A year ago, the Montreat College women's lacrosse team recorded a win for every year it had been in existence - one. This season, which began on Feb. 11 in Waleska, Georgia against Reinhardt University, should be quite different, the team believes.
An influx of young talent and another year of experience in the sport for returning players could lead to big improvements for the Lady Cavaliers in 2017, its coach believes.
Head coach Katy Ferguson is entering her second season at the helm for Montreat. Her lacrosse background includes a four years as player at Western Michigan University and an assistant coaching position at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She went on to become the first head coach for the program at Oklahoma Baptist University.
Building a program from scratch can be challenging, but Ferguson is excited to see what the Cavaliers can do this season, she said.
"We have a team with experience going into this season," she said. "Last year was our first team ever. So coming into this year, out of our 13 players on the roster we have 10 with experience in the sport."
The Cavaliers enter the season with 11 underclassmen on the roster; all seven freshman have a background in lacrosse. That should make a big difference on the field this season, according to Ferguson.
"We will definitely be more competitive in our conference," she said. "Having more experience on the team puts us in better shape. I'm looking for us to finish in the top half of the conference."
Achieving that goal will require personal accountability from each player on her team, according to Ferguson.
"Each and every day they come to practice a little bit more focused," she said. "And each and every day they push themselves a little bit harder without me saying so."
Players are taking it upon themselves to work on everything from conditioning to stick handling on their own, which allows Ferguson to use practices to get her team ready for upcoming opponents.
Team captains - senior Katherine Harper, sophomore Alex Hernandez and freshman goalie Amirah Moize - have played a vital role in developing a healthy team chemistry, according to Ferguson. The seven freshmen are a tight group, and the upperclassmen have done "a great job" bringing everyone together as a team, the coach said.
Ferguson has introduced her players to team-building exercises away from the lacrosse field, a practice she believes will create a better outcome on the field.
"It really helps them get to know each other on a deeper level, which leads to better team play," she said. "But for me it also gives me better insight into each player, away from the field, and how they deal with different stuff."
Offensively, the Cavaliers figure to be a lot more aggressive this season, according to Ferguson. She pointed out that her team's offensive output in a Jan. 28 scrimmage against Erskine College was better than any game last season, except for Montreat's single win, a 9-6 victory over University of Pikeville (Kentucky).
Players like junior Anyla Kryeziu, a Montreat volleyball player who was introduced to lacrosse last season, have become more comfortable in their roles on the field. That will give players like Mariah Davison the opportunity to attack the goal.
"She scored three of our five goals at Erskine," Ferguson said of Davison. "She knows when to feed other players and when to drive toward the goal."
Despite having more experience, the Cavaliers will be challenged by a tough out-of-conference schedule and competitive Appalachian Athletic Conference that has three teams ranked in the top 10 in the NAIA. Wins and losses aren't the only things that determine if season two of women's lacrosse at Montreat is a success, according to Ferguson.
"I measure success by how we interact as a team and if my girls show up every day, win or lose, wanting to learn more," she said. "I want these girls to really try to learn how to master their craft."