CUC’s “Golden Generation” of Women’s Lacrosse Enters Their Senior Season


CUC Athletics

(Left to Right) Ryan McGee, Coach Scott, Coach Torres, Ella Herbig, Kelly and Lauren Saleh in a team huddle against Lake Forest College on February 18th.

Rafael Gonzalez Jr.

Following the CUC women’s lacrosse 9-8 win over Marian University on Saturday in their first Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference game, the 2022-23 season is in full swing. For the team’s seniors, the final stretch of conference games will answer whether the “golden generation” of players will live up to the potential they held when they joined the team four years ago.

That year, the women’s lacrosse season — along with every other sport in the world — was cut short by the rapid spread of COVID-19 in March and April of 2020. Their truncated season, however, ended undefeated with a 5-0 record.

Now, seniors Brynn Beetow, Ryan McGee, Nina Naes, Rylee Orenstein, and Chloe Schaafsma (who joined the team her sophomore year) are looking to cap off their careers in style after revitalizing the once-struggling CUC women’s lacrosse program.

“I think it’s awesome being a part of history and changing the program around,” says McGee, the starting goalkeeper.

From the program’s inception in 2016 through the end of 2019, the team recorded 21 wins and 45 losses. Since 2020, however, the Cougars overall record has improved to 26 wins and 13 losses.

While the team has been increasingly successful, it often lacked sufficient players to fill out the bench. “The biggest problem this team has had to face is the low numbers,” says Schaafsma, who plays defense. “We have just enough players to play, so obviously we can get exhausted during games with limited to no subs.”

At the same time, the women’s lacrosse team has seen two different coaches since 2020. Beetow, a forward who has scored 21 goals over her career, credits the team for banding together through those transitions. “We as a family knew we needed to lean on each other and hold each other accountable during a time when we didn’t know what the next day was going to look like,” Beetow says.

Midfielder Naes believes the team is better now because of that adversity. “It has been cool to see us come out almost stronger each time because it increased our drive to want to do better to prove people wrong.”

But there is still one challenge that the team has yet to overcome: Winning the conference tournament.

After making it to the past two NACC championship games, CUC lost both times Aurora University. The Spartans joined the conference prior to the 2020 season still have an undefeated record over 12 conference matches since then. Aurora has also made two NCAA Division III national tournament appearances, losing in the second round in 2021 and losing the first round in 2022.

In the annual NACC preseason poll, Aurora was the near-unanimous favorite with 13 of the 14 first-place votes. Their top three scorers last year,  who accounted for nearly half of the team’s 299 goals, all returned for 2023.

The Cougars earned the only other first-place vote in he preseason poll. The team’s top scorers in 2022, siblings Emily and Elizabeth Cyrwus, both departed the team after the end of the season. The loss of both players this season has been detrimental.  The Cougars are currently 2-6, which is the team’s worst start since 2017.

Despite the slow start, Orenstein still has confidence that they can topple Aurora for the first time in the team’s history.

“We play each season with the intention of beating Aurora,” Orenstein says. “I think our weakness in the past was attitude. We’ve got the right mindset this year and have no doubt we can hold our own against them.”

A NACC Championship title would be a dream come true for the seniors.  “I feel like for me especially as a senior, it makes all the hard work worth it,” says McGee. “I never won any championship throughout high school, so it would be uplifting and rewarding to win it.”

While it may take athletic talent to score goals, it also takes leaders on the field to rally the team together in moments of struggle. Fran Scott, who is in her second year as head coach, sees the entire senior group as leaders.

“They are the heart of the team because they have been here since freshman year and have been through challenges, from losing a coach to getting another coach,” says Scott. “They come out stronger because of it.”

The Cougars play their second conference game Wednesday, April 5 at 2 p.m. against Beloit College.