(Photo: Jack Harris/WCSN)
Leading up to her program’s first-ever games, Arizona State women’s lacrosse co-captain Rachel Gregory made it clear: the Sun Devils weren’t going to allow themselves a grace period.
Even in its inaugural games, ASU was expecting to win.
“We are trying to get two W’s,” Gregory said last Tuesday prior to the Sun Devils two-game trip to Kennesaw State and Stetson.
That’s exactly what they did.
ASU (2-0) followed up an impressive 14-6 win over KSU in the program’s Friday afternoon debut with a 15-13 defeat of Stetson (0-1) on Sunday morning, a strong start for a team picked to finish last in the Pac-12 preseason poll.
“We saw the girls getting comfortable on the field which is always good,” coach Courtney Martinez Connor said Sunday in a postgame statement. “…We’re going to come away from this win with a lot to learn.”
The biggest lesson from ASU’s opening weekend: the newly established Sun Devils can compete.
Fellow co-captain Kerri Clayton led ASU offensively during the weekend series, scoring 5 goals against Stetson on Sunday after her 7-goal barrage two days earlier. She too predicted a fast start for the upstart squad.
“(We know) we can compete with anyone,” Clayton said last week when previewing the pair of season-opening games. “Not playing down to anyone’s level, just coming out hard and going at it.”
As a unit, ASU’s attack meshed quickly. The Sun Devils outshot their two opponents 81-53 in the two games combined, peppering opposing goalies with 56 attempts on target. In addition to Clayton, freshman midfielder Maddy Hunter and freshman attacker Graci Fulkerson each scored 4 goals, while fellow freshmen Emily Glagolev and Julia Burns both provided 3 tallies of their own.
Against Stetson, Glagolev and Fulkerson combined on a behind-the-back pass that led to a goal.
“We’re teaching the players to be creative,” Martinez Connor said. “(The behind-the-back goal) was great so there were definitely bright spots and there’s always things you learn from.”
On the backend, Gregory helped led a defense that allowed just 9 total goals in the weekend’s first three halves. In net, sophomore Berkley Bonneau made 18 total saves in the two games. Not until a 10-goal second-half rally from the Hatters on Sunday did ASU’s defense begin to crack, even then doing enough to preserve a perfect start to the season.
“It certainly gives us a lot of great experience like how to battle adversity on the field and how to handle difficult situations that will be thrown at us,” Martinez Connor said. “Fortunate for us a win is a win. We just have to learn how to complete a game and compete for 60 minutes all the time because we won’t always be as lucky and be able to come out with a W.”
The near-collapse was the only complaint Martinez Connor could gripe though.
After spending two years to prepare her new program for competition, it took less than 48 hours to secure its first two wins.
“We’re certainly proud that they were able to walk away and start the season with a winning record,” Martinez Connor said. “But we’re not going to stop there.”