Morning Jac: Lake Erie Gladly Feeling the Heat
As the members of the Lake Erie men's lacrosse team stepped off their bus on Tuesday afternoon, it was like they were walking out onto another planet. Their legs were a little wobbly from the 20-hour bus ride from Painesville, Ohio, to Tampa and that distant, glowing star slowly setting in the west only looked vaguely familiar.
And what was this lush, green plant life?
"They haven't seen the ground in a while," chuckled Storm head coach Greg Stocks. "You could see it in the smiles on their faces."
Like most northern teams toiling in the sub-arctic conditions, Lake Erie's opportunity to get outside without the need for thermal underwear or shovels is a welcome change, even if the bus ride lasted three hours longer than originally planned. Stocks gave his players some meal money and a little down time to get rid of the travel legs, but this is still a business trip.
Just over 24 hours after arriving, Lake Erie will have to face Florida Southern – a grizzled team that has already tangled with a pair of ranked opponents – tonight (Wednesday). The No. 9 Storm will then square off with No. 7 Tampa in a contest that has titanic implications on the race for the four southern NCAA bids.
Considering how this winter has gone, the Tampa game might as well be on another planet, too.
"With what we've been able to do outside so far, we're not good enough to overlook anything," Stocks said. "We've been preparing and we've had the film on Florida Southern now for a week or so. Everything will be Florida Southern up until the final whistle blows [on Wednesday]."
Along with the welcome sunlight on their faces, Lake Erie is feeling another type of heat on this trip.
After earning the final bid to the south region bracket last year, the Storm is a hunted program. Stocks also admits that this year's squad isn't as deep as last year – at least not yet, anyway – and there is an ongoing goalie competition between sophomore incumbent Tom Lipomi and junior transfer Nicholas Simonetti that might not be decided until game time.
The Storm does have the luxury of returning one of the best midfielders in Division II, Reagan Harding, along with one of the premium finishers in Trevor Tarte, who led the country in goals last spring. Stocks has also been impressed with the preseason play of sophomore quarterback Mitchell Shafer.
"He has stepped in and been the leader on attack carrying the ball," Stocks said. "We have a talented shooter/finisher in Trevor, but he's been more of a scoring threat whereas Mitchell is an all-around attackman."
Stocks' biggest concern as he undertakes this Florida adventure is conditioning.
"Honestly, we might have to use a timeout here and there to get the guys rested up because we haven't been able to get the guys to do all the things we've wanted to do on the full field," he said. "We have combatted that with treadmill workouts outside of practice, but you're never going to be in game shape without playing games. Riding and clearing are going to be an interesting facet of the game [against Florida Southern]. We're going to be dealing with first game jitters and getting everything going again."
It'll be sure nice to do it with a little heat.