Lenoir-Rhyne A Successful Startup Program
Lenoir-Rhyne is a prime example of why the IWLCA needed to expand its Division II rankings from a Top 10 to a Top 15 last year.
In 2010, Lenoir-Rhyne didn’t have a program. In 2011, it won six games. In 2012, the Bears doubled their win total to 12 and beat a couple of ranked teams along the way.
It was probably impossible to predict that the second-year program from Hickory, N.C., would vault itself into the Top 15 conversation this year, but Lenoir-Rhyne has something few startups possess: senior leadership.
Courtney Sink and Stevie Dellinger walked onto L-R’s new program as juniors. Neither had played lacrosse before last year, but both played every game this season for the Bears, who wrapped up with a 12-4 record earlier this month.
“Last year it was really interesting,” said Sue Reuschle, who was a graduate assistant with L-R in Year One and is now the head coach. “Especially in the fall when our new players were thrown into their first game after playing for less than a month. We had only a couple of substitutes, so they got a lot of playing time. When they got in there they just had to figure it out on the field."
The seniors have figured it out and play a huge part in L-R’s defense, which ranks ninth in Division II and is one of only 12 D-II defenses holding opponents in single digits.
It helps that Sink and Dellinger are athletes. Dellinger was already a member of L-R’s soccer and track teams. Her speed helps her impact the game not only as defensive midfielder and in transition. She had 12 goals, five assists and a team-high 51 ground balls this year. Sink, an all-region volleyball, basketball and softball player in high school, is a low defender whose aggression and communication makes her the backbone of L-R’s defense.
“They’re just incredible athletes,” Reuschle said.
The evolution of the seniors has obviously helped L-R’s defense, which shaved off almost five points allowed per game from its inaugural season. The arrival of former Drexel standout Katrina Bradley, who joined the team in October as an assistant coach and works with the defense, has also been key.
“This young group came together as a team very quickly and worked hard for the success they have earned this year,” Reuschle said. “Coach Bradley and I are very proud of the team’s dedication, hard work and enthusiasm for our lacrosse program.”
That was evident for the Bears beginning in their fourth game. After losing two of their first three to established Southern powers Queens and Limestone, L-R rallied from a seven-point deficit to defeat Pfeiffer, 19-18, on Feb. 25. That kicked off a streak of 11 wins in 13 games, including a 20-16 victory over then No. 12 Florida Southern. The only losses during that stretch came by one to Belmont Abbey and against undefeated Rollins.
“In preseason I think it was pretty obvious to the coaches that we had a talented team,” Reuschle said. “Something clicked [against Pfeiffer]. They stepped it up and once we started coming back we really gained confidence.”
That confidence should remain in the future. Year Three should be even better. L-R’s leading scorers this season were a junior, Sarah Minick (45-18-63), and a freshman, Lauren Donovan (29-27-56).
They’ll return next year. So will the seniors. Sink and Dellinger have eligibility left and have both decided to enroll in L-R for graduate studies.
“We’re not losing any seniors,” Reuschle said. “Just to have them on board, that’s really exciting for us.”