Usually it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an athlete to help a new program get off the ground.
For Jenna Kasmarik, it’s been twice in a lifetime.
After attending South Forsyth High School in Cumming, Ga., for three years Kasmarik transferred to Lambert High School for her senior year to join her younger sister and a lacrosse program in its infancy.
“I felt really bad not being there for my sister’s freshman year of high school,” Kasmarik said. “Lambert didn’t have a lot of wins their first year and I knew coming in I could make a difference. I wanted to make a difference.”
She did, earning first team all-state honors as a junior and senior. She was a two-time first-team All-American and was named Atlanta Journal Constitution 2011 Female Lacrosse Player of the Year.
And that might have been as far as Kasmarik went in the sport if she had listened to the naysayers.
“Growing up playing lacrosse in Georgia, almost everybody I ran into told me, ‘You can’t play Division I because you’re not from Maryland or New York. You’re from Georgia, you’re not gonna go anywhere,'” Kasmarik said.
Instead she received a scholarship from one of the most prominent lacrosse programs, John Hopkins University.
“When I got up north I didn’t tell people (I was from Georgia),” Kasmarik said. “I let them assume where I was from. I didn’t want to make it too big of a deal. I wanted them to make their own assumptions. I wanted to blend in.”
But she was at a loss playing behind the net for the Blue Jays as a distributor.
“Being the center of attack, running the attack, dodging all the time — that was what I needed to be,” Kasmarik said. “We had too many other girls (at John Hopkins) doing that. I needed to find a program that didn’t have players like that.”
So Kasmarik went back to what worked for her in high school. She transferred to Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., which started its women’s lacrosse team in 2013. Kasmarik led the NCAA during the regular season in scoring with 4.18 goals per game while the Eagles were third in scoring (15.78 points per game). She scored five goals to lead the Eagles to their first conference tournament championship with a 13-8 victory over Liberty.
They lost 18-6 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to seventh-seeded Virginia .
“This year really has been a coming out party,” she said. “I’m watching how often my teammates get involved. The reason I score five and seven goals a game is because my teammate are helping me out. I know I can throw the ball to any number of these girls on offense and they are going to score. In turn I earn their respect because they are willing to throw me the ball in any circumstance.”
Kasmarik’s tenacity has been undeniable.
“I don’t look at a defender and say, ‘You’re this defender, you’re that good.'” she said. “I look at them as if I’m going to beat them. I’m so driven to the point where no is not an answer. I’m not going to not score. I’m so determined to get to the net, that when the ball is in my stick I know exactly where it is going.”