February 27, 2014

WD2 Notebook: Queens Hits Ground Running in February

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter


Arika Zimmerman and the Royals shocked Rollins last week. Could they be rulers in the South Region? (Queens)

In her Grammy-award winning single “Royals,” Lorde tells the listener that she “cut [her] teeth on wedding rings in the movies.”

That’s nothing compared to what the Royals of Queens University of Charlotte, and their new coach, have cut their teeth on this season.

It’s not even March, but Queens, which has never reached an NCAA tournament, has already played three of the South Region’s four 2013 playoff teams.

Even more impressive, they defeated two of them -- No. 10 Rollins and No. 11 Pfeiffer. The song may say they’ll never be rulers, but these Royals are on their way to the top of Division II.

Coach Julika Blankenship knew the start of her first season would be tough, but it wasn’t supposed to be this crazy this soon. The Royals were scheduled to open with Molloy, from the North Region, but a rare mid-February North Carolina snowstorm wiped that game away.

“You can’t stress about the things you can’t control and weather is one of them,” Blankenship said. “At that point we just started focusing on Rollins and their scouting report.”

So it was right into the region and mighty Rollins, which reached the last two NCAA semifinals, for the Royals.

Queens broke a halftime tie and pulled away to win, 15-10, in a game that Blankenship said was much closer than the score let on. It was the largest margin of defeat for Rollins since 2012. Junior Jena Ready notched five goals against the Tars and now has 12 goals and four assists on the season.

Two days later it was on to No. 4 Limestone, the defending South Region champion, which has reached two of the past three NCAA title games. In the South Region, as Lorde might say, you can call them Queen Bees.

The Royals lost to Limestone by two goals. Ten months earlier, in the Conference Carolinas title game, the Saints beat Queens by 12. 

Evidence of how far the Royals have come was their postgame reaction. Last year, only four teams played Limestone as close as Queens did last week. But the Royals were disappointed. They craved a different kind of buzz. They wanted to beat the best.

“It’s tough because as competitors you never settle for a loss,” Blankenship said. “You really have to remember that you can’t snap your fingers and be No. 1. That’s just not the way sports in general work.”

But, one week later, Queens continued its steep ascent and took down Pfeiffer, 13-10. Abigail Paulus scored six goals, including what proved to be the winner to put the Royals ahead, 11-6, midway through the second half. Paulus currently the team with 14 goals and four assists.

Queens checks in at No. 9 with a bullet in this week’s LM rankings. And they’re doing all this under a new coach. Blankenship spent the past five years building her local school, Washington College, into a contender in Division III’s Centennial College.

The first thing she noticed about her new team was the athleticism. The Royals possessed the kind of speed you can’t teach in D-II.

“They’re almost too fast,” Blankenship said. “They’re going 100 miles a minute.”

So, with assistant coach Clare Gaeng, who knows Division II well from her playing days as a four-year starter at Lock Haven, Blankenship went to work on stickwork and lacrosse IQ. It's paying off so far. Despite the brutal slate, the Royals have outscored their opponents, 56-38.

It helps that Blankenship inherited plenty of talent. Five Royals -- Ready, Brittany Barnwell, Arika Zimmerman, Akasha Kasper and Bridgette Larranaga -- made the first team of the South Atlantic Conference’s first-ever preseason All-Conference squad last month.

Especially helpful is Barnwell, a redshirt senior who Blankenship wasn’t originally sure would return.

“She’s been such a great leader for us,” Blankenship said “She’s just been a gem. I’m very grateful.”

The team runs deep. Barnwell ranks fifth on the team with four goals and five assists. Maggie Masters has put up eight goals and three assists and Larranaga has notched six goals. Earlier this week Paulus and goalie Danielle Horoschak, who has made 33 saves against 35 goals this year, took home SAC Player of the Week honors.

“More than anything the balance is what I’m really excited about,” Blankenship said. “A big focus is that we’re going to be a group of seven threats at a time offensively. The kind of thing that you can’t just focus in on one payer.”

You can’t focus on one of them, but Queens is officially a program South Region teams need to focus on. Queens, meanwhile, will focus on the rest of its schedule. Perennial playoff team West Chester and upstart Florida Southern still loom. But, even in February, the postseason seems within sight.

As for the jet planes, islands and tigers on gold leashes? Those can come later.

Looking Ahead

No. 2 Adelphi (1-0) at No. 12 Lindenwood (2-0), 2 p.m.
Adelphi defeated Lindenwood, 18-12, on Long Island last year, but AU coach Rob Grella said the score did not reflect how close the game truly was. Now the game shifts to Missouri where one undefeated team will have to lose. This is non-region so the big takeaway here is that Adelphi gets a chance to check out Lindenwood’s facilities, while the Midwest gets a chance to see one of the country’s best teams.

Game Balls

Caitlin Chase, Florida Southern: The junior from Mount Laurel, N.J., piled up four goals and three assists in the Mocs’ season-opening, 17-7 shellacking of Division I St. Bonaventure.

Jackie Jahelka, Adelphi: The freshman out of powerhouse Garden City (N.Y.), and younger sister of Harvard and US U-19 star Stephen Jahelka, made an immediate impact in her first collegiate game, scoring a game-high four goals in the Panthers’ 17-3 victory over Grand Valley State.

Katie McGovern and Riann Daziel, Mount Olive: Two game balls for the price of one as both players tied their own program records with five goals each during the Trojans’ 20-8 victory over Erskine to open Conference Carolinas play. McGovern, a junior from Babylon (N.Y.) and Herkimer CC, has eight goals and two assists this year. Daziel, a sophomore out of Pinkerton Academy in New Hampshire, has eight goals and one assist. 

Miscellaneous

Disney World has been no vacation for Division I St. Bonaventure this week. The Bonnies lost to Florida Southern and Rollins during their spring break trip, proving once again how strong, and deep, Division II is … Most of teams from north of the Mason-Dixon line are still a week away from getting started, but Dowling, Indiana (Pa.) and Le Moyne all get the ball rolling this weekend… Two-time defending NAIA champion Savannah College of Art and Design is back at it again, opening with a 5-0 record highlighted by a 13-12 victory over Newberry.


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