The University of Mount Olive women’s lacrosse program doesn’t have that deep-seated tradition and self-belief usually rooted in elite teams.
Oh, but the Trojans are close.
Since 2016, they’ve produced either the offensive-, defensive- or freshman-of-the-year among their Conference Carolinas peers. Those previous recipients — senior Jackie Kaderabak, junior Jordan Shughrue and sophomore Meaghan Michaud — return on an experienced team that has been tabbed to finish second in the preseason coaches poll behind perennial powerhouse Limestone.
UMO drew four first-place nods on the ballots.
“I think that goes to show a lot of people see what we are doing here,” said UMO head coach Grant Kelam. “Limestone is a traditionally-strong program... the standard in the conference. That’s the game we circle every year. We look up, we don’t look down and that’s the message that we push.
“Always strive for more, never settle and never get complacent.”
The success of those three aforementioned players could determine if UMO earns its first-ever bid to the NCAA Division II tournament in a heavily-competitive region. Kaderabak didn’t play in the fall. Shughrue continues to heal from double-calf surgery in the fall and Michaud broke her kneecap in a freak home accident during the Thanksgiving holidays.
The trio combined for 135 goals, 63 assists and 198 total points last spring.
Back at full strength is Kiara Burke, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) midway through last season. The senior midfielder from New York punched in 24 goals and doled out 9 assists in just 10 games.
Kelam added transfers Ali Davis (Coastal Carolina), Meaghan Gordon (US Naval Academy) and Emily Prentice (Ohio Valley University).
“We’re excited, but we’re also apprehensive because you don’t know if they’re going to gel once you get out there,” Kelam said. “It could be too many stars, and that happens, too. I think the ceiling is high for this team if we play well, but there is just a lot of unknowns at this point.”
Ranked No. 24 in the IWLCA preseason national poll, the Trojans open the season Friday at in-state rival Catawba. Kelam’s teams are 7-0 in season-opening matches.
UMO launches its home schedule Feb. 17 against Lincoln Memorial.
Also on the docket are matchups against Limestone and 2019 final four qualifier Queens University of Charlotte. Queens comes to Mount Olive on April 1 and the Trojans travel to Limestone nine days later.
Kelam and his assistant coach, Chris Virta, have dialed back their daily practice regime to keep the players fresh. They let the weight training and practice dictate the conditioning aspect of the team, and encourage the players to work efficiently with each other.
“Consistency,” Kelam said. “If we can keep the [same] level on our good days and it has to deal with focus more than their athleticism because we’re one of the most athletic teams out there. We’re gifted. Our team speed is there.
“It’s about being efficient, being effective...take it to the next gear. That’s our true challenge.”