The stomping of cleats hitting the ground in unison echoed as they filed into the locker room and gathered into a circle. Squeezing each other tightly, the team bowed their heads. As they made their way to the field, chanting from the crowd grew louder and finally hushed as the buzzer signaled the start of the first half. Jacksonville’s women’s lacrosse team lined up to face off against the Florida Gators in Gainesville, after making it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
After the final whistle blew, the Dolphins exited the field with the loss, ending its 2021 campaign. Despite the result, the season went down as the most remarkable in program history.
“We are not going to let this one loss define who we are,” Head Coach Mindy McCord said after the contest. “It was a truly historical season, and we know what to work on for next year.”
Back in action after COVID ended the 2020 spring early, the tone for the 2021 spring campaign was set in the home-opener on March 13, when the program earned its first win over a top-five ranked team after defeating Florida 12-11. The Dolphins finished the regular season with an impressive overall 11-1 record heading into the ASUN Lacrosse Championship in Kennesaw, Georgia. There the team captured its seventh ASUN Conference Championship, fourth in a row, and earned its seventh bid to the NCAA Tournament.
At the conclusion of the historical run, the Dolphins managed to return 97 percent of the previous team. In addition, nine freshmen and four transfers joined the ranks. Expected to lead the team to another deep run in the NCAA Tournament is the veteran trio of, junior defender Molly Brock, senior attacks Jenny Kinsey and Sarah Elms.
Each of the three had noteworthy campaigns, some accomplishments being highlighted on national lacrosse platforms.
On one side of the field, Brock had a breakout junior campaign starting with a spot on the Preseason All-ASUN roster and earning IWLCA Defensive Player of the Week for her efforts in the home-opener against Florida. She was a three-time ASUN Defensive Player of the Week honoree, which led to her landing the ASUN Defensive Player of the Year accolade.
Brock took care of business on defense starting with the season-opener against High Point, where she helped JU control the possession by winning a game-high seven draw controls and picking up two ground balls, while forcing a Pirate turnover. The following week she took it to another level against the Gators after earning season-highs for draw controls with 13 and ground balls with five. She was a key factor in the Dolphins second place NCAA finish for draw controls with an average of 22.99 per game.
On the offensive side of the field, Kinsey and Elms were the go-to for launching the balls in the back of the net.
Before the previous season began, Kinsey was tabbed ASUN Preseason Player of the Year and lived up to the honor after being voted ASUN Player of the Week twice, named to the ASUN Conference All-Tournament team and the ASUN All-Conference First Team. Her most notable performance occurred in the home-opener against ranked Florida, where she tallied two goals, one assist, four ground balls and one caused turnover. Her overall stats included an impressive 43 goals, 18 assists and 29 ground balls.
To round out the recognitions, Elms had a recording breaking year. Similarly to Kinsey and Brock, she started as a member of the ASUN Preseason team. Throughout her senior campaign she achieved 12 games with hat trick performances and seven games with five or more goals that led her to be a four-time ASUN Player of the Week selection. Elms was unstoppable on offense and could never be tamed by any defense. She ran through defenders without hesitation and accumulated 60 goals, 12 assists and 25 ground balls just last season.
Her various conference awards include being crowned ASUN Tournament MVP, recognition as a member of the ASUN All-Conference First Team and is the fifth Dolphin in program history to win ASUN Player of the Year. On a national scale, Elms was named an Honorable Mention All-American by USA Lacrosse Magazine and was tabbed to the Division I All-South Regional Second team.
“The amount they learned from playing before COVID until now is unreal,” assistant coach Mike Bedford said. “Over just the last year their knowledge of the game has grown and all of them have dedicated hours to getting to this point.”
Despite the attention paid to them, the three continually aim to be better every time their cleats hit the turf.
“This trio always strives to be perfect, which is hard because no one is absolutely perfect, not even the pros,” Bedford said. “But they will work hard to be better knowing they want more than last year and this is their last year together to do that.”
Teammates new and old reunited in Jacksonville at the start of the school year and have been putting in work with the motivation to come back stronger than before. Five days a week the team has practice with additional time built in for weights and other various training.
Even the 13 new faces have immediately grasped the championship mindset. In September, USA Lacrosse Magazine tabbed the program at the No. 17 spot in the early 2022 Division I rankings.
“Getting the recognition for our big wins is huge for us and our confidence as a program,” Elms said. “We know we can hang with the big teams.”
Continuing to grow from the spring, the team’s motto for this year is, “fill your tank.” This statement represents the desire to grow stronger not only as individuals, but as a team. It highlights the importance of working on oneself and taking responsibility, but also lending a hand to those teammates in need.
“There is an emphasis on the upperclassmen to not only lead yourself but lead others,” Brock said. “As you get older you start to lead bigger groups.”
Kinsey, Elms and Brock have numerous hours of collegiate lacrosse under their belts and their personal trophy cases serve as an illustration of what the younger Dolphins can strive to achieve.
The example they set is not limited to on field performances. Both Kinsey and Brock were chosen as Top 25 Students in the University’s Davis College of Business and were named to the ASUN All-Academic squad in the spring.
As the clock winds down to the start of the season, the three veterans are counting down the days to return to the field with their teammates, several others of whom are also entering their fifth- or sixth-years of eligibility.”
“I am excited that several of them chose to use their last year of eligibility,” McCord said. “I will miss all of them in different ways for different reasons.”
For the Dolphins that are in their final year, this season serves as one last chance to make even more history.
“We made history last year by going farther than we ever have, and this year we want to be even better,” Kinsey said. “Ultimately for seniors like me this is it and I want to enjoy every moment and not have any regrets.”