Tusculum opens 2017 season this weekend

Tusculum opens 2017 season this weekend

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- With 21 victories in their first two seasons and two appearances in the South Atlantic Conference tournament under their belts, the Tusculum College women's lacrosse team is determined to continue its development into one of the top programs in the conference and region as the 2017 season begins.

The Pioneers open their third season on Saturday, Feb. 4 with a trip to Erskine, part of a 17-game schedule that includes a three-game road swing through Florida during Spring Break. With nine starters back from last year's team, head coach Jenna Handshoe believes that her team may be young, but returns a lot of knowledge and is just beginning to show its potential.

Junior Savannah Elliott was the team's leading scorer last season with 48 goals (fifth in the SAC) and tied for second on the team with 54 points. Elliott had 15 multiple-goal games last season, including a school single-game record seven goals against Lincoln Memorial on March 30. The native of Oshawa, Ontario ranks third in program history with 72 career goals and fourth with 81 points.

Sophomore Hayley Bartlett had a strong freshman campaign for the Pioneers with 26 goals and 22 assists for 48 points. Her 22 assists were the second-most on the team and ranked ninth in the SAC, while her 26 goals rank second only to Elliott among returning players. Bartlett, a native of Peterborough, Ontario, tied the program single-game record with eight points (four goals, four assists) against North Greeneville on March 10, and had five matches of three goals or more.

Sophomore Rachel Holmes was one of seven players to score 20 goals for the Pioneers last season, netting exactly 20 goals to go along with eight assists for 28 points in 17 matches. Holmes was fifth on the team with 27 ground balls, and scored at least one goal in 12 of the Pioneers' 15 regular-season games. The Norcross, Georgia native had six multiple-goal games last season, including three goals against Virginia-Wise on Feb. 23 and Wingate on April 23.

Other contributors on the attack for the Pioneers are redshirt freshman Sierra Haas (Canton, Ga.) who played three games last season, and junior Lilian Lesniewski (Kodak, Tenn.), who played in 15 matches as a freshman and picked up four goals and three assists for seven points. Freshmen Kaitlyn Moore (Alpharetta, Ga.) and Bailey Lowery (Sevierville, Tenn.) provide additional depth for the Pioneers.

Junior Madison Malone is a first-team preseason All-Conference selection after she was named first-team All-SAC and was selected to last year's SAC All-Tournament team. Last season, Malone set a SAC single-season record with 46 assists and also had 20 goals to finish the season with 66 points, tied for the most in a season in program history. Malone also led the Pioneers and ranked fifth in the SAC with 64 draw controls, and was tied for fourth with 33 caused turnovers. Malone was also second on the team with 41 ground balls.

The Maple Grove, Minnesota native recorded at least one point in all 16 games in which she played, and set a school single-game record with eight assists against Lincoln Memorial. Malone had two or more assists in 11 of her 16 contests, including five against both North Greenville and Newberry and four each against Lenoir-Rhyne and Coker. She is the program's career lead with 74 assists, ranks second in school history with 115 points and is fifth with 41 goals. She is also the program career leader in ground balls (96) and caused turnovers (58) and is second in draw controls with 91.

Senior Calyn Kelly played in 16 matches last season and finished with 13 goals and five assists for 18 points. Kelly was tied for second on the team with 23 caused turnovers, and finished third on the team in both ground balls with 38 and draw controls with 23. The Ellenwood, Georgia native scored at least one goal in 11 of her 16 matches, and had six ground balls and four caused turnovers against Shorter on Feb. 13. In 31 career matches, Kelly has 29 goals and 14 assists for 43 points, while ranking second in program history with 95 career ground balls, second with 43 caused turnovers and third with 67 draw controls.

Junior Erin Sims had 23 goals and seven assists for 30 points last season, and led the team with eight free-position goals. Sims had 32 ground balls and 16 caused turnovers to rank fourth on the team in both categories, and had a stretch of five consecutive multiple-goal games from March 5 through March 26. The Trussville, Alabama product ranks fourth in program history with 45 goals, fifth with 63 points and fourth with 64 ground balls. She is also the program's career leader with 13 free-position goals.

Freshman Emily Gleason is a highly-regarded newcomer who scored 156 goals at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, Tennessee and was an honorable mention All-American while in high school. Joining Gleason are fellow freshmen Juliette Cusano (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and Brittany Lowery (Sevierville, Tenn.).

Junior Christen Craig is the anchor of a Pioneer defensive unit that returns three starters from last season. Craig is the only returnee on the team to have started all 17 matches last season, a year in which she led the Pioneer defense with 26 ground balls and 14 caused turnovers. Craig, who hails from Birmingham, Alabama, has appeared in 32 matches in two seasons for the Pioneers (31 starts) and has 42 ground balls which is tied for sixth in program history.

Junior Shelby Gray also played in all 17 matches for the Pioneers last season, making 14 starts, and had 21 ground balls and eight caused turnovers. The Belews Creek, North Carolina product, who along with Craig and Elliott have never missed a game in their Pioneer careers (32 matches), is tied for sixth all-time with Craig with 42 ground balls and is ninth all-time in school history with 12 caused turnovers.

Junior Rachel Del Duca (New Providence, N.J.) and sophomore Claire Stanton (Fruita, Colorado) will both move to defense after playing in the midfield last season. Del Duca had six goals and three assists for nine points in the Pioneers' first five matches before being lost for the season with an injury, while Stanton appeared in 16 matches and had five goals and five assists for 10 points to go along with 15 draw controls and 12 ground balls. Sophomore Jordan Smith appeared in 12 games last season (five starts) for the Pioneers, and the Ball Ground, Georgia native recorded four ground balls, two draw controls and four caused turnovers.

Newcomers on the Pioneer defense include freshmen Eliza Ryan (Matawan, N.J.), Hailey Sanders (Weddington, N.C.) and Linden Perkins (Knoxville, Tenn.).

Junior Brooke Wagner has been the Pioneers' starting goalkeeper in each of the program's first two seasons, including last year when she compiled a 9-6 record and an 11.31 goals against average in 16 starts. Wagner played four complete games for the Pioneers last year, including consecutive wins over Brevard, North Greenville and Newberry. Wagner had a season-high 13 saves at Brevard on March 5, and has the top eight single-game save totals in school history. A native of Snellville, Georgia, Wagner holds program career goalie records for games (31), starts (24), minutes (1,356), save percentage (.419), saves (188) and wins (14).

Graduate student Kaitlin Winnie will see time both on defense and in goal for the Pioneers this season. Last year, Winnie started 16 games on defense and had 19 ground balls, six draw controls and 10 caused turnovers, while playing 38:39 in goal and making five saves. The Accord, New York native made seven starts in 2015 for the Pioneers, finishing with a 9.37 goals against average and a 4-1 record.

Sophomore Kaele Lawless appeared in 13 games last season, making her first start in a 22-10 win over Lincoln Memorial on March 30. Lawless played 20 or more minutes in five different matches, and the Odessa, Florida native had at least one save in 11 of her 13 appearances.

After opening the season at Erskine on Feb. 4, the Pioneers play their first home match of the season on Thursday, Feb. 16 against Converse at Pioneer Field. Tusculum opens its South Atlantic Conference schedule on Wednesday, March 1 against Brevard at home, then heads to Florida for matches against Tampa, Stonehill and Florida Tech from March 6 through 9. Tusculum closes out its regular season on Saturday, April 22 at home against Wingate, with the top six teams in the league standings earning a spot in the SAC Tournament.