The women’s lacrosse team waited for almost a full calendar year to take the field once again for legitimate competition. Weeks and weeks of social distancing and constant preparation through scrimmages and workouts culminated in a Big 10 matchup against the visiting Rutgers University Scarlet Knights at Homewood Field.
Midfielder Lexi Souder, who returned to the team as a graduate student, shared the emotions that she and the team felt as they took to the turf once again.
“It was hard to not get emotional about stepping foot on the field again after 351 days since our last game. In our warm-ups before the game, I had to take a moment by myself to wrap my thoughts around playing the game that has brought me so much,” she said. “We had to watch other teams in our same conference compete and practice all fall, and that is what made us driven throughout the preseason and made us determined to come out strong this season.”
The Blue Jay’s yearning for a hot start was briefly delayed as Rutgers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. Midfielder Cassidy Spilis notched both of these goals in two minutes, putting the Jays at an early disadvantage. However, the hosts, armed with a wealth of experience throughout the lineup, were undeterred.
Souder was the first to get the Jays back on track. At the 25-minute mark, she took a nice pass from senior midfielder and captain Keegan Barger and fired a low shot that bounced right past the Rutgers goalie. That was the spark that Hopkins needed to find their bearings in the game, as they rattled off five unanswered goals to take a 5-2 lead. The usual suspects helped to bring them back, as senior midfielder Shelby Harrison scored two goals in the seven minutes, with contributions from graduate student attackman Maggie Schneidereith and sophomore attackman Maeve Barker as well.
Souder talked about the adjustment period that predicated the 5-0 scoring run.
“We were able to assess how Rutgers was playing us in the first few minutes of the game, and they were able to get a few quick goals,” she said. “After discussing our plan of attack and recognizing the defense that Rutgers was running, we were able to swing the momentum towards a 5-0 run in our favor.”
Rutgers responded to the shift in momentum and fired back with two quick goals thanks to Spilis and attackman Marin Hartshorn, bringing the Scarlet Knights within one with 11 minutes left in the first half. But Hopkins, firing on all cylinders in the first 30 minutes, quickly increased their lead once again. Graduate student attackman Mackenzie Heldberg netted two goals, and Souder added her second tally of the day to give the Jays an 8-4 advantage. This run seemed to suggest that Hopkins would run away with the matchup once again, but Rutgers attackman Hannah Hollingsworth scored a buzzer-beater goal to bring them within three going into the half.
That goal was the turning point of the matchup for both sides. To start off the second half, Rutgers rattled off three goals, two from the stick of Spilis, to tie the game with just over 26 minutes to play. The game quickly devolved into a back and forth affair. Barker capitalized off a defensive lapse on the hands of the Scarlet Knights to push the Jays over with 24 minutes, but Spilis took advantage of the free-position to tie the game at nine.
Harrison tried to propel Hopkins forward, finishing off her hat-trick with another goal with 14 minutes and 30 seconds left to play in the game. That moment proved to be the final rally from the hosts, as Rutgers stormed back and rattled off four unanswered goals to steal the come-from-behind win, by the score of 13-10. The loss represented the first time that Hopkins fell to Rutgers in their series history, as the Jays won the previous five meetings.
Hopkins did not play poorly by any stretch of the imagination. There were a number of positives to be gleaned from the first game in a year, which Souder shared briefly.
“Our team chemistry is a factor that we will bring along with us throughout the season and was apparent throughout the game even though the outcome was not what we hoped for,” she said. “On the field, recognizing matchups and our teammates’ strengths are positive takeaways from the game. On the sideline, the energy was infectious and supportive, which was great since there were no fans in the stands.”
The Jays had a number of positive contributions on both ends of the field, with Harrison tallying four points, and Barker, Heldberg and Souder capturing two goals each. Schneidereith and Barger also notched multi-point games. We also witnessed solid defensive performances, with senior defender Trinity McPherson causing three turnovers herself.
The team should be optimistic about their prospects as they move forward. They outshot Rutgers 30-20 and caused six more turnovers, signifying a considerable hold on the game.
Souder discussed what the team’s focus will be on as they move through their Big 10 schedule.
“Going forward into the season, continuing to challenge me and my teammates every day is going to be important,” she said. “Our next priorities are the games against Northwestern this weekend. But most importantly, celebrating the things we did right and learning from our mistakes this past week will be the team’s goal for the upcoming week.”
The Jays will host Northwestern University on Friday, Feb. 26 and Sunday, Feb. 28 at 1 p.m. and 12 p.m. respectively.