The Pioneers graduated their first four-year senior class in May, then saw the departure of the program's first head coach Jenna Handshoe to become the head coach at her alma mater, Presbyterian. Tusculum went 6-11 overall last year and finished tied for fourth place in the South Atlantic Conference with a 4-4 conference record, before being eliminated by Wingate in the opening round of the conference tournament.
Joelle Prata, who served as the team's graduate assistant coach last season, was elevated to interim head coach in September and led the program through fall practices and competition in preparation for the spring.
"My expectations this season are that we compete every time that we step on the field. Being picked fifth in the preseason poll was a good guideline for us to work toward, but I'd like to see us finishing with even better results," said Prata. "The upperclassmen have been a great help taking the freshmen under their wing and creating an example of the new culture we're building."
Senior Rachel Holmes (Norcross, Ga.) was named honorable mention All-SAC after finishing second on the team with 25 goals last season. Holmes was third on the team in both ground balls (26) and draw controls (36) and scored at least one goal in 12 of the Pioneers' 15 matches. She ranks fourth in program history in goals (76) and sixth in points (96), and is tied for fourth in ground balls (80) and fifth in draw controls with 76.
Junior Eliza Ryan (Old Bridge, N.J.) started 16 matches for the Pioneers last year and had 12 goals and four assists for 16 points. Ryan also had 13 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers, and has 12 goals and four assists for 16 points in 32 career contests.
Junior Bailey Lowery (Seymour, Tenn.) made five starts last season among her 12 appearances and had two goals and three assists for five points, boosting her career totals to eight goals and five assists for 13 points in 27 career games.
Senior Meaghan Smith (Leesburg, Va.) and sophomore Bethany Thomas (Greenville, S.C.) will see a greater role this season after limited roles last season. Smith made six appearances for the Pioneers and had one shot attempt, while Thomas was on the field for three games.
Junior Juliette Cusano (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) was named preseason second-team All-SAC after leading the Pioneers with 42 goals last season to rank 11th overall in the conference. Cusano scored at least one goal in all 15 games, and was second on the team in draw controls (57), caused turnovers (20) and ground balls (30).
Cusano, who was honorable mention All-SAC as a freshman and second-team All-SAC as a sophomore, ranks eighth in program history with 63 points on 53 goals and 10 assists and ranks sixth in caused turnovers (28). Cusano is also third in career draw controls with 93.
Sophomore Megann McKinney (Waxhaw, N.C.) started seven matches last season and had 16 goals and five assists for 21 points. McKinney also collected 10 ground balls and had six draw controls. Junior Brittany Lowery (Seymour, Tenn.) played in all 15 games and scored one goal, while contributing six ground balls.
Freshman Emily Youngblood (Austin, Texas) comes to Tusculum after being named All-State three times and earning team MVP honors at Vandegrift High School. Fellow freshmen Jessica Spiegel (Apopka, Fla.) lettered three times and was a two-time captain at Apopka High School, and freshman Harley Smith (Chuckey, Tenn.) from North Greene High School will provide depth for the squad.
Junior Hailey Sanders (Weddington, N.C.) has been selected preseason second-team All-Conference after starting 13 games and finishing with 17 draw controls and 15 ground balls. Sanders had just three turnovers and also contributed two goals in as many shots on the offensive end of the field.
Senior Jordan Smith (Ball Ground, Ga.) will be in her third season as a full-time starter after picking up 15 ground balls and causing five turnovers last season. Smith has appeared in 44 career matches with 33 starts and has 22 ground balls and 15 caused turnovers.
Junior Linden Perkins (Knoxville, Tenn.) had five ground balls and two caused turnovers in nine games last season, and senior Kaele Lawless (Odessa, Fla.) will see time in the field after playing 30 matches in goal over her first three seasons.
Sophomore Kate Pipkin (Annapolis, Md.) started 10 matches in goal and had a record of 4-6 last season with a 15.02 goals against average. Pipkin ranked ninth in the SAC with 94 saves, and had a .418 save percentage which was seventh-best in the league.
Freshman Taylor Floyd (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.) lettered four years at Girls Preparatory School and was named All-Region as a senior.
Tusculum opens its season on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at home against Shorter. The Hawks were 0-10 last season and finished fifth in the Gulf South Conference with an 0-8 record. Tusculum has defeated Shorter in both previous meetings, both on the road in 2015 and again in 2016.
The Pioneers will travel to North Greenville on Tuesday, Feb. 12 to face the Crusaders. North Greenville went 13-6 last season and finished in fourth place in Conference Carolinas with a 7-3 recor. Tusculum held on for a 13-12 win over North Greenville last February at home, giving the Pioneers a 2-0 lead in the series.
