By: Ryan Gasser, sports information director
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Capital University women's lacrosse team will hit the field with more youth than it's ever had since its inaugural year. To combat a larger first-year class and the rest of the Ohio Athletic Conference the Crusaders will utilize its versatility and lean on its athletic and experienced upperclassmen.
The Crusaders have become no stranger to the OAC Tournament and the championship game. Last year they went head-to-head with the University of Mount Union for the third time in the OAC title tilt but fell short, 17-9. They earned the number two seed in the conference tournament behind an 11-6 overall record and 7-1 OAC record. Cap landed seven athletes on the All-OAC team and Kat Walton was named First Team All-Region by the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA).
A DIFFERENT LOOK / ROSTER BREAKDOWN
Capital will sport its youngest roster since its first season back in 2013. Six freshmen and four others will join the Crusaders in their first years in the program.
"I think this year is going to be different. We are young, we are very bottom-heavy," said seventh-year head coach, Stacey Florence. "They are soaking (up) anything that we throw at them like a sponge. They are grabbing on to the defenses that we are putting in. They are learning and picking up the offenses that we want to run."
BREAKDOWN BY YEAR
Freshmen – 6
Sophomores - 8
Juniors - 3
Seniors - 4
BREAKDOWN BY POSITION
Attack – 6
Midfield – 4
Defense – 9
Goalie - 2
Even with the excess of first-year players, Coach Florence cites that her roster is full of pure athletes, which makes it easy to adjust and learn lacrosse. The combination of skills utilized from soccer, basketball and hockey and the backgrounds of those incoming student-athletes have made the adjustment more fluid for the newcomers and has added an extra dimension to the schemes she intends to run.
WHO YOU KNOW
The Crusader offense is highlighted by senior midfielder Kathryn Walton (Pickerington, Ohio / Pickerington Central) who is on pace to set career scoring records at CU. Walton led Capital and was third in the OAC in goals scored (58) and added 25 assists. Her 83 points also ranked third in the conference. As good as she is on offense, Walton's two-way ability shines when transitioning back to defense. She ranked sixth nationally in caused turnovers per game (3.47) and caused 59 total, last season. Even having those numbers, Florence has been working with the senior on the one intangible left to improve upon: on-field volume.
Florence said, "I think this is her year where she's going to leave it all out on the field, and I'm excited to see how she ends her college career. She is ready to just go out guns blazing and so I'm so pumped to just kind of see her explode this season."
Last year, Brooke Delara (Lewis Center, Ohio / Olentangy Orange) had a breakout season with 39 goals and 37 assists while resetting multiple Capital records. She broke the single-game points (13) and assist (11) record against Muskingum University on March 30. She also caused 25 turnovers and took in 33 draw controls out of the midfield.
On the attack, senior Brianna Rampi (Hilliard, Ohio / Hilliard Darby) and sophomore Luci Kanowsky (Bexley, Ohio / Bexley) will continue to grow and add additional elements to the Capital offense. Combined, they scored 48 goals and 18 assists in 2019. Junior Dana Stover (Delaware, Ohio / Olentangy) will rejoin the team before the beginning of OAC play. Her 32 goals and six assists from last year will be highly valued to add to Capital's offensive options.
Kanowski adds to a sophomore class that Coach Florence expects to break out in 2020. The sophomore class is also the largest of the four groups and includes four defenders, one midfielder, one attacker, and one goalie.
Junior Alex Lowry (Lewis Center, Ohio / Olentangy Orange) will be the leader on defense and be key in transitioning the ball up the field for the attack to work. She scooped up 31 ground balls and caused 19 turnovers. She was also crucial in helping the Crusaders clear the ball at an 85.7 percent success rate in 2019.
"She's very loud and she's a great communicator on defense. So she's kind of taken the role back there since she is the oldest and we don't have any senior low defenders," said Florence.
WHO YOU WILL GET TO KNOW
When asked who Coach Florence believes is primed to break out this season she did not give just one person. She gave an entire class, and that is not a cop-out answer. She truly believes that this year's sophomore class will have a significant impact on the Crusaders' success, especially on defense.
