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"Road to the 'Ships" Features Women's Lacrosse Seniors in Preparation for Next Weekend's Conference Tournament

HIGH POINT, N.C. - Several of the Conference Carolinas Spring sports championship tournaments are going to be held in the city of Burlington, NC this year from April 19th to April 25th. The combination of the tournaments is being called The Battles in Burlington. The Battles in Burlington will feature the following championship tournaments: Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse, Men’s and Women’s Golf, Softball and Baseball.

The Conference Carolinas will be chronicling the lead up to this historic event by releasing a weekly diary titled: The Road to the ‘Ships. This week, members of Pfeiffer University’s Women’s Lacrosse team (Laura Shea, Katherine Athens, Shannon Bonnel, and Carly Garrison) took time out of their busy schedule to answer questions regarding their preparation, the season so far, and their future plans on and off the field.

Pfeiffer is currently 12-1 this year, ranked #6 nationally, and #2 in Conference Carolinas league play. The Falcons lead the league in several statistical categories: 1st in goals per game (16.38), 2nd in goals (213) and assists (114).

What offseason preparation has contributed to your individual game, and how has that translated to the team’s overall success?

Laura Shea: Individually, I have gone to a training facility over past winter breaks to improve my footwork and my overall fitness.  I personally know my weakness and have tried to improve upon them in order to be the best player I can be for my teammates.

Katherine Athens: Our offseason gives us the opportunity to work more on our individual game because of extra time we have out of practices and workouts. This time gives individuals the opportunity to work on perfecting fundamentals, and working one-on-one with others to improve their game. For me, the offseason gives me more time to play wall ball, work on shooting, or my 1v1 defense, and then being about to implicate that into our team practices. All of our players and coaches have put in extra work outside of practice in our offseason; and because of this we are able to focus now during our season on our game as a team, and learning to work better together every day.

Shannon Bonnel: Over the summer I constantly have a stick in my hand. I am an assistant coach of a travel girls’ lacrosse team in Southern Maryland called Jets and I also play on a summer league team. Playing summer league helps me work on my lacrosse skills in the off-season as well as keeping me in shape. Working with the travel team helps me understand lacrosse in a different way and to really focus on how I explain different aspects of the game to younger girls. In addition to these two things I lift and run almost everyday to keep my muscle strength and endurance up so when it is time to be back on the field I will be healthy and ready to rumble. I believe all of what I have done in the offseason has translated to the teams overall success because I have used my strength to motivate girls on and off the field.

Carly Garrison: Offseason preparation is in my opinion is where championship teams are made. Personally, in my own career, I had decided to stop playing lacrosse after my junior season at Jacksonville University and focus on my studies as I had an opportunity to graduate early. Some different doors opened in my life early that fall and before I knew it I was here in January. Although I was not here in the fall, I knew upon getting here, talking with Coach Easley and Coach Marshall, and starting preseason that this team had worked their butts off. Since the fall the girls trained exceptionally hard and did well in their scrimmages. I personally was doing conditioning, speed training, shooting, and stick work before I got here which allowed me to slide in well with the girls. Offseason preparation has helped my individual game dramatically as that is the time where you really put in the grunt work and preparation for the coming season. Overall, my offseason training while finishing up my undergrad in Jacksonville Florida combined with how hard these girls trained in the offseason has been an ample part of why this team has been so successful and we’ve currently have gone undefeated.

Does the team have a certain way it approaches each match?

Shea: We take each game one game at a time.  People have underestimated us this season and we have come out on top every time.  We have learned through other people’s experiences not to take that chance of underestimating any opponent.

Athens: Before we walk out to the field we come together to get focused on the game at hand. We talk and make sure we are all on the same page all over the field. We remember where we have been, what we have been through, and where we are headed; knowing that each game we play is one step closer to reaching our goals.

Bonnel: Our team goes into each game knowing that there is nothing to lose but everything to gain. Before each game begins we have an “I Believe” chant that we yell for all to hear. We do this because believing is such a huge part to our team. You have to believe that you are better than the defender that is on you or that attacker that is getting ready to drive in. You have to believe in your team members, your coaches, and in your self.

Garrison: Our team definitely approaches each game a certain way… and that way is by an undeniable belief in one another as a team, family, and in our coaches. We focus on what we have to do at that moment in time and playing our game. There is no doubt that every girl on our team plays for the love of the game and to win, but even more important, we have complete belief that together everything is possible.

In your opinion, is this the best team you’ve played on during your career at Pfeiffer? Why?

