Morning Jac: Keene State Ramping It Up
Just looking at the schedule, it's clear that Keene (N.H.) State is ramping up expectations for this spring. The Owls have swapped out a non-conference slate that went 60-78 last season with one that posted a 72-45 mark, including a pair of NCAA qualifiers.
The logic behind the move isn't terribly surprising.
"My reasoning is to pound the kids in the first six games, getting them to a certain level so when they get into conference play there is a high, high level of lacrosse," said Keene head coach Mark Theriault. "It's great to go 10-2 or 12-4 every year, but if we want to keep pushing nationally, we have to play these good schools. We played some last year and beat a couple, but wanted to add a few more."
The first game sets the tone for what's in store for the Owls. They'll entertain Western New England on Feb. 22 in a contest that pits former teammates against each other. Theriault and WNE head man John Klepacki won a D-II national championship in 1994 at Springfield together, and the pair have met just once previously.
"The only time we played was in the NCAAs seven years ago [WNE won, 13-5]," Theriault said. "John had a couple of bumps and he was desperate for a game. I was trying to improve our schedule, too. We were teammates in college, so we said, 'Hey, let's do it.'" And it's an easy drive. We'll see how it goes this year and I'll probably go down there next year and we'll evaluate from there."
The Golden Bears are followed by RPI and then a string of NESCAC schools – Bowdoin, Tufts, Wesleyan, Hamilton and Bates – before the Little East action starts. There, waiting for the Owls, will once again be Eastern Conn. Either EConn or Keene has been the Little East rep to the tournament since 2008, and they've always met in the league title game. Last year was the first time that the regular season winner between the two didn't win the championship tilt.
"We went up a little bit and then they went up a little bit, but at the end I thought we had it. We made a couple of mistakes and had a couple of breakdowns that allowed one of their players to score back-to-back goals with the scouting report saying exacty what we needed to do against that kid," lamented Theriault, who watched the Warriors win, 9-8. "That made it a little frustrating. It's always a been a one- or two-goal game."
The two schools will meet on April 12, with a late-season rematch again likely.
"Until about five years ago, we were pretty much in control in the Little East and Justin [Axel] came in at Eastern and has done just a wonderful job and is recruiting some great kids," Theriault said. "The rivalry is alive and well. It's fun. I talk to the boys about this every year: if we rolled every year or they rolled every year in conference, there wouldn't be this big prize at the end that we're all shooting for. The alumni from both schools keep in touch and sometimes play alumni games against each other. It's a really cool thing. There's a great rivalry and a level of respect between the two because it's always a bloodbath."
If Keene has success this spring, it will likely be due to its defense, led by junior co-captain Mike Curley, who finished second on the team in ground balls. Theriault described the fight for the starting goalie spot as a "coin flip" between sophomore incumbent Alex Sharp and sophomore transfer Dylan Florian. Sophomore attackman Tyler McKelvie, the LEC Rookie of the Year in '13, and rookie midfielder Bryan Rotatori will anchor a young offense.
"Some of the younger kids coming up are going to have a leadership role," Theriault said. "We're young offensively, but I think we're good. We're faster this year, and hopefully we'll be pushing transition."
They'll have to if they want navigate the early season schedule with any kind of success.