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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Barnes & Nobility: Bombers Add Former Champ
|Ithaca coach Jeff Long, above, followed his 14-2
campaign in 2009 with an 8-10 mark last spring. In hopes of
bolstering the defense - and the team in general - the Bombers have
added Rich Barnes, who won a D-III title with Cortland in
© Ithaca Sports Info
What's the solution for a powerhouse program that stumbles to a rare losing season?
For the Ithaca men, it wouldn't hurt to continue the course they
set late last year when they shrugged off an 8-10 record and
advanced all the way to the Empire 8 championship game.
Still, adding an assistant who has won an NCAA D-III ring as a head coach wouldn't hurt the cause.
Mission accomplished for the Bombers, who welcome Rich Barnes, the conductor of Cortland's 2006 magical national championship run and the owner of the USILA Coach of the Year honor from that same season, to the staff this spring.
It was a great pick-up for Ithaca, but not an easy one.
"We had the opening at the end of last year and I asked him – he's always the first one off the bat whenever we have an opening here – and he hemmed and hawed a little bit because he wasn't sure if he had the time to do it," said Ithaca coach Jeff Long, who enters his 24th season with the Bombers. "I think it was a great opportunity and we're ecstatic about it. We go back a long way and we're real good friends. He's a great coach, obviously, and he'll make our lives easier around here."
Barnes, who was also an assistant for Long and the Bombers in the early '90s, will be tasked with solidifying the Ithaca defense that allowed over nine goals per outing in 2010. With David Gal returning for his senior season in goal along with experienced players like LSM Matt Molnar and close defender Will Kraus, the pieces are there for a tidy backline for the Bombers.
Hopefully, Barnes will be the glue.
"His approach is very academic," said Long of Barnes' coaching technique. "Not that he's a low-key guy, because he gets his point across and the guys can identify with him very well and his knowledge of the game is so vast that we can't help but get better."
While some coaches coming off a tough season might feel self-conscious about adding a coach with Barnes' pedigree, Long – who is a newly minted member of the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame for his exploits as a player at Navy – just wants his program to return to its dominant ways.
If that means hiring a championship coach, so be it.
"I look at him as a co-coach," said Long of Barnes. "He probably knows more lacrosse than I do, to be honest with you. He has a real good feel for it and I think his delivery is a little smoother than mine, so I'm just hoping he doesn't get rid of me."
FALL BALL BLITZ
2010 Record: 8-10 (5-3 Empire 8)
2010 In Review: The Bombers worked their way back from an abysmal start (a 3-9 record on April 17) to advance all the way to the Empire 8 title game. Ithaca was playing as well as anyone at the end, but couldn't solve RIT when it counted.
Goodbye... Nick Neuman. Madison, Wis., may not be known for being a feeder area for the Bombers, but Neuman gave Ithaca the kind of guidance Long was hoping for. "He brought a lot to the table in terms of leadership by example," said Long. "He'll be our biggest loss in relation to what we're trying to accomplish this year. Your team goes only as well as your senior class and I think this year's senior class learned a lot from last year and Nick Neuman showed a lot of people how to be a leader."
Hello... um, nobody yet. Jeff Long is an Old School guy and isn't about to single out any one freshman or transfer before the roster is set. "It's hard to really pick one to be honest with you because we haven't finished the evaluation phase," he said. "I didn't really recruit many goalies because we have everyone coming back, but we have a dozen guys who we expect to do really well. Right now, they are just getting the cobwebs and nervousness out of the system, so it's hard to pinpoint one of them right now." Long did say that this year's rookie class is a lot larger than he expected with the amount of 'walk-ons' and transfers who showed up in the fall.
Offseason Developments: The addition of Rich Barnes is obviously the biggest development, but other than that it's just business as usual for the Bombers. "We don't have any devastating injuries, but we've been lucky in that respect," said Long. "There's really nothing. We've got some kids who are studying abroad and a couple of kids banged up with hammys and ankles who haven't been at full strength during tryouts, but they should be okay by the end of fall ball."
Big Question: Will the seniors be ready to lead
this team from the start? "The biggest thing we need is senior
leadership to get over the hump from last year," said Long. "Not
that they weren't good leaders last year, but something wasn't
clicking, and it probably starts at my level and works its way
down. From day one we're trying to get to know one another." Long
said all of his top-level teams had a cohesive dynamic led by the
upperclassmen. That is the overarching goal in 2011.
Fall Schedule: Jeff Long has been coaching women's soccer at Ithaca for 25 years, so there aren't a whole lot of open dates for the Bombers in the fall. They will be traveling to Onondaga Community College on Sunday, Oct. 10 to participate in a three-way play day with OCC and Oswego. There will be a familiar face on the Oswego sideline when Ithaca matches up. Ryan Martin, the former goalie and E8 Player of the Year in '02 for the Bombers, will be in his first year guiding the Lakers.