"Our sophomores are ready," said Florence. "They came into fall ball, and they were ready to work hard, especially our defenders. They blew me away and follow our sophomore class, everybody worked so hard, and because they saw the championship we were there, and we were so close. And they had that taste of it and they were just like, 'we can do it', and they believed in themselves. So I'm anxious to see our sophomores play out. I think they're all going to have a role on the field."
Two of those sophomores, which Florence and Walton agreed would have a lasting impact, are defenders Molly Searles (Strongsville, Ohio / Holy Name) and Maddy Radanof (Pickerington, Ohio / Pickerington North). Last year they combined to play in just 16 games with Searles making three spot starts. This year, both are expected to earn a starting nod.
Sophomore goalie Bee Kuehn (Mason, Ohio / Mason) will also be in the running for a starting spot between the pipes. She played in four games and in 91 minutes allowed eight goals (5.28 GAA) and made seven saves. She and senior Katie Parks (Loveland, Ohio / Loveland) are the two goalies on the roster and may share time early in the season. Coach Florence cites that the starter will be determined on how each practices and who the opponent is on a given week in order to utilize each person's strengths appropriately.
While playing freshmen is not Coach Florence's MO, Dylan Smith (Pickerington, Ohio / Pickerington Central) has flashes of former Crusader greats McKenna Ozenghar and Kara Hines that will likely garner her early playing time either on the attack or in the midfield.
"She has asked she's awesome on the draw," said Florence. "She's got a killer shot that I don't think anybody in the OAC has, and the draw I think she's going to make an immediate impact for us."
Low attacker Skyla Caito (Solon, Ohio / Solon) is another freshman that Florence mentions as a potential early impact player with her play on the X as well as a strong shot. Avery Hart (Pickerington, Ohio / Pickerington North), who was OAC Freshman of the Year for the Capital women's soccer team, has speed unseen in the program and will likely also see time early to help spread the field.
VERSATILITY TO DRIVE CAP
The number of weapons that the Crusaders have on offense is unquestioned, except for those individuals opponents have not yet experienced. What makes Cap even more dangerous is how certain players can play two ways, can flex between the attack and the midfield, or even the midfield or drop back on defense. Versatility up and down the roster will not only allow the Crusaders to be flexible in developing their game plans but also allow each player to exact their strengths on an opponent.
Another intangible that will play into the equation will be the veteran leadership that knows what it takes to win and is so hungry for an OAC championship. Six of the upperclassmen have been through the trials of coming up just short, and now those Crusaders will lead the team to what they hope will be an OAC Championship and NCAA appearance.
Walton said, "All of our returners have been in these situations that have been close but have not been able to follow through and win it, and so I think having that experience and having that chip on our shoulders that brings us all to that common goal that we want to win it. So we're all putting in the work now this preseason and then our nonconference schedule that we're working hard now so that we can win later."
The 2020 Crusaders will not just look different. They will also play differently. While Capital accumulated just 30 yellow cards to their opponents' 32 and committed just 225 fouls to their opponents' 289 a season ago, Coach Florence cites that she wants her team to be even better in their on-field manner.
"We're just going to we're going to try to look different this year," said Florence. "I want to be more disciplined on the field. I want to have the best stick work in the OAC, and I want to be more disciplined."
The schedule will be one of the most difficult that Coach Florence has put together, but strength of schedule will not only give Capital the best chance to rank highly in the region but will also expose areas that the team will need to work on.
"We're not taking on teams that we know we're going to blow out because you don't learn anything from that," said Florence. "I would rather go 0-6 and win the conference championship than go 7-0 and not make playoffs. So I want to schedule these hard teams and be tested early so we can fix it quick and then get ready for OAC competition."
Capital will begin the 2020 campaign this Saturday, February 15 at home against Centre College (2 p.m.). The entire month of February will provide a series of challenging opponents that include Wittenberg University (2/19), conference champion Transylvania University (2/22), University of Chicago (2/26), and conference champion Illinois Wesleyan University (2/28). OAC play will begin on March 21 when the Crusaders play at Baldwin Wallace University.
Kat Walton on who she is most excited to play with in 2020.
Kat Walton on who is primed for a breakout season.