Tusculum will face Belmont Abbey on the road on Saturday, Feb. 16. The Crusaders took third place in Conference Carolinas with an 8-2 record and finished 14-6 overall last season, losing to Limestone in the league championship match. Belmont Abbey beat Tusculum 13-10 in a neutral-site match last February in the first-ever meeting between the programs.
On Wednesday, Feb. 20 the Pioneers are back home to take on future conference opponent Virginia-Wise. The Cavaliers, who will join the SAC in the fall, were 13-4 overall and went undefeated in five Mountain East Conference matches before beating Shepherd in triple overtime to win the tournament championship. UVa-Wise beat Tusculum 15-10 at home last season to even the series at two wins apiece.
Tusculum closes out the month of February by hosting Lees-McRae on Saturday, Feb. 23. The Bobcats were 1-11 last season and finished 1-9 in Conference Carolinas. The Pioneers beat the Bobcats 17-5 in last year's season opener at Pioneer Field and have won both meetings with Lees-McRae all-time.
The Pioneers will host Walsh in the first-ever meeting between the schools on Saturday, March 2. The Cavaliers were 11-7 overall last season and went 8-4 in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, leaving them in third place in the standings.
On Tuesday, March 12 the Pioneers will visit Emmanuel for their fourth match of the season with a Conference Carolinas member. The contest is Tusculum's first ever with the Lions, who finished sixth in the league at 4-5 and went 7-9 overall last season.
Tusculum steps into conference play beginning Saturday, March 16 against Lenoir-Rhyne at home. The Bears dethroned Queens to win the SAC regular-season championship with an 8-0 record, and finished the year 9-10 overall. The Bears beat the Pioneers 20-9 at home last season and are 4-0 all-time.
The final non-conference game of the year will be Tuesday, March 19 at Young Harris. The Mountain Lions were 14-5 overall last season and swept the Gulf South Conference with an 8-0 record, then beat Alabama Huntsville for the tournament championship. This will be the first meeting between Tusculum and Young Harris.
Tusculum will host Queens on Saturday, March 23. The Royals suffered their first-ever regular-season SAC loss last season against Lenoir-Rhyne by a score of 12-11, but beat the Bears 13-9 in the SAC Championship final to win their fifth straight title. Queens is 5-0 all-time against Tusculum, including a 21-6 win in the 2016 SAC Championship semifinals and a 23-4 win at home last year.
The final game of March is at Pioneer Field on Saturday, March 30 against Newberry. The Wolves were 3-14 overall and 1-7 in the SAC last season, and the Pioneers collected a 20-12 win over the Wolves in last season's trip to Newberry for their fourth win in as many all-time meetings.
Tusculum opens April with back-to-back road matches, starting Tuesday, April 2 at Mars Hill. The Lions were 1-7 in the conference and 3-12 overall last year in their inaugural season, which included a close 16-13 defeat to the Pioneers in Greeneville last March.
The Pioneers renew their rivalry with Coker on Saturday, April 6 in South Carolina. The Cobras were just 4-11 overall last year and 2-6 in the SAC, losing to Tusculum 16-14 on the road. Coker has won four of the six all-time meetings with the Pioneers, including SAC Championship tournament wins in 2015 and 2017.
Lincoln Memorial is the opponent when the Pioneers play at home on Wednesday, April 10. The Railsplitters earned a SAC tournament berth last year by going 3-5 in the conference and 8-8 overall, but LMU lost at home to Tusculum 14-8 last April. The Pioneers have won all four previous meetings with the Railsplitters.
The final road trip of the regular season will be Saturday, April 13 at Wingate. The Bulldogs tied for fourth place in the SAC with the Pioneers at 4-4, but earned a home game with the Pioneers in the SAC Tournament by rallying for a 17-14 road win. Wingate, which was 6-13 overall last season, then beat Tusculum 19-15 in the SAC tournament for their fourth win in five all-time meetings with the Pioneers.
Tusculum wraps up the regular season on Saturday, April 20 against Catawba. The Indians took third place in the SAC at 6-2 last season and finished 11-8 overall, with a 13-11 win over the Pioneers in last year's regular-season finale. Catawba has a 3-1 record all-time against Tusculum, with the Pioneers' lone win coming in 2015 at home.
The South Atlantic Conference Women's Lacrosse Championship will begin with first-round games on campus sites on Tuesday, April 23. The semifinals and finals will be played April 26 and 28 at Wingate. The NCAA Division II Women's Lacrosse Championship game will be Sunday, May 19 at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.