Kivlen Rallies for Strong Inaugural Season at Montclair State
The 2012 season did not start like Montclair State coach Chris Kivlen had hoped.
Kivlen, formerly an assistant at Division I Albany, wanted to make a strong first impression with the Red Hawks. But Montclair State started 0-4 and lost five of its first six games.
Granted, four of those losses were to eventual NCAA tournament qualifiers (Dickinson, Stevens) or near-qualifiers (RPI, St. Lawrence). The fifth, Muhlenberg, was a decent squad out of the powerful Centennial.
Alas, 1-5 is 1-5.
"It was a tough," Kivlen said. "You don't want to come out of the gate that way. But we just stayed positive and that's the atmosphere we want to build. That's what we had at Albany. I love Coach [Scott] Marr's approach for being positive and took that down here at Montclair. We didn't change anything up; we just continued to work hard at practice and it eventually clicked for us. Obviously, we had a new system, it took us a couple of weeks to play some of those tough teams and then we ended up jelling and had a pretty good season."
Leaning on a senior class led by Tyler Meth (49g, 18a), Matt Prongay (26g, 18a) and Mark Glander (8.51 GAA; 65.1 sv%), the Red Hawks responded with 10 straight wins, the Skyline Conference championship and an NCAA tournament appearance. Montclair State ran into a stingy Union defense and lost in the first round, but Kivlen was pleased by the way his players responded to the slow start.
"The first surprise when I took the job was how tight the team was," he said. "Just the chemistry of the guys. It was really a pleasure to walk into that situation. I give those guys a lot of credit. They were tight and ready to roll. I think that has a lot to do with the seniors. I had a great senior group my first year. It was really a pleasure coaching those guys."
Having coachable players was key because Kivlen installed an entirely new system, borrowing the up-tempo style he imported from Marr's Albany teams. Kivlen treated the players just as he did at the Division I level – "I didn't dumb anything down," he said – and they embraced it, even if it meant starting fresh.
"As far as the Xs and Os, we just started from scratch," Kivlen said. "Some of the language we carried over from the previous staff that is universal to lacrosse. I may have called it something and they called it something else. Instead of changing 40 guys, I just changed myself. I told the guys at the end of the year, I didn't really change anything up [from Albany]. We went at it full go and we held them to a high standard."
Montclair State hasn't reached the standard of those teams that beat it, but Kivlen won't shy away from future challenges. He has RPI, Stevens, Muhlenberg and Dickinson back on the schedule for 2013 and will replace St. Lawrence with games against Ursinus and Vassar. He hopes to win more non-conference games, but even losses can be productive.
"Playing those tough teams exposed us," Kivlen said. "It just makes you work that much harder. You find out quickly where your faults are. It's easy to identify. It hurt because we wanted to put our momentum together, but it told us what to fix and what to work on. The expectations are there, but it was the best thing for us to play those tough teams, expose us and get us ready for conference play."
The Skyline automatic qualifier still goes through Montclair, especially with the maturation of an 18-man freshman class from last year, a solid recruiting class and a couple of key transfers. Kivlen said the Red Hawks will replace Meth and Prongay with an offensive committee, but top longpole Mike Lade, a senior, returns on defense along with sophomore all-conference defender Kiel Dietrich and long-stick midfielder Sean Gilmore.
With those guys leading the way, Montclair State might match up better with the big boys.
"We talk about that at practice and having that mindset," Kivlen said. "The guys really responded to that. They were excited that we were going to achieve that kind of level."