2016 Men's Lacrosse Season Preview
EASTON, Pa. – After closing out the 2015 regular season with a pair of one-goal losses to Lehigh and Colgate, the Lafayette men’s lacrosse team feels it’s ready to compete for its first berth in the Patriot League Tournament since 2010 this spring.
“We had some success towards the end of the season and our guys are primed and ready to pick up where we left off,” head coach Jim Rogalski said, entering his fourth season on College Hill. “We have leaders this year that have the ability to control the team and take some things out of my hands, which has been great to see and exciting from my perspective.”
Senior midfielders Brendan Dunlap, Mac Gallagher and Morgan Westby were selected as the team’s captains back at the end of September and have led the Leopards through an offseason with a successful mindset.
“Our offensive and defensive units are each going to be young, so having Westby at the midfield, and Dunlap and Gallagher as short-stick defensive midfielders, gives us that veteran leadership on both sides of the ball,” Rogalski said. “Those three each had really good fall seasons and I’m excited to see where they lead us.”
The two most productive players from a points standpoint return for Lafayette on attack in 2016 as juniors Eric Joseph and Jason Sands will look to ramp up an offense that found the net just over nine times per game a year ago.
Sands was second in the conference and 13th in the country in assists in 2015, recording 32 helpers and 13 goals for 45 points to lead the Maroon and White. Joseph posted a team-leading 26 goals and eight assists for 34 points, while junior Kevin Lewis (16 goals, seven assists) also returns on attack, a speedy dodger that solidifies this unit.
“We’re looking for the attack unit to pick up where they left off,” Rogalski said. “They played well over the fall and we’re excited for them to grow and continue their development this year.”
That development begins with the growth of sophomores Alex Mezey and Luke Smith, who appeared in seven and four games, respectively, in 2015, but will be looked to increase their production in their second seasons.
“We’ve been very happy with Mezey and we’re excited about Luke’s prospects,” Rogalski added. “Alex has a done a good job running the offense and is a guy we can count on to take care of possession. Luke is righty shooter who can get his hands free from anywhere. I’m glad to say we finally have some depth with a group where we haven’t had much the last couple of years.”
Freshmen Conor Walters and Trip Wray will also contribute to the variety of options offensively as each have impressed the coaching staff since stepping on campus in August. Walters offers a different dynamic to the offense as a smaller lefty shot, so he could see time as he continues to learn the system.
Lafayette’s three captains reside in the midfield group, making this one of the strengths of the Maroon and White entering the 2016 campaign. Westby will lead the offense at the midfield, scoring 14 goals and adding three assists for 17 points last season, while Dunlap and Gallagher will support a young defensive group at the back end.
“Brendan’s our swiss army knife. He can do a lot of things and help us in certain situations, like as a long-stick defensive midfielder in man-down situations,” Rogalski said. “I’m pleased with the leadership we’ve seen from these three guys and with the production they’ve shown on the field.”
Behind those three is a long list of players who have the potential to see action this season. In their final seasons on College Hill, Giovanni Girardi, Michael Marchetta, Brody Smith and Adam Broeckaert have worked hard this offseason to make their final year memorable. Girardi and Broeckaert have been mainly face-off guys in the past, while Marchetta and Smith are battling to get healthy and contribute on the defensive side.
The juniors are headlined by Keegan Hickey and Dillon Confalone on each side of the field. Hickey switched from offensive to defensive mid for this season, while Confalone is being looked at to take a leadership role alongside Westby with the offense.
“Keegan’s done an unbelievable job with his position change,” Rogalski added. “He’s going to end up being someone that plays a lot on the defensive end and will add some consistency to the defensive mid position, but can also start our transition game, adding a different dynamic to the back end.”
Classmates Gerard Mahoney, Billy Maltz and Jack McMahon will also compete for time in the midfield. Maltz will be looked at on the defensive end, while Rogalski added that Mahoney had an unbelievable fall, but is working back from an injury in preseason. His speed and explosiveness give him the ability to break a defense down and step into the offense when necessary.
The sophomore midfielders have been impressive in their development, headlined by Matt Close, James Roberts, Scott McAvoy and Julian Lorenzen. Close, Roberts and McAvoy found the back of the net at least once last season, with McAvoy scoring seven times and helping out with an assist for eight points in his freshman campaign.
Will McCarthy is also an interesting prospect as a 6-3 midfielder that showed some offensive potential last season despite playing more defensively, tallying two goals and two assists. He will be moved into a more offensive role and the coaching staff is expecting great things from him.
Owen Green wraps up the sophomores in the midfield, as he’ll also compete for time. Green is athletic and a hard worker that Rogalski is looking for to take the next step.
Finally, the freshmen midfielders include Connar Denhart, Sam Friedman, Jake Korus, Luke Cummings, Michael Sullivan and Chris Brady. Cummings, Denhart, Korus and Friedman were impressive in the fall and Rogalski likes their development to this point. Sullivan will be relied on mainly in the face-off X.
