Casey Ancarrow has a lot to be happy about on the lacrosse field this spring.
The James Madison senior is the reigning Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year and is moving up on the Dukes' all-time scoring charts. She's also one of only 53 players nationwide named to the Tewaaraton watch list.
Heading into Saturday's 1 p.m. game at Loyola, she leads the Dukes (4-1) in scoring with 20 goals and four assists.
Most of all, the John Carroll graduate is happy just to be on the field.
Last April, with only three regular-season games left, she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee — a little more than three years after she tore several ligaments in her right knee, forcing her to redshirt her freshman year. Now, she's savoring the chance to "repeat" her senior year.
"I definitely feel like I'm enjoying things more, especially this being my fifth year," Ancarrow said. "Last year, I was a senior so I had all the same responsibilities. This year it's like I'm a senior again, but I know exactly what to do. It's like I have hindsight to use to my advantage, so it's more relaxed. I don't have nearly as much of the nervousness, because I feel like I've been through it all at this point and no one's going to stop me."
Ancarrow plays as aggressively as ever, but Dukes coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe sees a subtle difference.
"She's just wiser," Klaes-Bawcombe said. "She's able to trust more and she's a stronger leader. Her perspective has changed. Any time you have to step off the field, you see the game differently. I think it's hardened her. It's 100 percent helped her grow as a leader, learning how to be a vocal leader and not just lead by example on the field."
Ancarrow has always been difficult to stop when attacking the goal. Twice All-Metro at John Carroll, she helped the Patriots win two Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championships. In her last two high school seasons, she scored 90 goals — including the game winner in overtime of the title game her junior year — and dished out 67 assists.
At James Madison, she has evolved from primarily a crease threat to a multifaceted attacker dangerous anywhere in the 8-meter arc, said Klaes-Bawcombe, a Loch Raven graduate. With 138 career goals, Ancarrow is tied for seventh on the Dukes' all-time goals list. She also has 53 career assists.
In Wednesday's 13-12 win at Richmond, Ancarrow scored five goals, including the game winner. Last week, she scored three second-half goals at No. 9 Penn State to help the Dukes rally from seven goals down before falling, 13-12.
"She loves the crunch-time moment," Penn State coach Missy Doherty said. "When they need a goal, they always look to her and she performs well in those situations. She's a tough player to mark, because she's both a one-on-one threat and a feeding threat. You have to be careful how you play her."
Both coaches said Ancarrow plays as if she had never been injured, but it wasn't long into the spring four years ago when her freshman campaign came to an abrupt end. Making a hard dodge in practice, she tore the right ACL, two other ligaments and the meniscus, which is cartilage in the joint.
The following season, she bounced back to win CAA Rookie of the Year honors. Everything went well until a home game against William & Mary last April 13th.
"Friday the 13th," Ancarrow said with a laugh. "It was almost the exact same thing except it was my other leg. I knew right away. I was crying, but it wasn't because I was in pain. I just had a flash of the next six months of my life and what they were going to be like."
Another operation and another stint in rehab were not as arduous as she had feared.
"The one I did my freshman year was so incredibly painful for the first three months," she said. "With this one, I only did my ACL, so from the very beginning it was a lot easier. I knew things like what was acceptable pain to have and what I should hold back and take it easy on. I knew what to push through and what not to push through."
Never once did she think about giving up lacrosse. She had planned all along to take a fifth undergraduate year, which made the decision to keep playing easy.
A national team player before the injury, she missed out on a chance to try out for this summer's World Cup, but said she would like to play for the national team again.
For most Division I athletes, a sport can eat away their spare time, but Ancarrow has managed an exceptionally well-rounded college experience.
A self-taught banjo player, she's into bluegrass and music festivals. Last summer, she went to three music festivals, including DelFest in Cumberland. When she's not listening to music in downtown Harrisonburg, Va., near the James Madison campus, she often hikes in the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains.
Two summers ago, she volunteered with Cross-Cultural Solutions to teach English and math in a one-room schoolhouse in Africa for a couple months.
"I make a concerted effort to do things differently," Ancarrow said, "because I think it's really easy to get lost in the whole routine of lacrosse. When traveling in the summertime, you just have to keep in mind the time to go [on the trip] so you can come back and be in shape for fall ball. I really planned everything around lacrosse, but you can make it fit if you really want to."
A Justice Studies major, she minors in coaching and that's where her future lies. She's worked at camps with her high school coach, Krystin Porcella, for years and also coaches a club team in Harford County. After graduation, she plans to apply for college coaching positions.
"Looking back, my coaches have been a huge part of my life and how much I've enjoyed lacrosse and how much I've gotten from it," Ancarrow said. "It would be awesome to give someone else that same experience. I like lacrosse so much I don't want it to be over when college ends for me."