Lexington, Ky. - The 2018 season was one of firsts for the Transylvania women's lacrosse program. The team claimed its first Ohio River Lacrosse Conference regular-season championship, won its first ORLC Tournament crown and appeared in of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
Now, with the 2019 season just days away, head coach Lauren Bickford Wentworth's team has its sights set on building upon last year's success and the postseason experience gleaned from last season.
"Playing in the NCAA Tournament was a great learning experience for our players," reflects Wentworth. "Going forward, it should bring more confidence to our team, and now we now know what to expect and the level of preparation it takes to get there. We're hungry for an NCAA win the next time we find ourselves in the tournament."
This year's team is sure to face its share of new challenges. After four years as a member of the ORLC, Transylvania will begin competition in the newly formed Heartland Collegiate Lacrosse Conference this season. The Pioneers join five fellow Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference institutions, as well as Bluegrass neighbor Thomas More University in the pursuit of the HCLC's automatic berth into the NCAA Division III Women's Lacrosse Tournament.
"We can't expect anything to be handed to us," declares Wentworth. "In the first year in the HCLC, each team will be setting the records and standards for future teams to beat. However, our goals remain the same and we plan to claim the first HCLC Championship."
This year's team features a bevy of upperclassmen, including eight seniors and three juniors who have been an instrumental part of the Pioneers' rise to the pinnacle of women's lacrosse over the past few seasons.
"This was my first recruiting class and it has been wonderful to watch them grow on and off the field during their time at Transylvania," remarks Wentworth. "Their commitment and leadership have been vital to the program's success and they deserve a memorable final chapter."
The Pioneer offense will be led this season by senior midfielders Emma Oliver and Bailee Stevens. Oliver tallied 37 goals last season and ranked second on the team with 73 total points. Stevens was on her way to a strong junior year when an ACL injury derailed her season after just eight games.
"Bailee and Emma are workhorses, analyzes Wentworth. "They lead by example and have earned the respect of their teammates as strong and persuasive leaders. They are passionate about the sport, their teammates, and the future of the program, and I expect they will rally the team in even our most trying moments."
On the defensive end of the field, the Pioneers welcome back All-ORLC defenders, sophomore Hannah Maroni and junior Harper Zeitz. The duo anchored a stingy Transylvania defensive unit that held opponents to just 5.35 goals per game on the season and ORLC opponents to 2.91 goals per game.
Six new Pioneers will be joining the team for the 2019 campaign. Four freshmen, along with sophomore midfielder Courtney Pontious, a transfer from Seton Hill University, will embark upon their first season in Lexington. Also new to the team this season is senior goalkeeper Allyson Benz, who recently completed a stellar four-year career as the starting goalkeeper for the Transylvania field hockey team and finished her career with consecutive conference defensive player of the year accolades.
"New blood equals fresh attitudes, open minds, and unique skills that bring different dynamics to the team and challenges everyone to compete and excel," says Wentworth. "Each member of the team must put in the work required to achieve greatness. Win or lose, we want to walk away knowing that we never let up and competed for a full 60 minutes."
The Pioneers will open their season on Saturday, February 4 with a nonconference matchup against the Berry College Vikings. The game is set for a 1:00 p.m. start at Pat Deacon Stadium.
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