Regan Hanood Gilbert and Kat Walton took winding paths to stellar seasons this spring for the Capital University women's lacrosse team, including what each considered too much time away from the playing field.

In Walton's case, that time off was involuntary. She tore her right ACL, MCL and meniscus six games into a freshman season in which she already had made an invaluable impact and was sidelined for eight months.

Two years ago, Gilbert temporary stepped away from the game - a decision she regretted almost immediately.

For both, all's well that ends well.

Walton, a midfielder and 2016 Pickerington High School Central graduate, scored a single-season program-record 66 goals as a sophomore and has started all 23 games in which she has appeared in her first two seasons.

Gilbert, an attacker and 2014 Pickerington North graduate, racked up a career-high 92 points largely on the strength of 69 assists, tops in the country in Division III. She also led Division III in assists per game at 4.06.

Capital went 14-3 overall and 6-2 in the Ohio Athletic Conference, losing to Mount Union 11-8 in the conference championship game.

"I expected (Gilbert) to hit her peak and she went way above and beyond that," Crusaders coach Stacey Wood said. "(Walton) was so explosive right away as a freshman and then the injury happened. It was a huge setback, but it got her even more motivated."

Gilbert's assists average would have tied her for third in Division II and was more than half an assist better per game than the leader in Division I, Longwood College's Riley Dolan (3.5).

Dolan had 63 assists. Only one Division I player, Stony Brook's Kylie Ohlmiller, had as many assists as Gilbert.

Gilbert recorded 29 goals and 21 assists as a freshman in 2015, but stepped back from the game for personal reasons a few months later. Before long, she decided to return to the team, but spent most of the next several months trying to regain the trust of her coaches and teammates.

Not only was she successful, although she played in only 12 games as a sophomore without starting any of them, but the second half of her career featured a transition into setting up her teammates instead of finishing. Gilbert had 20 goals and 34 assists as a junior and 23 goals and 69 assists as a senior this spring, boosting her career point total to 212.

"My (junior) year, I remember we played Wilmington here and I had, I think, seven assists in that game. That's when it hit me that that's what I was good at and this is what I am supposed to be doing," Gilbert said. "My team figured out that I was not going to be an option to look at (for scoring). I would not cut. Kat was going to. I was looking at you, for you to be the option and to score the goal. I think they knew whenever I had the ball to be ready and know that was their chance to cut and chance to score."

Walton consistently has taken advantage of her chances as a Crusader, following up a high school career in which she set program records for goals, points, ground balls and caused turnovers and initially resisted playing midfield because she enjoyed being an attacker. She started the first six games of her freshman season, scoring 27 goals before her season-ending injury during a game against John Carroll.

"My whole body went left, but my (right) foot stayed in place. As soon as it happened, I felt a pop and I dropped right to the ground," Walton said. "I knew pretty much right when it happened. ...

"I felt like I came back better. Missing this last year ... these are precious moments and I want to enjoy every second of them."

Walton led the Crusaders in goals as well as forced turnovers (43) and shots (124).

"I didn't even have to tell her what to do (this year)," Wood said. "She knew it. She wanted it. She just went out there and came back as a better player and exceeded all expectations.

"Knowing the type of player she is, all I have to do is center a team around her and give her a supporting cast to make things happen."

Next year, things will happen without Gilbert, who is pursuing a master's degree in social work at Ohio State and working at the Buckeye Ranch this summer as a behavioral health and mental health therapist. She married former Capital baseball player Travis Gilbert on May 27, 22 days after graduating.

Walton is majoring in business management with a minor in human resources. She has an internship with the State Department's human resources department this summer.

"(At North,) we all knew that Kat was the player to look for (for Central). It was a great rivalry, but we always got along," Gilbert said. "She attended my wedding only a few weeks after graduation. We've been friends for a very long time. Hopefully, it will stay that way for years."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave