Morning Jac: Saints Ready for New Challenges
Over the past decade and half, Limestone has established itself as a power in Division II with two national championships, five other title game appearances and 14 consecutive bids to the NCAA tournament. The Saints are just two years removed from their last visit to Memorial Day weekend.
Is all that about to change? While the tournament has expanded, giving the South four bids, there are new teams coming onto the grid every season.
"The South is better than it has ever been, and not just because you add Lake Erie, Seton Hill and Colorado Mesa," conceded Limestone head coach J.B. Clarke. "Schools like Tampa, St. Leo and all the Florida teams are improving. Every time I turn around I read about another team getting seven guys in and another coach going full time. The growth of the game is down here, and I think that means it's going to be tougher to get one of the four bids."
Compound the improved competition with a massive attrition rate over the past two seasons, and one can't help but wonder if the Saints' tourney streak might be in jeopardy. Clarke understands why that might be the perception, but he's bullish on the talent he has returning.
"We're a program that tends to have some redshirts every year, so the outside world says, 'Limestone lost all those guys. Who are they going to replace them with?' Well, we've been watching the replacements practice for a year, so it's less concerning for us on the inside as it for those on the outside," Clarke said. "We're excited about some of the new guys that have been around. We look different personnel-wise, but not different in how we'll play."
The door would appear to be open for a pair of British Columbia sophomore midfielders to take their place among the long line of exemplary Limestone offensive players. Vinny Ricci and Reid Reinholdt combined for 32 goals and 28 assists as rookies playing in the shadow of such departed stars as Riley Loewen, Corey Rich, Zach Cummings and Tor Reinholdt.
Clarke feels that neither Ricci nor Reinholdt will get stage fright when the spotlight is focused on them.
"We're a program that empowers our players to take chances and play like big boys even when they are freshman," he said. "Those two guys in particular, they play so much box lacrosse up north that they are already the big guys. They are kind of accustomed to [seniors] moving on because they moved on from their box team."
Not to say that Clarke won't have some areas to resolve. He needs to find two new attackman, a new goalie and slightly retool the defense. And he'll also need to find a faceoff man. It's the competition to fill that last position that illustrates what the Saints must address when it competes in its first preseason scrimmage of the year tonight against Division I start-up Furman.
"There are some guys who are stepping up that are new and we don't know a lot about," Clark said. "We had Jake Ternosky faceoff the past two years, and he was pretty good. Now we have a transfer and freshman, and we look great against each other. We can faceoff the heck out of each other, but faceoffs are funny. Jake had guys on lesser teams that he just couldn't beat. I just don't know if we're just good against each other, or if we'll be good against other teams."
The road will be a little different for Limestone this year without the host of proven commodities in the lineup, but with the Saint's track record over the past 15 years, it's tough envisioning a tournament that doesn't involve them.