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.
RECENT "FALL BALL
BLITZ" STORIES | ARCHIVE
Geneseo Continues Traveling Road Show
|All-American close defender Joe May will not only be
counted on to help make up for the loss of Goalie of the Year
Dennis Costanza, but also lead Geneseo's merry band of traveling
© Brian Bennett
Synthetic turf. At its basest level, it's just ground-up tires,
green plastic slivers and white paint. Nothing to get that excited
But for the Geneseo men's lacrosse team, a turf field – or, more precisely, the lack of one – has forced the Knights to fight a scheduling battle that annually puts them at a competitive disadvantage.
Located 40 miles south of Lake Ontario in Central New York, Geneseo's natural grass field is better suited for a monster truck rally than lacrosse during the month of March. As a result, the Knights had to play rival Nazareth five consecutive years on the road at one point and they don't even bother trying to host an opponent until the calendar is about to flip to April.
This spring, the schedule is even more lopsided. The first home date is on April 13 – a little over two weeks before the end of the regular season – and only three of the 13 total dates are at Geneseo.
With the Knights automatic qualifying chances traditionally resting with a win over SUNYAC archrival and national power Cortland, the early season games against non-conference opponents hold the key to Geneseo's at-large hopes.
"While we put together the best schedule we can, we're so handcuffed and limited that it puts a lot of pressure on us," said Geneseo coach Jim Lyons, who enters his 11th season. "Because we're on the road so much, there's no doubt I'm nervous how we're going to get out of the gate."
Adding to Lyons' angst is Geneseo enters this season with big question marks at goalie after the graduation of Division III Goalie of the Year Dennis Costanza as well as at face-off, where Erik Baranowski operated as one of the better face-off men in the country. Voids at those two positions, which are critical for a quick start to season, only add to the challeges facing the Knights.
What Geneseo may be lacking at those two positions is compensated by veterans all over the field. Led by the likes of Craig Lange (28g, 34a) and Brendan Kurpis (36g, 9a) on the offensive end and All-American Joe May on defense, Lyons' club should not only fare well against its non-league opponent, but also against Cortland.
"There is no doubt when we look at our experience it's everywhere and that's going to be something that we hope will carry us," said Lyons.
As easy as it would be to use their uneven schedule as an excuse, the Knights prefer to look at it as an advantage as they eye their first NCAA tournament berth since 2007.
"We know we'll be battled tested and road-tested and will be able to handle anything when the conference season comes around, so there is that benefit to it," said Lyons. "And every year we go in thinking we don't have to be a Pool C team. We think we can compete for a conference champion even though there is that elephant in the room down the road in Cortland. We still think we can compete with those guys. There are multiple entry points for us to the tournament."
The end of Geneseo's perpetual early-season road show is in sight. The State of New York has ponied up the cash for a new turf stadium and the space for the venue is currently being cleared, so the Knights will have a balanced slate in two years.
"I've been telling recruits that I'm hoping to have turf in your lifetime here," said Lyons. "Now we know when we're breaking ground. We're getting closer every day to playing in 2013. It's the only thing we're missing."
When it finally happens, ground-up tires and green plastic will never look so good.
FALL BALL BLITZ
2010 Record: 10-4 (4-2 SUNYAC)
2010 In Review: The Blue Knights raced out to a strong start with early wins against Nazareth, Union and Ithaca, but a hiccup against Brockport and a poor showing in the conference finals against Cortland – a team they lost to by a goal in the regular season – kept Geneseo on the outside.
Goodbye... Erik Baranowski. "Everybody is going to talk about Dennis Costanza, and he's obvious, but I think we'll really miss Erik," said Lyons. Baranowski won 175-of-283 (61.8%) draws last year while also scooping up a team-high 124 ground balls and chipping in 13 points. "Everything starts with facing off and we've been fortunate to put a lot of pressure on opposing teams with a guy who wins a lot of draws," said Lyons. "Replacing Eric will be as hard as anything else for us."
The loss of Costanza, who was the Goalie of the Year in Division III last spring, will also be felt.
Hello... John Wettack. If you had predicted that Jim Lyons' first out-of-state recruit would be from Mercer Island (Wash.) High School, you win. Wettack, who will probably run primarily in the midfield considering Genny's stacked attack, is envisioned as a replacement for Craig Lange at the quarterback spot in 2012. "He's just infectious," said Lyons. "He plays hard every second and loves playing lacrosse."
Also keep an eye on Kyle Kerrigan out of West Islip (N.Y.) High School. When he was recruited by the Knights, he was an extremely effective d-middie, but during his senior year last spring, he was moved to close defense for a state championship team. Lyons still envisions Kerrigan in the shorty role, but he has options. "He's going to be on the field a lot," said Lyons.
Lyons felt like he didn't have anyone who could dodge out of the midfield and create openings for himself and teammates. The coach feels Tim Burgess, a transfer from Onondaga Community College after prepping at Westhill (N.Y.) High School, will fill that role. "He got a ton of time for OCC, but wasn't their best midfielder, but I think now he'll be able to see how good he can be," said Lyons.
Offseason Developments: Moving a step closer to a turf field is the biggest offseason event, but Lyons is also looking forward to the return of Ray Ryan, an all-league selection in 2008. "He is a dominant one-on-one middie who can break down just about everybody, and that's what we were missing last year," said Lyons. Geneseo also has the potential add an impact player or two in the second semester.
Big Question: Are the Knights willing to work to make sure they are in the NCAA tournament field this year? "How much are we willing to sacrifice and give to this thing? Geneseo was reestablished on the map of Division III lacrosse [earlier this decade] and those guys really wanted to do that," said Lyons. "Now that we're there, how badly do we want to move to that Top 10 level consistently? When we're tired in November and December, are we still lifting, shooting and running on our own when nobody's watching? If we do those things, everything will fall into place."
Fall Schedule: Geneseo typically travels to the RIT fall tourney, but the Tigers are no longer running that event, so the Blue Knights opted for a play day halfway through the fall season. They traveled to Alfred to face the Saxons as well as Keuka. "We had half the amount of practices that we usually do – we hadn't even put in a man-up or man-down – but we were very pleased," said Lyons. "We got a look at a lot of the new guys, which should help us when the spring comes." Geneseo also hosted an alumni game, but it didn't feature the current team. It was just alums playing alums.
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