It’s hard to get excited about a 2-15 record. And Amanda Barnes certainly isn’t doing any celebrating.
But she’s also anything but disappointed about the performance of her East Carolina women’s lacrosse team during its inaugural season.
Despite all the losses, including a 21-8 setback at the hands of Duke in the final game two Sundays ago, there was plenty for the young Pirates coach to be excited about thanks to the growth her fledgling program showed after starting literally from scratch.
“We saw dramatic improvement in our individual play and also as a collective unit both offensively and defensively,” Barnes said. “I’m happy with where we finished in terms of the level of play we were capable of producing.
“Of course, I wish we could have produced that level more consistently. But the glimpses were there, and the moments were there. If we can continue to build on that, I think the wins will come.”
The Pirates probably could have mustered a few more wins and made their record look at least a little more respectable had Barnes either scheduled or recruited differently.
That, however, might only have slowed the building process the former North Carolina goalie and Duke assistant coach mapped out for her team.
So instead of putting together a Dick and Jane schedule loaded up with soft touches, Barnes challenged the Pirates by putting them up against established opponents such as future American Athletic Conference rivals Temple and Cincinnati, along with the likes of Oregon, Michigan and Duke — most on the road.
And rather than bolstering her roster with a nucleus of experienced transfers, graduate and otherwise, she chose to sacrifice short term results for big picture success by building a foundation around a freshman class that can play and grow together for a full four years.
Other than sophomores Emma Bowman, a transfer from Oregon who led the team with 11 assists to go along with 14 goals, and 15-goal scorer Mackell Schultes, along with senior walk-on draw specialist Morgan Cheripko, everyone else on the team this season was in her first year of college.
“The amount of experience our players were able to gain this year is very unusual for a freshman class, because they’re usually playing behind upperclassmen,” Barnes said. “We had some players that never came off the field. They’re going to be able to take that and build on it in years to come and also give those life lessons to their (future) underclassman teammates now.”
Although the members of this year’s inaugural team came into the program with eyes wide open, knowing they’d take their share of lumps against teams comprised of upperclassmen — and, as in the case of Duke, All-Americans — losing can often take its toll on the confidence and the psyche.
That’s where, according to the players, Barnes did her best work.
“She had a lot of patience with us,” freshman attack Ally Stanton said. “She definitely just cared about us getting better and not necessarily about our wins.”
As important as learning and improving might be, the object of the game is still scoring more goals than the other team and coming out with a victory.
That’s what made the afternoon of Feb. 18 in Boiling Springs so special. Trailing Gardner-Webb by a goal with just 50 seconds remaining in regulation, Schultes tied the score with her second goal of the game. Freshman midfielder Megan Pallozzi then scored 40 seconds into overtime to give ECU a 15-14 triumph and the first win in program history.
The Pirates got win No. 2 and its first at home about a month later when they overwhelmed Delaware State 16-2 behind hat tricks from freshmen Brittany Borchers and Sam Caputo, and the standout goaltending of Abby Smith and Christina White.
The victories, though few and far between, were enough to whet the appetite of a group anxious to get back to work and start enjoying the fruits of their labor.
While the program probably won’t fully blossom until Season 3 or perhaps even Season 4 when all of this year’s freshmen are battle-tested seniors, Barnes and her players fully expect significant improvement in the win column as early as next spring when the Pirates begin conference play as a full-fledged AAC member.
“Looking back to where we were in the fall when we all came in as freshmen and didn’t know each other to where we are now, we’ve made strides,” Pallozzi, who led the team with 25 goals, said. “Now we keep building. We’ve definitely laid down a foundation. We’re getting another group in here next year and we’re going to keep getting better and better. We’ve set our standards high.”
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