*During the current hiatus of collegiate sport action, UChicago Athletics is running a new story series throughout the spring and summer called "Maroon Moments", which will highlight some of the top performances and most pivotal contests from the last two years across all Maroon athletic teams.
CHICAGO – In the days leading up to the program debut of women's lacrosse, University of Chicago Head Coach Kate Robinson had numerous significant details to consider. It would be the team's first contest as a varsity sport, played on the home turf at Stagg Field, with a brand-new roster of players itching to compete.
But beyond the X's and O's on the field, there was one overriding theme Robinson stressed to her players.
"We wanted the team to have fun," Robinson said. "Of course, we wanted to execute our game plan that we had been preparing leading up to the game; however, having fun with their teammates and truly embracing the moment was what I wanted them to do. I hope they can look back at that game and know that they were part of the start of something so special."
On a chilly and wet February afternoon, the Maroons burst out of the gate firing and never let up in its inaugural game of the 2019 season – an emphatic 18-4 victory over DePauw University.
Robinson knew what to expect in the lead-up to the opener. She had previous experience starting a new program as the first head coach of Whitman College's women's lacrosse squad in 2015. She was subsequently hired by UChicago in May 2017 to lead the school's 20th intercollegiate sport. A year of recruiting and planning over the course of the 2017-18 academic year had the Maroons ready to burst onto the scene in spring 2019.
"The excitement and energy for this game was amazing," said Robinson. "I think the week leading up to it, we could feel the eagerness building, but the focus was there at our practices. There was definitely a combination of nerves and excitement in our pre-game talk, but once warm-ups began, it was pure positive energy."
While the weather conditions on Saturday, Feb. 23 were not ideal, they were a non-factor once the game started. "Fortunately, lacrosse players grow up playing in every type of weather," Robinson said. "That winter had already been pretty brutal, so 43 degrees and rainy was considered 'nice' at that point of our season!"
It took precisely 78 seconds for the Maroons to get on the scoreboard. First-year Karina Schulze drew a foul and buried the ensuing free-position shot. It was the start of a bravura performance from Schulze, who contributed all over the field to the tune of eight goals, seven draw controls and four groundballs.
Once the dam broke, the offense surged forward in waves. The Maroons utilized their collective speed to deadly effect in transition opportunities and a deluge of goals resulted. By halftime, UChicago was already running away with a 13-1 lead.
The defense and midfield made their presences felt as well. The draw controls were dominated by the Maroons by an 18-5 margin. The pressure defense led to DePauw failing more clearances than it converted (10 of 22). Shots were similarly lopsided at 31-12 over the course of the afternoon.
With the full roster contributing over the course of the game, the celebratory mood peaked as the Maroons gathered for a team picture once the final horn sounded.
"It was really wonderful to see all parts of the field clicking that day," Robinson said. "Offensively, defensively and in the midfield, I thought we played with confidence and full of heart and energy. The biggest concern I had was that we were playing mostly first-years (and for our upperclassmen, it was their first experience at this level). But I thought we made good decisions, and if we didn't, we adjusted quickly. Our young team matured a lot that day and kick-started the rest of our fun, successful season."
The momentum from the debut contest carried over as the Maroons started their schedule with seven-straight victories. They would conclude 2019 with a 15-3 overall record and a runner-up finish within the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW). UChicago defeated seven conference opponents by an average of 11.4 goals per game.
Schulze was named the CCIW Offensive Player of the Year and CCIW Newcomer of the Year, while Robinson claimed CCIW Co-Coach of the Year. Schulze, Johnson and Adriana Shutler each received All-Region status as well.
"It was really important to start off on the right foot with our first game," said Robinson. "It wasn't so much the win, but the dominating performance and confidence is what we wanted to keep doing as our season progressed. We wanted to go into every game with a lot of energy, outwork our opponents and be confident in our decisions on all ends of the field."