Shea: Without a doubt in my mind has this been the best team I’ve ever played on.  Through out my four years here, this is the most talented and disciplined team I’ve played for.  We’ve had very talented players in the past, but our chemistry on and off the field is amazing to play with and to watch.  We’ve really become a family on and off the field and it shows with our success thus far through out the season.

Athens: Yes! This is the best team I have ever played on because of the different talents that each player brings, and the way each player translates their talent to make our team. Our team plays for each other, and will sacrifice for each other on and off the field. They understand that by working together we can accomplish any goal we make. As a team we have come through trials and the hardships of many obstacles, but we have become stronger because we never gave up and have stuck together through it all. I also know that our team enjoys every second we have together on the field. We remember one of the most important aspects of playing any sport, and that is to have fun. We work hard each day, and love the time we have together.

Bonnel: In my opinion I strongly believe that this is the best team I have played on during my four years at Pfeiffer. In all four years there has been so much potential and skill that has come through this program but the team never truly meshed. This year we have so many great players from our bench to our starters, every moment a player steps onto the field they are playing for their teammates. The amount of skill that players on our team have is just amazing and the fact that we can put all those skills together and really click is even better. Our team chemistry is incredible as well. No matter on or off the field you will always see our team together. We are a family. We are a bizarre and weird group of girls but we all have the same goal in our minds.

Garrison: I only have been apart of this team for not even a whole year, but from the time that I already have been here, I know that there is something very special about this team, this group of girls, and our coaches. I have been apart of a few different teams in my career and I can honestly say that this team, this season, feels different from all the rest. There is no doubt that this is the best team that Pfeiffer Women’s Lacrosse has had. Although I have not been here all four years of my career, myself as well as every single player and both our coaches know and feel that this is different from all the rest. I believe that there is a reason for why and how each of us got here, all of our experiences up to this point, and the unique team chemistry and talent that this group has. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the year for Pfeiffer Women’s Lacrosse, who is considered the ‘underdog,’ to defeat the odds and surprise D2 and the nation in what we are going to accomplish.

What hurdles does the team face going into the Conference Carolinas Tournament?

Shea: The only hurdle we have face going to the tournament is ourselves.  I believe that we are unstoppable if we just focus on ourselves.

Athens: Going into the tournament we will be challenge each game. Each player has to come out and be ready to play despite any circumstances and remember to play our game. We cannot let other team dictate the way we play. The only thing that will beat us is ourselves. But I know that when we set foot on the field every game, that my teammates have my back and we will fight together till the final whistle, leaving everything we have on the field. We have worked so hard to get where we are today, and we will continue to do that till the end of our season.

Bonnel: This year our team has faced many hurdles to be where we are today. We have had to change the location of our home games to off site areas because our field was not in the condition to play on. We have also had to soak water off the field before games using mattress pads just so we could play on our home field. Never once did we let that get us down, it always pushed us harder to succeed. Just recently we lost one of our players, Kristi Korn, to an ACL injury. It was a shock to all of us but we understand that there are always going to be bumps in the road and we also have other strong players that will do there best to fill her spot. We have had a huge target on our back this year everyone is out to beat us and to some this may seem as a hurdle. To us it increases our determination to prove people wrong that this is Pfeiffer’s year to be Conference Carolinas Champions.

Garrison: Going into the Conference Carolinas Tournament, the biggest hurdle that our team will face is going to be ourselves. There’s no doubt there are good teams we are going to face and we’re going to have to show up ready to play our game, but, right now we just need to continue preparing and training hard just as we have all season. We only have control over what we do and nothing else; we control our play, how hard we work, our preparation, attitudes, belief, and come game day… our ability to play as one and leave everything we have on that field.

What are your thoughts on playing the Conference tournament in Burlington, NC this year?

Shea: I think moving the tournament has its pros and cons.  Moving the tournament gives everyone an equal advantage, field wise.   With that being said, I think that Queens was a more central location for everyone to travel to.  I think fewer fans will make the trip to Burlington as opposed to Charlotte just because it is farther for teams like Limestone, Belmont Abbey, and Queens to get there.

Athens: This year we have had to play games on different fields, difficult circumstances, and in difficult conditions. Even though we are not familiar playing in Burlington, I know that our team will come out ready to play any team that we come up against, not letting anything hinder our game or the way we play.

Bonnel: I am not familiar with the area in which we will be playing the conference tournament this year. However I will say playing at Queens was great because it was a halfway point for most schools to go to except Queens. It also had a great athletic facility with locker rooms, a turf field, and stadium seating for the fans. However the location of the game will not impact the way Pfeiffer Women’s Lacrosse team comes out to play.

