GREENVILLE — No coach truly knows what to expect from his or her team at the start of any season. That mystery is even more amplified at the start of this season for Amanda Barnes and her new East Carolina women’s lacrosse team.
Not only will the Pirates be playing for the first time in program history when they take the field against George Washington on Saturday, but it will also be Barnes’ debut as a head coach and the first college game for all but two players on the team’s roster.
It’s a step into the unknown that has elicited an array of feelings from the youthful rookie coach with a championship pedigree as both a player at North Carolina and assistant at Duke.
“There’s a lot of anticipation, a lot of excitement and a lot in the back of my mind of all the things we still have to work on,” said Barnes, a former goalie who helped the Tar Heels to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals in each of her four college seasons. “That’s exciting to me, not anxious because of how much we’ve grown as a team so much since we started as a team in August.
“Imagine what we’ll look like a week from now and a week after that after more playing and more teaching and working together.”
Barnes and assistants Emily Parros and Lexi Cross have already accomplished a lot in a short amount of time just to have a team ready to play Saturday.
They hit the road recruiting immediately after coming on board in July 2016 and cast an incredibly large net in an effort to fill a roster with no returning veterans. Barnes estimates that she and her staff have hosted more than 100 players in their 18 months on the job, though there’s been so many, she admits that she “could not do that math.”
The staff succeeded in attracting 27 program pioneers, most of which are from the women’s lacrosse hotbeds of Maryland, Northern Virginia and New Jersey. But there are also six homegrown products from high schools in North Carolina.
It’s a group that will have an opportunity to grow together since other than sophomore attacker Emma Bowman, a transfer from Oregon, and midfielder Morgan Cheripko, a senior who led the NCAA Division II in draw controls at the University of Tampa last season, the rest of the team is comprised of freshmen.
That was done by design, since Barnes is more interested in building a foundation with an eye toward long-term success rather than making an immediate splash.
“My expectation for us as a program is to get better every game,” the coach said. “That is going to be our focus — that we’re getting better, that we’re competing, that we’re hustling.”
While the Pirates’ immediate focus will be on small victories, they still plan on chasing the more tangible kind just as hard.
To that end, Barnes has put together a 17-game schedule that includes a group of lesser opponents such as Gardner-Webb, Longwood, Delaware State and George Washington — which went 3-13 a year ago — along with several more challenging tests against the likes of Duke, Temple, Oregon and Michigan.
“I think we’re going to be a very scrappy team,” Bowman said. “We’re going to be underdogs, but I think we’re going to upset some people.”
Though Bowman played in only two games as a freshman at Oregon, recording an assist and a ground ball, the experience she gained last year has helped her become one of the Pirates’ leaders — especially when it comes to helping her younger teammates with what to expect once the games begin.
Among the freshmen Barnes is counting on most are two-way midfielder Megan Pallozzi, defender Casey Sullivan and twins Trinity and Mika Mapp.
“Coming from high school to college is a huge step,” Bowman said. “Last year when I was playing for the first time, the intensity level was so much higher. Being here, I can let everyone know what the pace of the game is like and how hard we have to go at practice. We’re not going to be able to compete if we don’t go 100 percent at practice.”
It’s advice Trinity Mapp, a native of Greensboro, said her team has heeded in its preseason preparations.
“We worked really hard in the offseason and we had 16 practices in the fall,” Mapp said. “We’ve been working long days and meshing together, but everyone’s a phenomenal player. We just have to get that mesh and that team environment.”
Ready or not, the Pirates’ growth process shifts into high gear starting Saturday.
And Barnes can’t wait to get started.
“The opportunity to start a program, while it does have unique challenges, is a huge advantage in my mind because it gives you a chance to create a culture, create a team,” she said. “You’re not inheriting anything that may have been problematic or already successful. You get to start from scratch. To me, that was an attractive opportunity.”
ECU WOMEN’S LACROSSE SCHEDULE
Sat., Feb. 10 vs. George Washington, noon
Fri., Feb. 16 at Winthrop, 4 p.m.
Sun., Feb. 18 at Gardner-Webb, noon
Wed., Feb. 21 vs. Liberty, 4 p.m.
Sat., Feb. 24 at Campbell, 4 p.m.
Thu., March 1 vs. Kennesaw State, 6 p.m.
Sun., March 4 at Lafayette, 1 p.m.
Wed., March 7 at Temple, 3 p.m.
Sat., March 10 at St. Francis, noon
Sat., March 17 vs. Columbia, noon
Tue., March 20 vs. Longwood, 6 p.m.
Sat., March 24 vs. Delaware State, noon
Fri., March 30 vs. Drexel, noon
Sun., Apr. 1 vs. Oregon, noon
Sat., Apr. 21 at Michigan, 3 p.m.
Mon. Apr. 23 at Cincinnati, noon
Sun. May 6 at Duke, noon