By Rob Moseley
A year ago, the UO lacrosse team was stung by the indignity of hosting the MPSF Championships, yet failing to qualify for the four-team field that played at Pape Field. The Ducks had earned the right to host by winning the regular-season title a year earlier, then failed to put their home-field advantage to use.
Instead, the Ducks sat and watched as Stanford, Denver, USC and California congregated in Eugene for the tournament, in which the Cardinal beat Denver for the title.
“That was harsh,” UO goalkeeper Caroline Federighi said.
That disappointment fueled Oregon through its offseason, and into this spring. It was put to good use. Entering the final weekend of the regular season, the Ducks have secured a berth in this year’s tournament, and have a chance to win a share of the conference title for the second time in three years by sweeping Denver (Friday, 5 p.m.) and Colorado (Sunday, noon).
It's little surprise the UO lacrosse program set a goal, then went out and achieved it. Considering the character of the six-player senior class, there seems to be little the group can’t accomplish, and at a high level.
The class that will be honored Sunday for senior day includes the Ducks’ leading point producer (Shannon Propst), top goal scorer (Nikki Puszcz), most efficient shooter (Sami Kiser), shutdown defender (Erika McCool) and starting goalkeeper (Federighi). The group not only has a chance to win two MPSF titles in its career, it’s also the most academically successful class in the program’s history, sporting an average grade-point average of 3.75.
“At Oregon we have every resource we need to succeed, so I think that drives people even more,” said senior Chelsea Randel, a reserve defender. “And being a part of a team where everyone is involved – on campus, off, in lacrosse – it’s awesome to see all 29 teammates working to make themselves better in all areas of our lives.”
Oregon enters the final weekend of the regular season at 10-5 overall, and 6-1 in the MPSF. Friday’s foe, Denver, is 15-1 and 8-0; by sweeping the weekend, the Ducks would share the regular-season title with the Pioneers at 8-1, and hold a tiebreaker for the tournament's No. 1 seed.
Of the Ducks’ five losses, two were to ranked opponents, and the other three were by a combined five goals. Oregon lost to Stanford at home on April 11, but the Cardinal provided the Ducks an opening to take the MPSF title by losing at USC last weekend, two days after Oregon topped the Trojans.
An Oregon loss this weekend combined with a Stanford win at Cal would make the Ducks a No. 3 seed into the new six-team tournament field, denying them the bye available to the top two seeds.
“Having that bye, especially in Denver with the high altitude, would be a huge benefit,” McCool said.
With two wins this weekend, McCool and the Ducks will earn the MPSF championship banner for this regular season. McCool could pair that with the banner she’ll carry for the university’s College of Education during the “Duck Walk” to June’s commencement ceremony, an honor she was accorded this spring.
McCool is one of four UO lacrosse seniors in the College of Education, sporting a 3.89 GPA with a double major of Educational Foundations and Spanish. She has been accepted to the “UOTeach” graduate program for future teachers of primary and secondary education.
McCool was notified of the offer to carry the College of Education’s commencement ceremony banner in a recent electronic message. She was picked from the field of every undergradaute and graduate student in the college.
“At first I thought it just meant holding my major’s banner in the College of Education walk” rather than the full university ceremony, McCool said. “I had to re-read the email and was like, ‘Wait, oh my goodness.’ It’s definitely an honor.”
Randel, Kiser and Propst also are in the College of Education. Propst carries a 3.96 GPA and Kiser had a 3.32 as Communication Disorders Sciences majors, and Randel has a 3.54 GPA in Family Human Services.
Puszcz, the Ducks’ top sniper with 34 goals and over 100 for her career, has a 3.62 GPA in journalism. And Federighi is nothing short of one of the athletic department’s most accomplished students, sporting a 4.09 GPA in human physiology.
Federighi did once get a B – in physics her sophomore years – but has so many A-plus grades that her cumulative GPA exceeds a “perfect” 4.0.
“It’s not really about the grades; I could have had a 3.0 and been happy,” Federighi said. “But I need to do what my best is, and my best is pushing myself to get 100 percent in all the classes. It just so happens I’ve been lucky enough to achieve that.”
The seniors are active off-campus, too. Randel began volunteering at a local Boys & Girls Club as a freshman, was so taken with the experience that she did a 10-week internship there as a junior, and has spent 90 hours per term as in intern throughout her senior year.
Randel runs a group for girls in the club’s teen center, also helping kids with their studies and encouraging physical activity.
“It’s fun to see how much the kids look up to you, as not only a student at Oregon but an athlete,” Randel said. “Some of them might not know what lacrosse even is, but they look up to the fact you’re an athlete at Oregon.”
Oregon’s seniors credited their success in no small part to the resources they’ve been provided, both before and after arriving in Eugene.
“All of our parents, they expect the best out of us, and they know we can achieve at a high level,” McCool said. “That’s something special, and it’s something you don’t realize until you see how everyone else works and cooperates with each other. I think we just got really lucky with some of the best parents around.”
The current senior class also enjoyed the fortuitous timing of arriving on campus the same year the Jaqua Center for academic services opened.
“I took that to heart before I was even here on campus,” McCool said. “The timing of everything, with the resources provided for us, we were grateful for this opportunity, and we’re not going to take it for granted.”
Randel said the senior class found common ground as soon as they got to Oregon. Picking up where each other’s parents left off in keeping themselves on the right path.
“On a team, there’s always divides – different groups, people living in different houses,” Randel said. “But our class, we’re best friends. We’re so close in everything we do, we know we can hold each other to the highest standards.”
Off the lacrosse field, those standards have resulted in unparalleled academic achievement. On the field, they could result in a second MPSF title this weekend, a goal on which Oregon’s six seniors will try to stay focused despite the emotions of their final games in Eugene.
“We know we need to focus on what we need to do to beat Denver, to beat Colorado,” Randel said. “I think our emotions are going to help us perform well and play together.”