Garrison: I have not been to this part of North Carolina before so it will just be something new! In all honesty though, it really does not matter where the Conference tournament is held because regardless it is going to be a great weekend of games and lacrosse. We are all blessed and fortunate enough to be able to play and compete so no matter where it is we get to play; it is something to be thankful for!

As seniors, how do you go about mentoring younger players and how does that tie into the legacy you want to leave for the Pfeiffer lacrosse program?

Shea: It is difficult to be an underclassman on any team; especially with the team we have become this year.  I try to be as patient and as understanding as possible because with inexperience, comes mistakes.  We as seniors have also emphasized this year that we need to celebrate the little successes that we have.  I think this will carry on as a legacy for Pfeiffer Women’s Lacrosse because all the little encouragements help us celebrate the big wins we have and will have.

Bonnel: I try to show the younger players that nothing is going to come easy, you have to work hard to have an impact and to help the team prosper. I have helped one particular player with her feeds and shooting so her confidence in herself goes up. Then when it comes to practice and games she will believe in herself and in the skills in which she possess. I push players hard because I know the potential that they have and how great they can be in the years to come. I also try to give them words of encouragement because I know what it feels like to be a young player on the team and how at times it is stressful.

Garrison: As seniors, our job is to lead our team as well as ourselves. Setting a good example on and off the field with the things we say and do is such an important part of mentoring our younger players. We are not just developing as players, but people as well. That’s one thing I love that Coach Easley has instilled in this program. I would be remised to not mention that as part of how we as seniors mentor our younger players because that is what this program is about; it is leading others as well as yourself to not only go out an hit the wall, work the right and left, or do the extra sprints after a hard practice, but to translate the development and skills into our everyday lives to make us better people at the end of the day. The legacy I want to leave is of faith, belief, selflessness, family, hard work, mentorship, friendship, and teamwork.

What is your major & do you have any post-graduate plans? What skills has lacrosse provided you to excel off the field?

Shea: My major is Human Services and I am looking to go into the field of Substance Abuse Counseling.  I will probably go home back to Maryland or relocate to Charlotte after graduation.  Lacrosse has taught me to be patient and to cooperate better with others.  Nothing is more challenging then throwing 25 girls into a room the first day of preseason and telling them to be something great.  I think life is the same way in that you have to deal with a group of people in order to obtain the same goal.

Athens: I am an Accounting Major, and do not have anything set plans for after graduation. But I am looking into different jobs using my accounting degree or maybe getting in to coaching somewhere. Playing lacrosse has made an impact in many areas of my life. It has helped shape the person I am today. I have suffered through different injuries while playing lacrosse that has helped me develop a strong work ethic and patience, which has translated off the field as well. Being a captain has helped me develop my leadership skills helping me leader better in the clubs and organizations I am involved in at Pfeiffer. I have realized that I needed to be an uncompromising role model on and off the field, upholding my coach’s standards, investing in and encouraging others around me. As a captain I have learned how to lead my peers and those who were senior to me. I know the importance of having genuine concern for each person on any team I am on. And lastly, playing lacrosse has helped me learn to communicate to all different kinds of people.

Bonnel: I graduated in the fall with a major of Exercise Science and right now I am taking graduate classes to get my Masters of Business Administration. After this semester I plan on finding a graduate assistant job for another lacrosse program. Lacrosse has certainly helped with time management because of having to balance practice, games, and school work. My work ethic has also been impacted by the sport of lacrosse. I say this because of all the training we have had to put in during the off-season, preseason, and regular season it was never easy but it helped us succeed. I believe my leadership skills and communication skills have also grown while being part of this team. The leadership skills I have obtained will help me flourish in many different environments because I will know how to form a plan and set goals to obtain. While the communication skills will help me talk to various other employees or bosses when it comes to discussions or meetings.

Garrison: I actually have already started my post-graduate plan and am a grad school student as of this semester at Pfeiffer University. I am currently working online towards my MBA. In December of 2012, I graduated from Jacksonville University where I received a degree in Sports Management with a minor in General Business. I also played lacrosse at JU for three years and was an original player of the inaugural team for their program. In my eleven years of playing lacrosse, it has provided me with so many skills and lessons to excel off the field whether in the workplace or with my family and other relationships. I have learned a lot about time management, teamwork, leadership, listening, motivating, working through adversity, dedication, discipline, persistence, and so much more.

Conference Carolinas currently has two teams ranked nationally in the IWLCA Division II Poll, Limestone at #3 and Pfeiffer at #6. Both teams are ranked #1 and #2 in the conference, respectively. Belmont Abbey is 3rd, while Queens University of Charlotte is 4th in the Conference Carolinas league standings.

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