By: Ruby Arani / GCU Staff
With in-state rivalries and first Division I conference play, there is a lot of pressure. This past weekend, the Grand Canyon University Women’s Lacrosse felt that pressure in back-to-back games against Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, losing to both.
The Lopes began the weekend with a Saturday morning clash against the Sun Devils of ASU.
“We talked strategy and recapped on how ASU played, since we have played them in the fall,” Lopes’ Head Coach Tracy Gallihugh said about the pregame preparation. “I also stressed about the girls’ confidence and no matter what happened in the match, they had to stay confident.”
ASU scored early in the match, but the Lopes responded quickly, using a three-goal run to take a 5-2 lead. ASU answered with a six-goal run of their own to lead the Lopes, 8-5. The Lopes ended ASU’s run with a goal by Lopes sophomore midfielder Casey Friel, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Sun Devils, who scored two more goals to lead at halftime, 10-6.
After ASU began the second half with a three-goal run, GCU got on the board with a shot off by Lopes’ senior attacker Kelsey Wood. ASU answered with another three-goal run before both Friel and Lopes’ senior midfielder Courtney Benardino broke the ASU run with back-to-back goals, but it wasn’t enough. ASU scored four more goals to beat the Lopes, 20-10.
“They just got tired,” said Gallihugh. “When we get tired mentally, more than anything, we begin to get lazy resulting in bad habits, which happened today. They got inside their own heads and were unable to come back out.”
On Sunday, the Lopes took on the Wildcats of U of A, still fatigued from the Saturday match. The Wildcats dominated from the opening whistle, and the Lopes were unable to find any scoring opportunities. The Wildcats ended the first half with a 12-0 lead.
“We just didn’t start the way we needed to,” said Gallihugh. “I don’t know who played the first half, because it wasn’t our team. They weren’t playing their game, and that had to change.”
Gallihugh and the Lopes changed their strategy to go into a backer zone defense in the second half. A backer zone defense is harder to execute, but the zone pays off for the defensive end to create maximum pressure, opportunities to create turnovers, and transition into a fast break.
The change of strategy worked for the Lopes in the second half. The Lopes out-scored the Wildcats, 3-2, but it wasn’t enough for the Lopes to close the gap. The Wildcats took the match, 14-3.
“The second half was a much better performance,” said Gallihugh. “To come out of the first half with such a huge gap, I think they got frustrated and wanted to be better. Something just clicked.”
Now that the Lopes have tried and executed the backer zone defense, Gallihugh has a new strategy to finish out the conference schedule.
“We will work on and utilize the backer defense for the rest of this season, and into next season. It is a big challenge for us, but it will force the team to become more aggressive and communicate. The backer defense will frustrate teams, which will be a huge advantage for us.”
With Sunday’s match being the last home match of the season, the Lopes, their family members and friends celebrated the final home appearance for three seniors: Maddie Magoon, Kelsey Wood and Courtney Benardino.
“Today is really sad,” said Gallihugh. “Being our first year in Division I, it is very exciting that we could do this well, and we are learning so much. It’s just sad we can’t do more with our seniors, because these seniors are such as a huge impact to our program.”
Gallihugh took a moment to reflect on each player.
Maddie Magoon: “(She) is a huge loss to the team right now because of a season-ending injury. Though she can’t play the rest of the season, her presence means so much. She is a huge motivator for the team and she brings everyone up. She is also an excellent defender with excellent stick skills. She is a leader on and off the field. She will be deeply missed.”
Kelsey Wood: “She is our “down low girl”: get her the ball, and she will make something happen. She is basically our playmaker. She is a solid person on the attack, and brings a lot of energy and skill to our attacking line.”
Courtney Benardino: “(She) is just a burst of energy. When people are down, she brings them up. She gives it her all every match. She makes things happens through her efforts. She gets things going and is a really great transition player.”
In two weeks, the Lopes will travel to San Diego, California to finish out conference play against the University of San Diego and San Diego State University.