*During the current hiatus of collegiate sport action, UChicago Athletics is running a 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 – When University of Chicago women's lacrosse made its varsity debut in the spring of 2019, it marked brand new territory for all involved. A new roster, new coaching staff and first-time opponents on the schedule. The season was a rousing success, culminating in a 15-3 overall record.
The focus shifted in year two. The returning players knew what it was like to compete on the field at the collegiate stage. Second-year head coach Kate Robinson was now tackling the task of making strides and improvements to push her team to the next level.
"Going into 2020, we wanted to see discipline and growth from our returning players when they were on the field," Robinson said. "After getting significant playing experience in 2019, we were excited to see them as 'seasoned' collegiate athletes. Not only with their decision making and on-field play, but how they were as leaders to our 10 new first-years, who benefited tremendously learning from our returners."
The first test would come from Capital University – the opening opponent for the 2020 season. The Maroons passed with flying colors, securing a 14-9 victory at Stagg Field.
The 2020 roster featured 19 returning players with 10 first-years joining the fray. Incorporating a large influx of players could have proven tricky to a squad that already created an identity from the previous year. The 2019 Maroons were characterized by their aggressive play offensively and in the midfield, ranking in the nation's top 25 in scoring (16.4 goals per game), scoring margin (+8.3/game), shots (26.4/game) and ground balls (26.4/game).
Robinson viewed the roster boon as a welcome addition to existing strengths. She knew the style of play she wanted to pursue, and that more players meant additional flexibility on the field. Integrating the first-years would be important from the onset. The ultimate goal was to create relentless waves of pressure all over the field.
"It was really important for our first-years to gain experience in our first game," said Robinson. "It was great that we were playing a high-caliber team in Capital, so our first-years could feel a strong level of play right away. What was – and still is – really special about this group is our added depth at each position. Going into this game, it was really exciting to see how that depth complemented what we were doing from last year. We had the flexibility to sub more often, utilize the box and have really strong rotations at each position."
Capital came into the contest fresh off an 11-6 season and a runner-up finish within the Ohio Athletic Conference. The visitors drew first blood in the opening two minutes, but UChicago regrouped and settled in from there. Five minutes in, first-year Katie Large scored twice in a 22-second span to give her team the lead for good. Sophomore Ali Sheehy found the net to make it 3-1, followed by an exchange of goals 30 seconds apart in the 12th minute. Four different players scored five-straight goals as the hosts seized control of the proceedings. By halftime, UChicago staked itself to an 8-3 advantage.
Despite playing in cold conditions with temperatures in the low 30s, Robinson was encouraged by her team's performance right out of the gate in various areas. "We saw an immense amount of growth in our 2020 debut versus our last game in 2019," she said. "Discipline, depth and decision making were the three aspects I saw huge improvements in, while still maintaining our fast-paced, high-pressure style of play. I was excited to see this group continue our fun, hardworking, hustle mindset that we saw in 2019, but just in a more refined way in 2020."
The Maroons did not slow down after the break either, accounting for five of the next six goals. By the midpoint of the second half, UChicago was up 13-5 and subbing liberally. The hosts cruised the rest of the way to claim the 14-9 victory.
In the final stats, UChicago held sway in shots (30-21), caused turnovers (11-10), turnovers committed (16-20) and clear percentage (80 percent to 72 percent).
In their collegiate debuts, Anneke Pulkkinen and Large tallied three goals each while Zoe Torok scored twice. Sophomore Audrey Kaus posted two goals and two assists while sophomore Sarah Bloomquist was responsible for one goal and three assists. Goalkeeper Emily Feigen earned her first career victory, making four saves with five goals allowed in 46:39 of playing time.
Robinson was pleased with her team's efforts at the end of the day, noting the improvements from the previous year. "Overall, we played a full 60-minute game," she said. "This was something we struggled with in 2019 and was a big goal for our team coming into this season. We had a game plan and really stuck to it for the whole game. Defensively, we shut down their top scorers and saw some huge stops, and offensively, we were composed and found the back of the net. It was well-played, composed, full 60-minute contest, which I was so proud of. And it got us even more excited for the future of the program."