by Sebastian Sola-Sole ’21
Davidson Lacrosse’s first six games of the 2019 season were a historic bunch. Throughout February and March, the ‘Cats repelled all comers — Winthrop, Furman, Gardner-Webb, Elon, Old Dominion and Mercer alike — to record a program-best six-game win streak. Game seven, however, spelled heartbreak when William and Mary ended the historic run on a tie-breaking goal with 18 seconds left to play. This year, moving into a similar game seven, the ‘Cats stood poised to rematch the Tribe and reclaim some of their lost dignity in March , when the NCAA halted all competition and called off the season due to COVID-19.
This year wouldn’t be defined by lost opportunity, however. With a new assistant coach, a large incoming class of first-years, two high-ranking early opponents in Virginia Tech and UNC Chapel Hill, and room to grow off of last year’s disappointing conference run, this season proved an important test for coaches and players alike.
In the first contest of the year, the ‘Cats faced an unfamiliar Virginia Tech team ranked 18th in the nation by NCAA’s Inside Lacrosse Poll. Tech got off to a quick start, putting up five goals before Davidson could respond mid-way through the first half. The rest of the game was an uphill battle, despite Davidson outplaying Tech for shots and turnovers, as the Hokies tacked on another 12 goals to see the ‘Cats off 10-17 in Blacksburg.
The next game brought a higher ranked team and an even tougher loss. On February 16th, Davidson took to Chapel Hill to face the nation’s top women’s lacrosse program, falling to the Tar Heels 5-22. Shannon Blee ’20, the first of Davidson’s five goal-scorers, anticipated the challenge, saying, “going into UNC, we knew we might not win the game,” but relished the opportunity to play such an outstanding team, noting, “It’s a privilege that we even got to play them. Even though we did lose [by] a lot […] we learned how to successfully beat defenses that we’ve never played, and they pointed out all the weaknesses in our defense.”
Coach Kim Wayne, in her 12th year at Davidson, echoed Blee’s sentiments, commenting on the rigger of the first two match-ups: “I go into the games knowing that we’re playing them so we can really focus on our weaknesses, and so we can make those changes going into conference play. I think that we learned a lot from last year versus this year in regard to knowing that we need to play against top opponents to really show where our weaknesses are.”
Next came three familiar opponents: Furman, Elon and Old Dominion. With hat tricks from Shayne Atolini ’20 and Gianna New ’22, the ‘Cats rolled over Furman to record their first win of the season and looked to do the same at Elon the following week.
2019’s game-four tie with the Phoenixes saw the ‘Cats overcome a five-goal deficit at half-time to win by one at home; this year’s match-up promised another hotly-contested hour of lacrosse. Grace Fahey ’23 attested to hype surrounding the game, saying, “I remember in the locker room, the sophomores, juniors, and seniors were rehashing last year’s game to all of us, saying, ‘They lost by one, so they’re going to come out hard this year. They’re going to come out hungry.’” Such was the story of the first half.
Down by four goals with ten minutes left to play, the ‘Cats gathered on a timeout, and Wayne called on the team to leave everything on the field. For the next 10 minutes, the ‘Cats played with abandon. Fahey said, “We went back out there, and everyone just turned it on. It was literally like flipping a switch.” In the spirit of Wayne’s encouragement, the ‘Cats ran in another three goals but couldn’t find the last to draw the game level, losing on the reverse of last year’s score, 10-11. Fahey, however, took all of the warning and encouragement to heart, going on to score three times, notching her first multi-goal performance in red, and leading Davidson’s attack an applause-worthy near-win.
Against Old Dominion the following week, as Fahey recalled, “the tables had finally turned.” The ‘Cats put up 22 points on the bulldogs and drove home from Norfolk grinning. Anna West ’23 led the scoring with five goals, earning her an A-10 Rookie of the Week award. Blee and Sam Rippley ’21 scored hat tricks, and Fahey popped up for her second consecutive multi-goal performance, scoring twice.
In the sixth and final game of the season — and the first at home — the ‘Cats suffered a disappointing 8-17 loss to Lehigh, contending early, then conceding seven in a row to all but seal their fate. Wayne called the loss the season’s low point, saying, “losing the last game, with the score as it was, is not something that you want to look back on when you know that you could have ended the season so differently.”
And just as March 12th spelled the end of Davidson’s school year, so too did it bring the end of Lacrosse’s 2020 season. The seniors had already, unwittingly, taken to the field for the last time, and all of their teammates lost the opportunity to grow further under their leadership and experience.
In reckoning with the end of the season, Wayne didn’t focus on the wins, losses, or opportunities missed, but instead on the class that didn’t get to play out their full term. She noted, “I’m just very appreciative to our senior class, and I want them to know that the impact that they made while they were here, not just this year, but within their [four] years, was crucial to the success of our program, and they’re going to be greatly missed.”