Lady Flames Success Boosts Growing Interest in Lacrosse

Friday, April 3, 2020

The Lee women's lacrosse team was riding a program-best four game winning streak and was preparing to host nationally ranked Saint Leo when the decision came down that play would be suspended effective Mar. 13.

The season would end officially two weeks later with the Lady Flames 6-2 on the season. The last game of the year was a dominating 23-3 road victory over Converse College. Lee would end up a perfect 3-0 at home.

Despite the truncated season with no official end or postseason opportunity the Lady Flames are not looking at it as a lost year.
The program took major strides forward under second year head coach Derrel Martin and assistant coach Megan Smith while continuing to see interest in the game grow in the Southeast.

"Women's Lacrosse is growing in Tennessee but at a slower pace than some neighboring states such as Georgia and North Carolina where it is a sanctioned high school sport.  There are four high school teams in Hamilton County but none in Bradley County which is something we are trying to get started," said Martin. "Part of our team community service has been to go to several local schools to teach students how to play lacrosse and it has been well received.  It is so much fun to play and watch that I believe it will take off locally, but it may take a few more years."

Senior Abby Fortner has been on the team since the inaugural season of 2017 and has seen the interest in the sport climb firsthand, "There was lots of excitement in the beginning for lacrosse. No one knew what it was, but they were excited none the less. Over the years as lacrosse has become more a part of normal campus life more people started taking an interest in the sport and wanted to learn about it. We had a few loyal fans in the first couple of years who consisted mostly of our close friends and families, but it has grown much more especially this last year as we really started winning. I can only imagine it growing so much more in the years to come especially with the new field."

Rachel Duda, who scored the very first goal in program history in 2017 added, "My four years as a flame have been the most challenging yet rewarding years of my life. We put our blood, sweat, and (many) tears into our program and especially on South Quad! From the time each of us first arrived on campus to the last, God was working in us in ways we cannot begin to comprehend. Even though there were so many ups and downs over the years, I always knew that God was calling me to be here for 22 other amazing women. Even though my journey came to such an abrupt ending, I will always be thankful for the opportunity to pour everything I had into this team and program."

It's hard to be successful without quality seniors on your team. This year's senior class had been through it all. From the rocky inaugural season of establishing a brand-new program to the first wins in 2018 and a coaching change to ultimately a four-game winning streak when things came to close this season.

"This year's senior class consisted of three of the founding team members Rachel Duda, Abby Fortner, and Adriana Devita.  They started the program and persevered through tough years to finally see us get to a winning posture," said Martin. "Hannah Simmons joined our team for just this last year and did a great job of picking up the sport in a short time.  Despite being granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA, it looks like each of them will graduate and forgo their last year."

"Our bond from the inaugural team is unbreakable. We endured battles every day from playing through injuries to being 2 man down every game. We knew that someday it would pay off, we just had to stick together and truck on. The seniors are so thankful for everything that Lee University and our coaches have given us. It feels like our hard work, the foundation we laid, is paying off," said Devita.

"I fully believe that the reason why we were doing so well and were able to end it out with a winning season, was our team chemistry," remarked Simmons. "Everyone on the team is playing for something bigger than themselves. Even outside of lacrosse, we were there for each other if someone needed our help. Having the talent and the determination is one thing, but we are nothing without the help of our teammates pushing us along and believing in us. And that was something really special that this team created from day one."

Sophomore Dariana Blanton provided the offensive firepower as she was 12th in the nation with 26 goals and second in the GSC with 3.25 scores per game. The addition of impact freshmen Brittney White and Jolee Davis was felt immediately on the team. White was No. 2 in the nation with 11.25 draw controls per game and fourth in the GSC causing 1.5 turnovers per game while Davis was 36th in the nation with 11 assists.

"I believe what enabled our team to take such a big step forward this year is that I think our team was all on the same page," noted Blanton. "At the beginning of the season we set goals for ourselves, as well as a team, and we set out to achieve them. We were dedicated in our mission and we were able to rely on one another because we trusted that every player was giving the team 100 percent."

White, who ventured all the way from Colorado Springs, Colo. to play at Lee, added, "I'm really looking forward to future years and what they have to bring because I know we can only go forward towards bigger and better things."

Smith, a talented player in her own right, noted that the team began to buy in and commit to what the coaching staff was preaching, "I think after last year we came together and created team goals that everyone bought into and worked tireless day in and day out to achieve. They put in so much hard work and bought into the process to build this program from the ground up. They have left a wonderful foundation for us to continue to build on continue the legacy they started."

When asked what stood out most to her about these eight games in 2020, all-conference junior Kaylyn Dillon remarked, "our connection. More than ever we were having fun with each other off the field and molding with each other on the field. We were an energetic group and I think that powered us to take a step in the right direction."

That fun was evident for all to see especially on a chilly Friday night at the Lee soccer field when the Lady Flames defeated a talented UVA-Wise squad, 15-12 by coming back from three goals down in the second half to start their four-game winning streak on Feb. 28.

Little did anyone know at the time it would be the last home game of the season. A season that has certainly set the stage for bright days ahead both for the Lady Flames and the sport of Women's Lacrosse.

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