May 20, 2009

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Bullets Hoping to Cap Off Revenge Tour

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Tom O'Donnell (above) and the Bullets have avenged two of their three regular season losses already. The team that handed Gettysburg its third loss - Cortland - awaits in Foxboro on Sunday.
© David Sinclair

The Bullets were feeling good.

Gettysburg had just upended then-top ranked Salisbury, 11-10 on the road in late March, upping its record to 6-3. And while the amount of losses was atypical of most Bullets seasons to that point, it was a long way from the 2-3 record of a few weeks earlier.

Predictably, the Gettysburg squad was exhilarated with the win. Hank Janczyk, the program's coach for the past 22 years, walked back to the team bus among his celebrating players, smiling at the jubilation. And then he happened to overhear a nearby conversation.

"I heard a couple of our players say it would be great to go after the teams that beat us," said Janczyk on Tuesday. "At that point in time I was thinking, ‘Holy crow! Be careful what you wish for.'"

As big a high as the Bullets were riding after beating the Gulls, Janczyk was in no hurry to replay the three opponents that beat them - No. 8 Haverford, No. 3 Cortland and No. 1 Stevenson. His team was improving, but perhaps not to the point of tackling that trio, which had defeated the Bullets by an average of nearly seven goals.

The players, however, felt they had leaped a hurdle by downing the defending champs.

The improvement from the start of the season to the Salisbury game was brought about by a fundamental change in how the team operated. Any leftover complacency or entitlement that might have been the product of the program's past successes was stripped away. Gettysburg was going to play as underdogs, constantly trying to prove itself.

"I think I heard it from Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, who said expectations kill. And I think he's right," said Janczyk. "If you have expectations, you think you can just show up and it'll be easy. It's never easy."

The team, led by a solid senior class, took Janczyk's lead.

"All the seniors came together and decided that we needed to run this program with the respect that it deserves," said Yanni Peary, a senior defender and co-captain. "We didn't want to be that class that ruined the tradition we've compiled in the past. So we changed the little things. Like picking up balls after practice, making sure everyone is to team meetings on time, and taking your hats off at meetings."

"We weren't going to blame anybody, but we were going to make changes," added Janczyk. "We were going to take a look at how we dressed, how we acted, how we practiced. What kind of attention levels and energy levels did we have at practice? And we got back to fundamentals.

"We just tried to take it from there and attempt to get better incrementally and I think that is what's happening. It was no magic thing; it was a day-by-day process."

Instituting a back-to-basics mindset was a big change for the players, but Janczyk's refusal to single out any player or unit as the root of the problem was critical. One of the first things the coach did after the slow start was stand up in front of his players and apologize to them for not adapting quick enough to his team's personnel.

Seeing their coach accept some accountability opened the door for the players to do the same, and raise their game.

"The best thing about it is no one pointed fingers," said Peary. "We were all able to tailor our games to make sure we became successful as a team. Everyone found out what they could do better."

The Bullets did get better, and started their tour of revenge.

After the Salisbury win, Gettysburg won five more games, pushing their consecutive win streak to nine games and earning the second seed in the Centennial Conference. A win over Washington College in the semifinals set up a rematch with Haverford.

Using an 8-0 run bridging the second, third and fourth quarters, the Bullets rolled past the Black Squirrels, 12-5, replacing their 8-4 loss in March.

Wins over Washington & Lee and Denison in the second round and quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament created a second opportunity to avenge a loss, as Stevenson awaited them in the national semifinals. A far different team that lost to the Mustangs 16-6 early in the season, Gettysburg handled Stevenson, leaving the field with a 12-7 triumph.

Now all that is left is Cortland - a team that cruised past the Bullets on March 7, 14-8 - on Sunday in Foxboro.

"We managed to beat Haverford and a very good Stevenson team, so having a shot at beating Cortland for a national championship is exactly how it should be," said Peary.

Even Janczyk is no longer counseling his players to be careful what they wish for.

"Now it seems like the right thing," he said. "If we're going to be the best team in the country, it's the right thing that we play the teams that beat us."


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