Walsh Building on Season in Purgatory
Several years ago, the UC Davis and Longwood (Va.) women's teams met for a couple of seasons in what they jokingly billed as the "Battle of the Banned." Neither program was banned, per se, but both were transitioning to NCAA Division I, which meant they could compete at that level but were ineligible to advance to the postseason.
This year, the Walsh (Ohio) University men's lacrosse finds themselves in a similar state of purgatory.
In year three — the so-called probationary year — of its move from the NAIA to NCAA Division II, Walsh will field a varsity squad, participate in a full conference schedule (the newly founded ECAC) and 10-game slate, but cannot make the NCAA tournament.
As it was for the UC Davis and Longwood women — and the Lindenwood men last year — postseason ineligibility isn't that big a deal. The bright lights of May are ambitious for any first-year NCAA program.
"At the end of the day, we just want to be competitive," said Walsh head coach Jason Fautas, who joined the Cavaliers after a stint as the defensive coordinator at Lafayette. "As long as we put our best foot forward and do everything in our power to succeed. Don't get me wrong: We want to be in the conference tournament, but it is a game-by-game basis and I've seen some crazy things happen. You never know."
Fautas takes over a team relatively thin in numbers (22 on the roster entering the season), but not necessarily in experience. Walsh created a club team in 2011 with the expressed purpose of going varsity this spring, and the Cavaliers were able to build a small foundation.
While playing in the Central Collegiate Lacrosse Association within MCLA Division II — the toughest conference in the association — for a couple of seasons, the Cavaliers finished with a combined record of 12-4 along with a trip to the league tournament.
"Basically, I inherited all of them," Fautas said. "We've kept most of those guys on board, but we've lost a couple. They understand it's not a club anymore, and it was kind of their decision at the end of the day. We honored all of the scholarships. Honestly, it's a very good team and I'm looking forward to seeing us on the field. We've got a bunch of hard workers and the guys want to be competitive and they want to be successful. That's what you want at the college level."
Junior Ian Maurer, who racked up 51 points in two years with the club team, is expected to lead the Cavaliers attack this spring. Fautas is predicting monster middie Tyler Murphy — a 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior — will cause some matchup problems on both ends of the field.
"Coming from a Division I level, I wonder how some of these guys get overlooked," Fautas said. "It's actually pretty nice to mold them and coach them."
For the most part, the Walsh players will have two things in common. With the exception of three, they all hail from the Buckeye state. And by lacrosse standards, the Cavaliers are huge. Including Murphy, half the Cavaliers are 6-foot-1 or taller and all but three are 5-foot-10 and up.
"Ohio has good lacrosse. There's a bunch of athletes out here," Fautas said. "It's one of those things where we have to coach them up a little bit, but they have athletic ability. We're definitely growing. We've had a couple of early letter of intents here in the fall from a couple of Long Island guys and New York guys. We're still staying in Ohio, but I think the key is to start in Ohio and work our way out."
While Walsh is not eligible for the postseason this year, it will get a feel for what the NCAAs are going to be like out of the gate. Among the Cavaliers first three games of the season are contests against Seton Hill and Mercyhurst, both on the road. It may not end well, but those are worries for another season.
"It's the competitiveness that we're looking for at the end of the day — win, lose or draw," Fautas said. "I want us to feel like we gave it our all, we were prepared and we knew what we were getting into."