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Kasmarik leading Winthrop women's lacrosse into NCAA Tournament
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Forsyth County native Jenna Kasmarik leads Winthrop into the 2015 NCAA Womens Lacrosse Tournament. - photo by For the Forsyth County News

Jenna Kasmarik heard exactly what she needed to hear. She was in the office of Winthrop women’s lacrosse coach John Sung, a familiar face brought back into Kasmarik’s life by equal parts her own assertiveness and serendipity. Kasmarik had grown restless after just 12 goals and 20 games in two years at Johns Hopkins. It was time, she felt, to find a new home.

Sung offered her not just a new home but also the keys to it.

Come to Winthrop, and we’ll play for conference championships.

Come to Winthrop, and you’ll be the center of the offense.

“I knew from the beginning this was the kind of program I needed to be at,” Kasmarik said, “because he was going to give me an opportunity.”

Two years later, the Forsyth County native has made the most of it, becoming the nation’s most prolific attacker while helping to lead Winthrop to its first-ever Big South Conference championship in just the program’s third year of existence and a first-round matchup against Virginia on Friday in the 2015 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Tournament.

The Lady Eagles senior enters the game leading the country in goals per game (4.04) and total goals (77) through 19 games. Last season, she scored 67 goals in 18 games and was named first team All-Big South.

That was the kind of career Kasmarik envisioned when she signed with Hopkins in 2010. In three years at South Forsyth and one at Lambert, she turned into a dangerous attacker, scoring 330 goals in her prep career, including 112 as a senior. She was a four-time all-county and all-state selection and a two-time All-American.

But at Hopkins, she got lost, put behind the net to distribute the ball to others.

“I just didn’t fit in the system at Hopkins,” Kasmarik said. “I wanted to be the kid who had the ball all the time, was kind of the center of attention, and I finally admitted it to myself, that that’s the kind of player I wanted to be.”

Convinced she needed a change, Kasmarik began digging into her past for answers.

She looked up Sung whom she’d contacted while in high school during his four-year stint at Adrian College in Michigan. Sung had been hired to start the Winthrop program.

She looked up Alyssa Blevins whom she had played with in the All-American Showcase in Florida the summer before their freshmen years of college. Blevins had transferred to Winthrop.

“I really need to email this guy,” Kasmarik thought.

So in came Winthrop’s new go-to scorer before ever playing a game for the Lady Eagles. Kasmarik knew that would create tension with a team already forming a chemistry and identity of its own. She kept to herself as much as possible, she said, hoping not to disrupt the group.

“That’s a very delicate balance,” Kasmarik said, “to let them know that you’re not there to tread on them, you’re just trying to help them win.”

Kasmarik’s scoring last season helped diffuse the tension. Winthrop’s winning this season has erased it.

Most impactful of all, maybe, was Winthrop’s 17-7 loss to San Diego State on March 18. Winthrop’s six-game winning streak was snapped, and Kasmarik went scoreless for the first time since she began playing the sport at 13 when she gave up hockey and softball.

Kasmarik was frustrated she didn’t score. She was devastated the team lost.

“It dawned on me that I could have any record in the world. If we lose, we lose,” Kasmarik said. “It doesn’t matter what I did individually.”

All that matters now is Virginia.

“I think we match up pretty well,” Kasmarik said. “It’s just going to be a matter of, if we can execute as perfectly as I know we can then the game is very likely a win.”