October 1, 2010

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.


Revamped Pitt Program Ready for Payoff

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Pittsburgh coach Sean Buzzard (center), a Senior Master Sergeant in the Air National Guard, and his staff are in the second year of trying to make Panthers lacrosse a familiar name in Western Pennsylvania.

Sean Buzzard knew that Pittsburgh men's lacrosse team was having a hard time finding a niche on campus. After all, it was one of the reason he was hired last October. He just didn't realize he'd find out exactly where lacrosse ranked before he started his first practice.

No, it was not that the Panthers were slotted into the 10:30 p.m. slot at the practice facility. Rather, when he tried to park his car he, unlike all of the other coaches, was told to pay up, similar to most unknown visitors to campus.

"There was just no good connection between the program and the facilities management or anything like that," said Buzzard, who is also a Senior Master Sergeant in the Air National Guard.

Pitt's presence off campus was equally weak. It was stunning to Buzzard that a program in existence since 1983 was essentially unknown in Western Pennsylvania.

"We sponsored a clinic last year for a middle school at Pitt, which brought in a lot of youth players," said Buzzard. "And we got that same reaction from the parents: 'Wow, we didn't even know Pitt had a team.' The big step was creating the awareness that, hey, we're here."

While the bridge-building aspect of the program is a long-term project, the tardiness of Buzzard's hiring hurt the team's ability to start the 2010 season with any semblance of order.

"By the time they hired us, we were scrambling to get to know each other and put together a practice plan," said Buzzard, who was previously the head coach at North Hills High School. "By the end of the year the coaches and players were really starting to gel, but because we got such a late start we were well into the end-of-the-year stretch before we were a cohesive unit."

The tone is completely different this fall.

"On and off the field, we feel like we are light years ahead of where we were last year," said Buzzard. "We kind of have a better feel for how to run the practices and set the template."

In addition to higher numbers – more players "are coming out of the woodwork," said Buzzard, after Pitt's on-campus push to raise awareness about the team – the players are working Steelers games and other jobs in order to raise money for the travel this spring.

Will this translate into wins?

The recent CCLA realignment has Pitt in the same division as Michigan, which is a daunting proposition, but Buzzard feels that the Panthers' depth and defense will make them a tough opponent for anyone. If the attack, which bore the brunt of graduation losses, can solidify during the early part of the season, Pitt could be in the discussion at the end of the year.

Time will tell, but Buzzard already knows his team has come a long way since he took over last year. Instead of demanding parking money, the man outside the Panthers practice facility now just nods his head as the Pitt coach shows off his shiny new staff pass.


Team: Pittsburgh
2010 Record:
5-10 (2-2 CCLA)
2010 In Review:
Losses to a pair of MCLA D-II teams at the beginning of the season and near fruitless swings through the PCLL and SELC doomed the Panthers. Because of a late coaching hire, Pitt managed to post only three wins against D-I foes.

Rob Musgrave and Peter Tumbas. Musgrave (29g, 8a) and Tumbas (17g, 23a), both attackmen, were not only the top two points producers for the Panthers, but provided a large leadership component. Andrew Stypula was a consistent close defender who graduates in November and may be added to the coaching staff.

Alex Powell. An attackmen from Webster Schroeder (N.Y.) High School, Powell has already shown that he's a serious candidate to fill some of the holes on attack. Buzzard feels a pair of defenders – Max Carlson out of Catonsville (Md.) High School and Stephen Gill from Sewickley (Pa.) Academy – will earn plenty of time from the start.

Offseason Developments:
After helping put the Oklahoma program on the map, Alex Perry joins the Panther staff, helping out primarily on the defensive end. A lacrosse equipment salesman for Dick's Sporting Goods, Perry will also be tasked with revamping Pitt's fundraising, as well as building ties to the community. He replaces former Colorado State standout Ryan Trude. Former Denison All-American Sean O'Brien returns to guide the Panther attack.

Big Question:
Can the Panthers go the distance? Because of the peculiarities in the Pitt academic schedule, there is a nine-day gap between the last exam in the spring and the start of the CCLA conference tournament. Finding the will to stay the course, even when the dorms are closed and the weather's nice, will be the key for the Panthers. "It's easy to lose, but it's difficult to prepare and win," said Buzzard. "What is your dedication level? When summer's calling, do you have the dedication to do what it takes for the program? That's ultimately going to define the program."

Fall Schedule:
The Panthers kick things off with Ohio University, a new addition to the CCLA, on Oct. 9 and follow that up on Oct. 23 by renewing their rivalry with the Penn State club squad, which is a member of the NCLL. That is followed on Oct. 30 by another 'Nickel' team, Slippery Rock. Buzzard said he is still trying to hammer out a date with Grove City before the end of the autumn.

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