Junior Charles McCooe and sophomore George Cloud will join seniors Brody Smith and Michael Marchetta as long-stick midfielders for the 2016 campaign. McCooe and Cloud each played in all 14 games a year ago, while Smith saw action in nine games for the Maroon and White.
“McCooe and Cloud have really developed a great chemistry since McCooe’s switch to LSM,” Rogalski said. “They’ve gelled and performed well both in the fall and during preseason.”
Junior Erik Cannon, a Second Team All-Patriot League Team selection a year ago, leads a young, but talented defensive unit in 2016. Cannon was second in the nation in caused turnovers last spring, forcing 2.21 giveaways per contest.
“Our defensive guys are big, athletic kids with high IQ’s,” Rogalski said. “They all can get the ball up and out, which is important because we want to try to push in transition as much as possible.”
Joining Cannon is classmate Declan Maguire, along with five freshmen in Josh Hubbard, Jack Lydon, Jeff Sikorsky, Zack Merle and Sean Andrews. Although battling an injury at the moment, Maguire will be looked at to work alongside Cannon as the leaders of this end of the field.
All five rookies made the coaching staff take notice during the fall season, with Andrews and Merle showing the most promise to see significant playing time.
“We’re very happy with the freshmen this season, Rogalski added. “This is the best defensive recruiting class we’ve had from top to bottom in my time at Lafayette.”
After splitting time during the 2015 season, the competition for starting goalie remains a two-man race between senior Ben Falcone and junior Matt Cortese. Cortese saw the most action last season, posting a 13.67 goals-against average in more than 517 minutes, making 102 saves. Falcone manned the cage for over 311 minutes, recording a 3-2 mark with a 9.83 goals-against average and 52 saves.
“Falcone finished the fall very strong,” Rogalski said. “But, honestly, all four guys have gotten better since last season. We’ve been happy with [Jonathan] Anastos and [Henry] Vido’s done a good job getting better. We asked Vido to make some changes to his game and he’s done just that, so I feel like these guys are all pushing each other. We’ll obviously make a decision before Saturday, but I feel comfortable with all four of them in net.”
Vido saw nearly 11 minutes in two games as a freshman, making one save and allowing two goals.
At The X
McMahon and Broeckaert return to the faceoff X for the Maroon and White, while highly-touted freshman Michael Sullivan will likely get his chance right away to be a significant contributor. McMahon was 70-for-155 last season (45.2%) in the X, while Broeckaert converted on 21 of his 63 opportunities (33.3%).
“We have high expectations for Sullivan, but he hasn’t had experience at the collegiate level, so there may be an adjustment period there,” Rogalski stated. “McMahon was strong at the end of last season and had a good fall, so we’ve been excelling in places we haven’t been able to find success in the past, and the faceoff X is one of those spots.”
Sullivan certainly comes to College Hill with his share of accolades. The rookie was number seven on the top incoming freshmen faceoff men and number 83 in all positions by Recruiting Rundown, and he also picked up a top-10 ranking on Inside Lacrosse’s Top FOGO’s list.
Eleven of the 14 teams on this year’s spring slate, including all eight league opponents, finished last season in the top-50 in RPI, with two in the top-20 (Colgate 13, Navy 19).
The Leopards open the season with back-to-back home games on Feb. 12 and Feb. 19, hosting Sacred Heart and Wagner, respectively. Lafayette came out on top in last season’s meeting with Wagner by a 10-5 margin, one of four wins during the 2015 campaign.
Those two contests will prove to be tune-ups when the always-daunting Patriot League slate opens on Feb. 27 at Loyola.
“Our league is always tough. Every game has its own life and its own challenges, so you have to be ready to play week-to-week and change your game plan on the fly. You have to be able to make adjustments,” Rogalski said. “Everybody plays a different style of offense. The teams we play are big, athletic and physical, so you have to be physically ready on a weekly basis. There are no easy games in the Patriot League.”
March opens with a return home for Army West Point on March 5. Army knocked off top-seeded Navy in the Patriot League semifinals a year ago to advance to the championship game, eventually falling to Colgate by an 11-8 final.
Lafayette then hits the road for a pair, traveling to Philadelphia for a non-league matchup with Penn on March 8 and to Annapolis, Md. on March 12, looking to avenge an 18-4 loss to the Mids last season at home.
A pair of home contests in league play wraps up March as the 87th installment of The Rivalry takes place on College Hill this season when Lehigh makes the trip across town on March 19. Boston U. heads to Easton on March 26 and a non-conference matchup with UMBC is the finale of a three-game homestand for the Leopards, their longest of the year.
Lafayette hits the road for the home stretch of the 2016 schedule, with four straight away contests through the middle of April. Non-league trips to Monmouth on April 5 and NJIT on April 12 are worked in between important league contests with Holy Cross on April 9 and Bucknell on April 15.
The Maroon and White close the season with arguably their toughest test as the defending league champions come to Easton on April 22. Colgate went 10-6 a year ago and 6-2 in league play on its way to the Patriot League title.
The Patriot League Tournament is slated to begin on April 26 with the quarterfinals at the site of the higher seeds. The semifinals are scheduled for April 29 with the championship game set for May 1.