TEMPE – The Arizona State women’s lacrosse team has undergone a major transformation since its magical run to the finals of last year’s Pac-12 tournament.
A coaching change, the graduation of more than 10 key players and a plethora of new faces who look to make an impact in their first season in Tempe are the major storylines in the early weeks of the 2023 season.
However, with the return of graduate students and team captains Katie Brodsky and Kaylon Buckner, some welcome familiarity still lingers.
The duo, who are known as KB squared, will be leaned upon to guide the Sun Devils after an offseason full of question marks. ASU takes a 1-4 record into Friday’s match at USC, with the Sun Devils hoping to reroute their slow start.
“There are no two better kids you can ask for then the two of them coming back,” said coach Taryn VanThof, who was hired by ASU in July after spending the past six seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Florida.
“Their work ethic speaks for themselves, they are personable, they want to be around us, they want to be around the team, they want to be around ASU. They’re perfect examples of Sun Devil student athletes.”
The graduate pair have been looked upon as the unquestioned leaders of the group and were named captains recently by VanThof. After spending their undergraduate years growing and learning under former coach Tim McCormack, expectations for the duo are high from teammates and coaches alike.
Teammate Gigi Gaspar applauded the strides both athletes have made on and off the field.
“Buckner has this dominant presence on the field, she’s a powerhouse in the midfield, and knows how to get the team going by leading on and off. She leads by example, she isn’t necessarily the most outspoken leader but she just has a drive and athleticism unlike anyone I’ve seen,” said Gaspar, a junior defender.
“Brodsky on the other hand is awesome because when we came in as a freshman she was only a junior still finding her ground on the field. Seeing her confidence build over these past couple of years, on the attack she has become a stud and obviously one of the key components of our attack.”
The duo has seen plenty of time on the field since they first stepped foot on the Tempe campus over four years ago. Brodsky will step into a starting role for the first time in her career after spending most of the past two seasons as a key contributor off the bench. So far in her Sun Devils career the attacker has tallied up 116 points on 62 goals while shooting 78% on shots on goal.
“As a freshman I didn’t play and as a sophomore I started to see the field but then COVID happened so we were cut short. It was my junior year when I wanted to get back that time that we lost and just wanted to perform,” Brodsky said. “I definitely saw a lot more confidence in my play and confidence just in general through that struggle sophomore year and on.”
Buckner, meanwhile, returns to the starting lineup where she has started 56 out of 61 ASU games. The midfielder has been a mainstay on the field since her freshman season having found the net 59 times to go along with 137 draws controlled.
Now stepping into leadership roles, KB squared’s experience and success will be relied upon as ASU lacrosse enters a new era under VanThof.
“There is a little bit of pressure going into this year but with everything I have gone through in my career, all the adversity, through COVID and many different coaching changes. I’m just super excited to see where this young team goes,” said Buckner, who during the fall of 2020 contracted COVID, wasn’t permitted to practice with the team for more than two months and was forced to use the intramural field to practice.
“I want to give that competitive spirit everyday and make sure that my teammates know you never know when it all could be gone. I’m just grateful to play the sport every day, and I want my teammates to know that and lead by example.”
VanThof has already been impressed by what she has seen from her two leaders and credits their work ethic and play style as inspiration for the rest of the team.
“In their play. You come out and you see them grinding. The first ones off the field, the first ones to put the ball in the back of the net. You want to compete like them, you want to play like them, you want to play for them,” VanThof said
After last year’s 18-12 defeat by Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, the Sun Devils concluded their most successful season to date that was highlighted by their miraculous tournament run and an upset of No. 14 Rutgers on the road, the first top-15 win in ASU’s history.
The two will graduate in the spring: Brodsky earning her master’s degree in Family and Human Development who hopes to one day become a lacrosse coach, and Buckner earning her master’s in Digital Audience Strategy who wants to pursue a career in sports marketing. But for now their focus is on their final season in maroon and gold as they hope to continue to build upon the success of last season and make another run for a Pac-12 title.
“The Pac-12 championship is always on our mind for sure. It’s definitely going to be different this year, we are super blessed with a new coaching staff and kind of hit the ground running with basically a whole new team, a lot of graduates and a lot of new incomers,” Gaspar said. “We are super excited for that, the main thing is growing as a team and trying to be as successful as possible while also trying to maintain the culture and just having fun with it as well.
“I’m excited, we have a lot of tests on the road and a lot of girls ready to get after it.”