Each week, The Baltimore Sun publishes a Q&A with an area college lacrosse player to help you become more acquainted with the player and his/her team. Today's guest is Towson junior midfielder Kelly Custer from Aston, Pa., which is south of Philadelphia. As the Tigers prepare to host Penn State on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Custer is tied for the team lead with 33 goals, but she contributes all over the field, leading the Tigers with 41 draw controls and ranking among the leaders in ground balls and caused turnovers.
How did the team react to getting the eighth seed in the tournament and earning a home game?
We were really excited. We saw that Penn State got up there (when the bracket was revealed team-by-team), and we were really hoping we would get that eighth seed, so we could host a home game. Also Penn State's head coach was our head coach my freshman year, so there's just a lot of emotions going into that game. We were especially excited not to have to travel. Finals are coming up, so that was really important to us to be able to be home. And we're undefeated at home, so that's a big thing for us too.
Everyone plays a little bracketology, so where did you and your teammates think you might be seeded?
We weren't really sure. A couple of days before, people were saying we were going to be matched up against UNC, and other people were saying we had the eighth seed against Virginia. I had no thought of Penn State. I figured Virginia, UNC or Duke, one of those teams, and then I saw Penn State and it was kind of shocking.
Penn State coach Missy Doherty recruited you and you played for her in her last season at Towson, so will it be strange to see her on the opposite sideline?
It will be different. We actually saw her when she came to our (Colonial Athletic Association tournamnent) game aginst James Madison. That was cool, and then I thought, "Oh, man. She was probably scouting us." (Laughs) When we saw her, we had no idea. It will be a fun experience to play against her. She was a great coach, so I'm sure it will be a really great game.
Your team won eight of nine one-goal games, including both conference tournament games. What puts your team over the top in the close ones?
I feel like our team has a chemistry and composure. We've been in these sitiation so many times. Not that we want to be in these situations, but last year we won four overtime games. We just capitalize in these situations. When we struggle playing whole games, I think that toward the end, we realize we need to pick it up and we depend on each other to pick it up. It almost relaxes us knowing we've been in this situation before.
Coming into the season, your defense was a bit suspect with only one returning line defender, Alexa Demski, who is now out with a knee injury. How has the young defense managed to remain solid?
Our defense is awesome. I love working with them. Alexa has really been a big help to us, too. She's taken on that role of being the voice on the sideline. Also, we have younger people stepping up and we know what we have to do. We know we've had a big loss in Alexa, but we have kind of let that take us to the next level. I think our defense is one of the best in the nation, and we showed that in the championship game against James Madison. We got a yellow card at the end and we were down (a player). Mary (Teeters) made some awesome saves, but we all got through that. We didn't let them score. We had a lot of people stepping up.
How has your role on the team changed from last season?
Last season, I just did what I felt I needed to do. I worked with others, but I don't feel I took the initiative. This year, I've been able to step up. [Coach Sonia LaMonica] has told us the midfieders control the tempo. If we're playing a good game and are controlling the tempo, the rest of the team feeds off that. Realizing now I'm a junior, I have one more year left, I feel like I need to make an impact on this team. I feel an urgency to do that.
What is your favorite part of the game?
This sounds weird because everyone likes scoring goals and getting assists and attacking, but I like to make an impact with the little things. I'm not the greatest on defense, but when I play good defense and I get a check off, that feels so much better to me than scoring a goal. I like being a part of that. I'm happier when the whole team is moving the ball great and playing strong defense and working together. I just have fun playing with everyone.
You were a three-sport athlete in high school, also playing soccer and basketball. Why did you choose to play lacrosse in college?
I've always played those sports. Mainly soccer and lacrosse I've played year-round. I played for a really good club team, FC Delco, until 10th grade. Soccer was like my life. Since third grade I've been playing lacrosse. My aunt and my cousin were my club coaches. Soccer, there's not as much scoring. It's not as exciting. I love soccer and I could have played it in college. I felt like I was good enough, but I just fell in love with the lacrosse. Especially playing a Division I sport, you have to love the sport to keep playing, and I just love it.
Did you ever think about going Division III and playing two or three sports?
I could have, but I just love the competitiveness of Division I. I feel like I wouldn't have pushed myself to be the level I could be if I played at that level. I definitely miss playing other sports, but when you play all year around, you kind of get overloaded.