First ever class of lacrosse freshmen at Kent prepare for their Senior Day

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Sophomore midfielder Abby Jones [27] cradles the ball during the women’s lacrosse game on Mar. 8, 2020. Kent State University women’s lacrosse team lost to University of Cincinnati 25-8. 

Jacob Shondel , Reporter

When seniors Megan Kozar, Abby Jones and Madison Rapier came to KSU in 2019, they had no upperclassmen to show them what Division I lacrosse was all about.

The first season of varsity lacrosse for them and Kent State was challenging, but coach Brianne Tierney’s experience helped make obstacles easier to overcome.

“Not having any upperclassmen to ask for advice was very difficult at first,” Kozar said. “We had to lean on each other and just become really good listeners. We had to learn everything on our own.”

On Saturday, they’ll play their final home game as seniors when Kent State takes on second-place Central Michigan at 1 p.m. at Dix Stadium.

Rapier said being the first class in the program allowed them to create their own identity.

“We were able to create our own culture,” she said. “We were just learning everything on the fly, and at the end of the day, I think it was able to bring all of us that much closer.”

Every practice their freshman year was a competition, Jones said.

“Everyone was the same age, and no one had their position guaranteed,” she said. “We knew that there were no outside expectations on us that year, but we still had an expectation for ourselves.”

Unlike her young players, this was not Tierney’s first time starting a lacrosse program at the collegiate level.

In 2010 she coached the first season of women’s lacrosse at Lebanon Valley College in 25 years, bringing back a program which was discontinued in 1985.

“I was able to learn from my time at Lebanon Valley that [the coaches] had to become the seniors on the team,” she said. “We had to teach them how to pack a bag for a road trip, making sure everyone had the correct equipment with them. Everyone asked so many questions, and that’s all I could ask for.”

On Feb. 10, 2019, KSU played its first game.

“It’s a day we seniors will remember,” Kozar said. “When Abby Jones scored the first goal, it was the moment it all felt real to me.”

“Once I scored, it was the moment all of the work we had put in was worth it,” Jones said.

Jones would go on to lead the team in scoring for three seasons. Her 103 career goals are the most in program history.

Nine players have remained on the team since 2019.

“To be a part of the first class that started the program is an awesome feeling,” Kozar said. “All kinds of lessons were learned throughout my time here. I’m proud and thankful that I had this opportunity.”

Jones called it “a very rewarding experience.”

“We’ve seen this program from the very beginning to what it is today,” she said. “I’m honored to be in that first class because not everyone can say they started a Division I program.”

Setting the standard for future players is what Rapier said she has enjoyed most.

“There was no culture when we came into this program,” she said. “Each year, we have established what it will be like to be a part of this program.

“Staying at an elite level and challenging everyone in every practice will make this program great.”

Jones, Kozar and Rapier have all become the leaders they wish they had as freshmen.

Rapier says she’s enjoyed “just telling (younger players) what the game of college lacrosse is like.”

“Helping them manage their time on and off the field is all something I wish I had when I was in their shoes,” she said.

The team’s second season was cut to six games when the season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s hard enough to start a program, and when you add in the pandemic, everything just came to a stop, and we’re left waiting for that next season,” Rapier said.

The NCAA gave athletes an extra year of eligibility following that aborted season, and at least Jones and Kozar plan to take advantage of it.

“It’s another year to play the sport I love,” said Jones, who plans to work on her master’s in business administration. “I look forward to being back out on the field.”

Kozar said that she just didn’t want to leave yet.

“I’ve made such good bonds with everyone on the team, and I’m not ready to give that up yet,” she said. “I get another chance to play, so why not?”

Rapier, who has battled injuries over the past year, is faced with a tough decision.

“I just don’t think I can physically do it,” she said. “I would love to stay here and play another year, but with the injuries, which have been reoccurring, I just don’t think that it would be a great idea.”

After facing CMU, the Flashes will then wrap up the season with games at Youngstown State and Detriot Mercy, two teams they’ll be battling for a spot in the conference tournament.

Kent State (5-9, 2-5 in the Mid-American Conference) is currently in fourth place in the six-team MAC. The top four teams will make the tournament, which begins May 5.

Jacob Shondel is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]