The Daily Gamecock

Women's club lacrosse team returns to USC after 4 years: 'We’re starting what is the culture for years to come'

<p>The women’s club lacrosse team practices on Jan. 24, 2023, for their upcoming away game against Auburn on Jan. 28, 2023. The team held an intrasquad scrimmage to evaluate members' skill sets.</p>
The women’s club lacrosse team practices on Jan. 24, 2023, for their upcoming away game against Auburn on Jan. 28, 2023. The team held an intrasquad scrimmage to evaluate members' skill sets.

Second-year political science student Karlyn Antolini, like many of her teammates, has been waiting for the opportunity to play lacrosse at South Carolina.

“COVID was the first time in my life that I ever went more than probably four months without playing, so it was unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced,” Antolini said. “We have probably about five or six seniors on our team, and I know that they’ve gone four years without it.”

This spring, Antolini and the rest of the women’s club lacrosse team will have the opportunity to compete in the sport again when the club returns to action for the first time since 2018. The club has been rebuilt from scratch following an incident that led to a multi-year suspension.

According to university records, an anonymous source filed a report on Oct. 2, 2018, alleging that members of the team participated in hazing activities involving “rapid alcohol consumption, distribution of alcohol and inappropriate activities.” The club was found responsible for all three charges it was accused of committing and handed a suspension until Nov. 7, 2022, four years from the date the sanction was enforced.

Third-year sport and entertainment management student and co-president Maisie Fischel, who played collegiate lacrosse at the University of Tampa her freshman year, said she made multiple attempts to end the suspension early, but to no avail.

“Every day, I was always playing lacrosse (and) training for lacrosse," Fischel said. "Coming in, not even having a club team, I was really upset, and I was emailing the university a lot to try to see about bringing it back earlier, … but obviously, it was a really strict guideline.”

While Antolini, now the club's co-president, recognizes that the previous leaders made a “really poor decision,” she said re-establishing the program provides an opportunity to create a new identity and learn from past mistakes.

“We’re starting what is the culture that’s going to be going on for, hopefully, years and years to come, so we’re the precedent now,” Antolini said. “I think everyone on our team is aware of (it). We saw what could happen if something like that does ever happen again, and all of us really just want to play the sport … and I don’t think anyone on our team would do anything to lose the chance to play again.”

Plans for the team’s return commenced months before the club was formally allowed to resume activities in November. Fischel said she was in constant communication with university representatives and the president of the Southeastern Women’s College Lacrosse League, a subdivision of the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association and the league in which the club plays.

Fischel said she and other members of the club’s leadership group also focused on fundraising and recruiting efforts. The team started with no money because funds had already been allocated to other club sports by campus recreation, but the leaders were able to raise $5,000 within two to three weeks of starting a GoFundMe page. The group also used social media and word of mouth to generate interest among potential players, who showed up in large numbers for the team’s tryouts in the fall.

“We had a group chat for pickup practices in the fall that had over 150 girls in it, and we had close to 150 sign up for tryouts, so we had to find times to do private sessions that accommodated that many girls and were different times of day, so we had to rent other fields in addition to Bluff,” Fischel said.

After trimming down the team’s roster considerably, Fischel said the team’s ability to generate chemistry in a short timeframe has impressed her so far.

“We have a team of like 35, 36 girls, so we have a big team, but we’ve already gotten so close in the span of three weeks,” Fischel said. “It’s really awesome, especially (since) we have a lot of younger girls, like freshmen and sophomores, and I think it’s a great opportunity for them to meet new people in different grades and get more involved within the campus.”

Fourth-year economics student and co-captain Sophia Catan, who took up coaching over the past two years to stay involved in the game, said she is glad to finally “get energy out” on a lacrosse field for the first time since high school.

“I was just really excited. I guess I was also a little scared because I’m kind of old now and haven’t played in four years, but I was like, ‘No, I think I can do it,’ and trying to psych myself up and get excited,” Catan said. “Now that I’m back in it, I feel like I never left.”

Fourth-year exercise science student Charlotte Anderson, also a team captain, has found creative ways to stay involved in the game, including becoming a referee and practicing with her father and brother. While she spent her first three years of college exploring aspects of her identity beyond lacrosse, she is looking forward to bringing it back into the fold this spring.

"That break honestly gave me a chance to throw myself into all these other areas and see who I was outside of lacrosse," Anderson said. "So as a senior, coming back and being able to now add lacrosse into it and make time for it has been cool ... Getting one more season is awesome."

Even though Antolini enjoys the social flexibility the club provides, she said she is most excited for the opportunity to experience on-field success.

“I just want to win all the games that we have this year, and it’s a healthy competitiveness that we have the boys team next to us that is winning all these national championships, and all we can think is, ‘We just want what they have,’” Antolini said.

As the women’s club lacrosse team continues to rebuild and look towards the future, Antolini said she hopes that it eventually becomes more than just a club sport.

“The ultimate goal in the very far future — I probably won’t be here anymore — is that Clemson just added a varsity women’s lacrosse team, and it’s just really good for the spread of the sport, and hopefully one day, probably very far down the line, South Carolina will do the same, and I can say that I had a part in starting that,” Antolini said.