At the beginning of the season, the Virginia Tech lacrosse team was ranked No. 11 and expected to return to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in program history. The start of the season has shown the team still needs some experience in order to compete with the top teams in the country. They are 4-3 early in the year, but all three losses have come against ranked opponents.
“I think, overall, it hasn’t been necessarily the start I wanted,” Head Coach John Sung said. “But when I look at it right now and see it from a different point of view, it’s the start we needed going into ACC play and this tough part of our schedule. We needed to be exposed.”
One of the games the team lost this year was at Duke late in February. The Blue Devils are ranked No. 15 in the nation, and the Hokies almost took them down on the road. They led 9-6 late in the game, but were outscored 4-1 in the last eight minutes of the game to force overtime. Duke scored in overtime to complete the comeback and beat the Hokies 11-10.
“In the Duke game, we just had a lapse at the end,” Sung said. “Should we be 5-2? Probably, but the lessons that we learned from losing that game, as painful as it may be, are probably going to be the most valuable lessons our kids will learn about execution of plays, clock management, and what it takes to win.”
Since that game, the Hokies have found a new gear. The team went on the road to Old Dominion and won 23-3. That was the first time in program history that Virginia Tech had won a game by 20 goals. Then they followed up that performance with another rout of an in-state opponent, winning 23-8 over Radford.
“I think things have changed. Through the first couple of games, I really felt like our offense wasn’t together, it just wasn’t clicking,” Sung said. “Then, we obviously had a couple big wins, and it wasn’t necessarily the amount of goals we scored, it was how we scored them. Our kids were unselfish, and they played in the system.”
Two of the main catalysts on the attack have been sophomores Paige Petty and Emma Crooks. They each have scored five goals in each of the last two games. In total, the duo has scored over 40% of the team’s goals this season. Their explosion on offense has been a large reason why the team has had more success scoring in the past two games.
“Emma was here last year and had some games where she was exceptional, but she also had some games where she was just a freshman. Now, her role has changed, and she’s getting a lot more comfortable in that role,” Sung said. “Obviously for Paige, she’s an All-American and she’s learning what that means, what that means to play at that level, and we’re trying to teach her how to be a finisher and a closer.”
Scoring isn’t the only important part of offense though. The Hokies have received early contributions from freshman Sara Goodwin. She is tied for fourth on the team in assists with five, and has ten points in the last two games. The youth of this team may be considered a disadvantage to some, but many freshmen and sophomores have stepped into prominent roles early in their careers.
“Sara was one of our recruits that when I got here, knowing that class, I knew that she was still available and we went after her pretty hard,” Sung said. “The first couple of games was a shock to her system, and we had to reel her back in. I think she had to figure out how to be a threat and how to understand that she was going to be okay and succeed.”
The team’s success in the last two games also showed improvement on the defensive end. The team only returned two of their starting defenders from last season, and have had to work with a lot of freshmen and sophomores on the back-end. After allowing an average of just under 11 goals per game over the first five games, they have allowed just eleven total in their last two wins. This improvement is largely due to getting their full defensive unit onto the field and having consistency.
“Our first games that we played, what a lot of people don’t know is that we played with a defense that wasn’t intact until the Duke game.” Sung said. “Then, at that point, we were able to get some normalcy on the defensive end.”
The team played Radford on Sunday, March 3rd, and had a week of preparation before their trip to California this weekend. They will play #18 USC on Sunday, and then Fresno State on Tuesday. This west coast trip could be a chance for the Hokies to get quality road wins as they approach ACC play in late March.
“We need to play together, we don’t need one side of the ball bailing out the other. We need our offense to be balanced and our defense to be balanced,” Sung said. “I’ve always told [the team], we won’t win the game on Sunday, we’ll win it during the week in preparation for it. We need to win these days, and the only way we’re going to do it is through our execution and effort.”