March 17, 2011

At Center of South, Centre Surprises

by Mark Macyk |

Centre women's lacrosse coach Julie Beer calls freshmen Sarah Mastey (pictured) and Meg Hawthorne "the gruesome twosome." Mastey had back-to-back six-goal games last week.

Centre College is used to being ranked. The Danville, Ky., school was named tops in the south by Forbes and it's on US News & World Report's "Top 50 Liberal Arts" schools list. Next up? Cracking the Division III women's lacrosse polls.

Centre has burst into the NCAA quicker than a bunch of thoroughbreds at Churchill Downs. The Colonels have won their first six games by a combined 91-37. While It's a little early to start thinking about national rankings -- the wins have come against fellow southern startups like Millsaps, Agnes Scott and Berry -- the 6-0 start remains impressive. Centre plays in a state with just six high school programs, and about half its players had never played the game before this season.

Those that have played before are making it look easy. Meg Hawthorne, a freshman from Chatanooga, Tenn., scored seven goals in the season opener, a 16-13 win at Berry, and just put up eight in a 14-2 win at Milsaps last Saturday. Her classmate, Sarah Mastey, had back-to-back six-goal games against Missouri-Baptist and Milsaps last week.

"[Hawthorne and Mastey] just find the back of the cage," said Centre coach Julie Beer. "We call them the gruesome twosome."

It's not just on-field contributions for the standout freshmen. The willingness of those that have played to work with those that haven't has accelerated Centre's progress.

"The veteran girls are excited to teach," Beer said. "That's part of the reason their so successful."

Landing top players from the South was a goal for Beer, who went hard after Mastey but said many teams overlooked Hawthorne. Beer has gone outside traditional recruiting spots to build the squad. The Colonels field one player each from Massachusetts and Maryland; the rest arrived by way of Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, North Carolina and Missouri.

Said Beers: "The South really does have some players that are phenomenal, and they kind of get overlooked."

Centre actually is in the center of the South and has to travel often for games. Early-season trips have sent the Colonels to Mississippi and Georgia, and they'll make trips to Texas and Colorado. That's life in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, a league which includes Centre, Colorado College, Birmingham-Southern, Sewanee and Millsaps.

All that traveling might be just the thing to accelerate the growth of a new program.

"It gives the girls time to bond," Beer said. "It's unique. We'll leave on Friday morning, be gone until Sunday night -- it really helps us grow as a team... The key for us honestly has been the closeness of the team."

Centre's newfound success could have an impact on lacrosse in Kentucky. Beers said she hopes to start a camp this summer to help the growing youth programs. She'd also love to lure top programs to Centre for tournaments and non-league games. It could end up as a destination. The Colonels have been outside since January.

"It's really helpful that we're not fighting five feet of snow," Beers said. "It's a little premature, but I'd love to pick up one or two [top non-conference games] next year. I think this team needs to be challenged so we can play up to that. Learning is the best thing this team does."

The groundwork has been laid, but the early success remains a surprise.

Said Beers: "I think we'll give anyone a run. I know at some time we have to lose, but I don't think we'll be blown out of the water by anyone. But no, I did not expect this."

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