By Rob Moseley
On the rare days when the Oregon lacrosse team leaves the practice field disappointed in its performance, the Ducks have little trouble getting refocused.
All they have to do is reflect back on last spring, when the defending champion Ducks hosted the conference tournament in Eugene but didn’t participate, having not finished in the top four during the regular season. That sting has stayed with Oregon since, senior Shannon Propst said.
“We’re kind of back for some revenge this year,” Propst said recently, as the Ducks were preparing for their 2014 opener to be played Sunday at Stetson.
If Oregon does rebound from last season’s 8-9 finish to challenge again for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation crown, Propst figures to play a big part. The senior attacker from Bel Air, Md., is the cog that makes the UO attack go, and enters the season eight assists shy of breaking the program's career record.
Propst’s record-setting junior season, in which she set UO single-season marks for points (68), assists (39) and assists per game (4.00), has her poised to rewrite the career record book this season. Propst needs 45 points to reach 193 for her career, breaking a record Ilsa van den Berg set in 2009, and her 70 career assists are eight shy of the UO record Kristina Barrett left behind as a senior in 2012.
“She’s very quick, and knows her X’s and O’s,” said Jen Beck, the 10th-year UO coach whose team was picked fourth in the MPSF preseason poll. “You’re putting your smartest, most focused defender on her, because the second you lose track of her, she’s off. It’s not brute on brute, it’s brains on brains.”
Beck recalled scouting Propst as a recruit, and recognizing her ability to diagnose defensive weaknesses and get teammates involved offensively. On this year’s UO team, that figures to benefit attackers like senior Sami Kiser and emerging sophomore Courtney Valdez, and midfielders including Carly O’Connell.
Like a good point guard, Propst always has her head up, looking for an opening to pass to a teammate and set up a scoring play. She’s also an accurate passer, knowing when to lead a midfielder in the open field, or put it right on an attacker’s stick in tight space.
“If it’s too high or too low, it takes an extra second to catch it, bring it down and shoot,” Propst said. “They might lose the opportunity. So you want to put it right in there – and I’m not always that accurate.”
Propst isn’t just a facilitator, though; her 29 goals led the Ducks last season as well. Beck compares Propst to the UO football team’s quarterback, Marcus Mariota, who is primarily a passer but also an explosive runner when the time calls for it.
“The second he knows he has to do it, he goes,” Beck said. “That’s exactly how Shannon is. She’s definitely looking to dish, dish, dish – but if she sees that, ‘I’ve got to go,’ she doesn’t hesitate.”
Propst said she wasn’t aware of her record-setting campaign last spring until informed by UO assistant coach Robert Bray late in the season. Given her pace last season, Propst figures to set the career assists record either next Tuesday against Coastal Carolina or on March 1 at Temple, and she could conceivably set the career points record during a three-game homestand March 14, 15 and 22.
“It’s not really something I ever think about,” Propst said. “I’ve always been team first. If the team doesn’t do well, I don’t feel I’ve done well.”
In that case, a successful senior year for Propst will be due not to the records she sets, but where she helps lead the Ducks – the goal being a return to the MPSF tournament.
Oregon made it there in 2012, after a 7-0 record in MPSF play during the regular season. That earned the Ducks a spot in an NCAA play-in game, as they finished the season 14-5.
Last spring, however, they slipped below .500, at 8-9. Denver had the best regular-season record in the MPSF, and Stanford won the tournament in Eugene.
“We knew everybody wanted specifically to beat us,” Propst said. “We knew that but didn’t react the way we should have, didn’t come out as strong.”
The Ducks are looking to rectify that this season, led by their record-setting senior Propst.