Lacrosse Season Preview Series: Defenders
TEMPE, Ariz. - With the 2022 Sun Devil Lacrosse season less than a week away, now is a good time to learn more about the 44 members of the program.
Who better to talk about the state of the program than someone who was just a part of it. Recent Arizona State graduate Hanna Schuler, who was a defender for the Maroon & Gold from 2018-21, has secured her Master's degree and is now working in Sun Devil Athletics while pursuing a career in the communications field.
To give Sun Devil fans some insight on the team, Schuler is providing a position-by-position breakdown of the 2022 team. Of course the former defender had to start with the unit that is closest to her heart. Here is the player's perspective on the outlook of the Sun Devil defense:
SEASON PREVIEW: DEFENDERS
Coming up on Tim McCormack's third season as the Head Coach of the Sun Devils, he is excited for the 2022 season and is ready to keep improving from last season. "We try to keep things from a day to day perspective," McCormack explained. "We focus on keeping every day as fun as we can, keep it together, and focus on trying to get better everyday."
One of the areas that the Arizona State program has seen the most growth since the new coaching staff's arrival is on defense, with the unit becoming one of the most tenacious and opportunistic in the country. In 36 games in the two seasons prior to the McCormack era, ASU held opponents to single-digit goals just six times. In the 24 games since, the program has already accomplished that feat seven times. The 2022 unit is led by four returning starters, a luxury for any team, but especially one that is breaking in a new goaltender.
"We are fortunate to have experience and leadership on the back end of our defense," Coach McCormack remarked. "That will only help our transition in net, as the goalkeeper can trust who is in front of her. The communication and energy has been excellent so far."
Mallory Martel, Bella Gaspar, Gigi Gaspar, and Sydney Payne combined to start 62 of a possible 64 games, earning valuable reps. There is plenty of depth behind that group, including returners Olivia Kroah, Mackenzie Hovsepian, Kaitlyn Skamas, and Grace Lilla. Freshman Maddelena Signorile has been added to the fold this year, making this arguably the most talented accumulation of defenders in program history.
"The group has been working hard to raise their level of play," Coach McCormack added. "With the tough schedule that we face this year, our defenders will be tested and I am excited to see how they handle that."
Mallory Martel (Severna Park, MD)
Entering her senior season, Mallory Martel has become a leader for the defensive unit. Last year, Martel played in all 16 games while starting 14 of them. During the 2021 season, Martel created 7 caused turnovers, matching her career high of 2 during the Fresno State game. (2/27)
Starting out as a freshman in Tempe, Martel was very versatile on the field, playing midfield and defense. She appeared in all 18 games while earning a starting position for 10 of them. She became one out of four freshmen who started at least 10 games. Despite playing mostly defense, Martel showed her offensive side during a three-game stretch (4/07-4/14), earning 2 goals and 4 assists.
Although the Sun Devils season was cut short in 2020, Martel came back to Tempe her sophomore year ready to compete. Martel started all 8 games and showed her versatility by setting a career high of 2 in draw controls. Martel still proved herself by scooping up 12 ground balls in only 8 games where she collected 14 ground balls in 18 games her freshman year.
Olivia Kroah (Massillon, OH)
Olivia Kroah is another returner for the defensive unit. Kroah helped with the win against Fresno St. this past season by creating a caused turnover. Kroah has played in 22 games throughout her career. Starting off as a freshman, Kroah earned significant playing time. She appeared in 13 games and started one game against No.16 USC.
Kroah came back to Tempe her sophomore year with intent to set new career highs. Even with 8 games, she succeeded by setting a career high of 7 ground balls. These 7 ground balls put her in the top quarter of the team for most ground balls. Kroah also earned a starting position where she started all eight games.
When asked about the difference between last year's defensive unit to this years, Coach McCormack stated "They had a great year and they got better and better as a group. I think you're going to see the same thing this year."
Sydney Payne (Aliso Viejo, CA)
Another defensive returner is Sydney Payne. Payne made her college debut her freshman year, collecting a ground ball in the victory over Stetson (2/24). Since then, Payne has worked hard and improved both on and off the field. Coming off last year, Payne started and played in all 16 games of the 2021 season. Payne set a career high of 3 ground balls during the win against California (4/18). She also created 11 caused turnovers throughout the 2021 season.
Bella Gaspar / Gigi Gaspar (Burnaby, B.C)
Two other returners, Bella and Gigi Gaspar, made a huge impact on the Sun Devil defensive unit last season. Gigi returns to Sun Devil Lacrosse after starting in all 16 games during her freshman season. Gigi ended her freshman campaign with 16 ground balls, 1 draw control, and 10 caused turnovers. Gigi uses her strength and knowledge of the game to help the defensive unit.
After being the only freshman named Pac-12 All-Conference First Team, Bella Gaspar returns to Sun Devil Lacrosse. Bella's knowledge of the game and skill helped earn her a starting position for all 16 games. Throughout the season, Bella collected 43 ground balls while earning 17 caused turnovers. She set a game high of 5 ground balls during the win against Colorado (3/28).
Kaitlyn Skamas (Franklin Lakes, NJ) / Grace Lilla (Stillwater, MN) / Mackenzie Hovsepian (Smithtown, NY)
Finishing the group of 8 returners are Kaitlyn Skamas, Grace Lilla, and Mackenzie Hovsepian. Senior Mackenzie Hovsepian appeared in the win last season against Fresno St. (2/27). Hovsepian has continued to improve in practices and will continue to improve during the 2022 season. With a year under Skamas and Lilla's belt, the two sophomores are back in Tempe and ready to compete and get better every day.
Maddelena Signorile (Nesconset, NY)
Maddelena Signorile, the lone freshman defender, joins the defensive unit ready to compete. Signorile has a high I.Q. of the game and is quick and athletic. She uses her speed to her advantage and isn't afraid to take chances and create turnovers.