill in behind the seniors, including 2017 Second Team All-OAC member Makenna Ozenghar (Youngstown, Ohio/Cardinal Mooney). Defender Katie Enot (Uniontown, Ohio/Hoover), who started all 15 games last year returns as well.
Kathryn Walton (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington Central), who missed all of last year's OAC matchups with an injury, headlines a five-person sophomore class.
As for the four freshman players joining the program this season, Wood expects all of them to play roles by the end of the year. The coaching staff placed an emphasis on versatility while recruiting this crop of newcomers with the idea that they will be able to fill any holes.
Alex Lowry (Lewis Center, Ohio/Olentangy Orange) will be expected to be a strong defensive player, Brooke Delara (Lewis Center, Ohio/Olentangy Orange) is a speedy midfielder with a good shot who Wood sees fitting in with the starters and Kailee King (Dublin, Ohio/Dublin Jerome) is a transfer who will join in attack.
With so much depth and talent, Wood said she has put the pressure on the coaching staff to determine the right combinations of players that will hit the field each game.
"Every practice we change our starting lineup," she said. "Every game it's going to change. It's going to come down to who we're playing and who's going to match up the best."
The same can be said about the goalies, sophomore Katie Parks (Loveland, Ohio/Loveland) and junior Lisa Lotz (Lynchburg, Va./Jefferson Forest). Parks appeared in seven games last year with two starts and Lotz made 10 appearances as a freshman in 2016.
Each of the netminders has been working with new assistant coach Tori DeScenza to improve their footwork and reaction times and Wood says that whoever is "on" during warmups will start that game.
While there is uncertainty around who will start game to game, Wood certainly does not see that as a bad thing.
"I don't think we have a weak spot on our field and that's what makes me excited to get games going," she said. "I just want to see how it all gels together."
The Crusaders will begin their season on Wednesday, Feb. 21 against Centre College at Bernlohr Stadium before going south to play two games in St. Petersburg, Fla. The team will then play four more nonconference games before opening the OAC season on March 24 against John Carroll University.
Like the past several years, Wood foresees the conference being competitive from top to bottom with no clear-cut favorite. Capital was picked to finish fourth in the OAC preseason poll released on Wednesday.
Wood believes the team will be able to exceed those expectations if they are able to come together as a unit and like last year, a goal here or there could be the difference between a conference title and another early exit. With Capital's speed, skill and determination though, Wood is as confident as she has ever been.
"If we can figure out attack and how to play together, I don't think we can be stopped."