Practice pennies, neon green laces, new faces and the promise of a new season not far off -- all signs point to fall ball, college lacrosse's annual rite of initiation.
With 2010 in the books and 2011 in mind, LMO's "Fall Ball Blitz" series checks in with coaches and players around the country for the latest developments.
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Ryan, Mercyhurst Know Perfection Is Must
Although he'll miss fall ball after having his knee cleaned out earlier this summer, All-American goalie Zach Nash is expected back between the pipes by the spring for the Lakers.
© Ethan Magoc
As Chris Ryan sat in his man cave feeling numb after his one-loss Mercyhurst men's lacrosse team was left outside of the four-team NCAA Division II playoff, his cell phone announced the arrival of a text message.
“I was sitting in my back room with my two Labradors," Ryan said, "and the first person to text me was my wife upstairs asking if I was okay."
As a coach’s bride, Ryan’s wife knew exactly how her husband would feel, especially considering all the promise shown by the 13-1 Lakers in 2010. As the evening continued, it became clear that she was not the only one willing to console Ryan.
“I immediately got three texts from other college coaches voicing their displeasure and support for what we had done,” Ryan said. “But I couldn’t believe how many phone calls and emails I received from non-Mercyhurst people voicing their displeasure with how things went down. That’s not at all a slight against Dowling or C.W. Post -- they rightfully deserved to be in the playoffs -- but I think when you look at us, Merrimack, Saint Leo, Mars Hill or Queens, there are a lot of teams that deserved that to be in the playoffs last year.”
Mercyhurst is not the first qualified team to suffer this fate in the Division II selection process, just the latest. Numerous contenders have been left by the wayside, including those -- such as Merrimack last spring -- that won their conference tournament only to watch another league team (Le Moyne) earn a bid.
So while Ryan would like to see the selection process revamped at some point, there is one reality that the Lakers will understand as they open the 2011 campaign -- the only way to assure a bid is to go undefeated.
It’s a painful realization for Mercyhurst, literally undone by one bad quarter in 2010. In the matchup with eventual national champion C.W. Post on May 1 -- a game that was universally understood to be worth a trip to the playoffs -- the Lakers stumbled to a slow start, allowing the Pioneers to build a 4-1 lead that ultimately manifested in an 11-9 Post victory.
“You’re just not allowed a mistake,” Ryan said. “Never did I think that we’d have to be perfect to get into the tournament. There wasn’t a single undefeated team in college lacrosse, so from that vantage point, you’re just not allowed a bad quarter. From all honesty, it’s probably a major reason why we didn’t advance.”
Mercyhurst has a bunch of holes to fill with the graduation of a stacked, 14-man senior class. But the Lakes will play with an urgency learned from last year. They now know the only playoff guarantee in Division II comes with perfection.
FALL BALL BLITZ
2010 Record: 13-1 (9-1 ECC)
2010 In Review: Despite one bad quarter against C.W. Post, it was a mostly dominant year for the Lakers. They scored at least 15 goals in 10 of their 13 contests and allowed double digits just once (the loss to Post), helping Mercyhurst ascend as high as No. 2 in national polls.
Goodbye… Chris Eline. There are a bunch of farewells for Mercyhurst, but Eline leaves the largest shoes to fill. An All-American close defenseman for the Lakers, Eline was the leader of the backline that allowed just 5.52 goals per game. In addition, Mike Sciulli (22g, 18a) leaves a void on attack. “It was a deep class and a good class,” Ryan said. “It’s going to be tough to replace those guys.”
Hello… Andrew Wagner. The freshman pole out of Iroquois High School could help replace the loss of Eline. “He’s just a big, strong, physical athlete who is looking really good early on in fall ball,” Ryan said. Also keep an eye on Kevin Collins out of Orchard Park High School. The middie was a starting tailback in the prep ranks whom Ryan thinks might be the fastest player in Division II.
Mercyhurst will break in a pair of new assistant coaches, UMBC products Alex Hopmann and Steve Settembrino. Ryan will also keep an eye on the injury report. Senior All-American goalie Zach Nash (5.94 GAA, .597 save percentage) had his knee cleaned out and is expected back in the spring after sitting out fall ball. Classmate Tim Winslow, a contributor on defense for the past three years, will also be out for the fall after injuring his knee in the offseason. The Lakers hope to welcome back Ian Wild, a starting safety on the Mercyhurst football team who redshirted in 2010 with an injury. Wild started on the first midfield line in 2009 as a rookie.
Ryan knows there are questions all over the field after the graduation of the huge senior class, but he is most concerned about his short-stick defensive middie situation. Five players who were huge cogs -- including Zach Manuel, Charles Saylor and C.J. Blanchard, who were all four-year contributors -- are gone. “We have to develop some d-middies,” Ryan said. “We have to find the right pieces of the puzzle, which can be daunting for a coaching staff.”
There’s only one date on the fall schedule for the Lakers. The team will visit Nazareth on Oct. 23 to participate in a day of scrimmages against the host Golden Flyers, RIT and Canisius. “That will be a great way for the kids to see another jersey in front of them,” Ryan said. “I’m always worried about getting better as a team and trying to escape without injury. We’ll see what works and what needs to be changed.”