by Zack Peñalva, Sports Editor
On Feb. 13, it will have been two years since Asbury’s inaugural lacrosse match. On that day in 2015, the women’s lacrosse team won 17-1 at home against Truett-McConnell College, another program that was in its first year. Two weeks later, the men’s program would face more established competition, losing 9-5 to Missouri Baptist University in a game in St. Louis.
Since then, the fledgling program has continued to undergo its growing pains as it looks towards its third season. “We had taken strides last season to continue growing the program,” said men’s lacrosse head coach Josh Stewart. “We’d need to recruit well and continue to work to take the next step forward. Unfortunately we lost some guys in the offseason…but we still have a good core to build around.”
Stewart’s team will have a good mix of upperclassmen and new faces, a roster that the Appalachian Athletic Conference ranked at fourth out of seven in the conference. “The NAIA rankings and recent polls from the conference are a pretty good assessment of what the conference and national scene will look like this year. They’re honestly just the coaches’ and raters’ best guesses as to what teams will look like against each other. Time will tell.”
For the women, this season started off with a coaching change. Nicki Stewart will take the helm for her first season as head coach after serving as an assistant last year. “After last season was that we had a lot more we could have done,” coach Stewart said. “Our biggest area of focus this season is finesse in our key skills. …In our sport a lot of the little things add up. Dropped passes, bad shots, not winning ground balls, many teams in our conference jump on, so making sure we’ve got some of those kind of things right, I’m trusting will add up to good things in the end for us.”
Two All-AAC selections will be returning for the men’s team this year. Junior Brandon Smoot was selected First Team All-Conference last season at the long-stick midfielder position. Senior Bobby Bennett, a Second Team All-Conference selection, scored 25 goals for the Eagles last season. “I have to go with the guys that have carried us the past two seasons,” Stewart said. “[Smoot] is the heat and soul of the team. He makes a lot happen defensively and in transition. Our goalie, Austin Frerman, is a huge piece too. When he’s on we will always be in games. Bobby Bennett and Jake Butler are going to be big catalysts offensively as well.”
Preseason rankings on the women’s side had the Eagles ranked sixth out of nine teams in the AAC. Nicki Stewart inherits a relatively young team in her first season, and hopes that a combination of fresh recruits and returning talent will allow her to build off of the Eagles 4-9 record last year. “We were a very different team last year,” she said. “we’ve lost some good players, but we’ve also gained some good players in our freshman.” Speaking on veterans, Stewart said that, “our middles Erin Garmany and Savannah Neese were our best scorers from last season…Sarah Myhand, Jenny Stratton, and Kellie Payne are unsung heroes for our defense…I’m looking to them as leaders.”
Both teams will open their seasons with away games on Feb. 18. The men will travel to Nashville, Tennessee, to play Saint Ambrose University, a team they beat 7-5 last March. The women will travel to Columbia, South Carolina to play Columbia College, looking to avenge last season’s 2-15 loss.
For the women, building the program is the vision. “Our team’s goal for this season is growth, with the idea that we will have a better record, “ said Nicki Stewart. “We don’t want to be known as the team that people come to get a W on their record.”
On the men’s side, the team is looking to make a run at the conference tournament. “We’ve got a long season ahead of us and it’ll be tough to get there with the teams on our schedule,” said Josh Stewart. “Mostly we want to play the game the way it should be played and take care of the little things by giving it all we have for 60 minutes. The goals we’ll come if we stick to what we know.”