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
Return of the ‘Mack: Warriors Are Here to Stay
|Sophomore middie Corey Lunney led Merrimack (46g, 12a)
in scoring in his rookie season and will be a big part of the
Warriors' drive to the NCAAs this spring.
© Merrimack Athletics
Mike Morgan's bus ride from Syracuse to North Andover last May was bittersweet.
He was heartened by the Northeast-10 championship trophy riding shotgun with him, the product of Merrimack's overtime victory against eventual national finalist Le Moyne, but he was somewhat saddened by the finality of it all.
In the world of NCAA Division II, there are no automatic
qualifiers, so Morgan knew the Warriors would not be among the four
teams selected for the national tournament even with their
The die was cast on Merrimack's spring trip when the Warriors finished up with a 12-11 loss to St. Leo's that immediately put them on the edge. A home loss to NYIT in late April – just the second home loss in three years – pretty much ended any NCAA aspirations.
It would have been natural for the Merrimack players to grouse
about the opportunities missed on the ride home from Le Moyne.
Morgan was pleasantly surprised to hear a different tone.
"Guys were already talking about summer ball," he said. "Even as a coach, you need a little bit of a mental break after the end of the season, but between me and the guys, we were ready to play the next day. That's rare. You could see the motivation on the bus ride home. Expectations are going to be high next year, especially with what we have coming back."
As with most coaches, Morgan fights the temptation to make excuses for the hiccups Merrimack had last season. Yes, they were starting five freshmen against St. Leo and the attack fell asleep against NYIT, but the coach is all too familiar with the razor's edge that is the Division II tournament chase.
That's why he's more than willing to use last season as an impetus for 2011.
"We can use this moving forward," said Morgan of the last spring. "The group understands what we did wrong and we have a couple of lessons learned."
The Warriors win in the conference tournament only solidifies the fact that last year was an opportunity missed.
"We want to be considered in the same conversation as Le Moyne and C.W. Post, and I think that NE-10 win last year is something that will be kind of springboard," said Morgan. "We have to consistently do it now to be put in that same breath with those guys, but I think we've taken the steps we've needed. They know we are going to play our best ball because we've proven that."
With a trip to the NCAA tournament in 2009, Merrimack is emerging as a consistent national power. Morgan is hoping the proof of that will occur when he has a different trophy next to him on the trip back from Baltimore this spring.
FALL BALL BLITZ
2010 Record: 13-3 (9-1 Northeast-10)
2010 In Review: The Warriors stunned Le Moyne in overtime of the Northeast-10 championship game, but an early season loss to St. Leo's and a non-conference setback to NYIT late in the season sunk any NCAA hopes for Merrimack.
Goodbye... Cory Spinale. The First Team All-American goalie last spring, Spinale leaves a cavernous hole for the Warriors. With a 6.44 goals against average and a 64.2 save percentage, Spinale was a game-changer for Merrimack. There are two freshmen and a sophomore hoping to fill Spinale's shoes, but they'll be challenged to be as clutch. "He's the guy who played well in big games," said Morgan.
Hello... Paul Jones. An attackman out of Guilderland (N.Y.) High School, Jones is expected to fight for a starting position from the start. Goalie Austin Waiter from Staples (Conn.) High School will be in the hunt for the starting position vacated by Spinale. Some other new names to keep an eye on include attackman Brett Axelson out of Cazenovia (N.Y.) High School, defender Connor Whittemore from Walpole (Mass.) High School and middie Mike Perdie from Shoreham-Wading River (N.Y.) High School.
Offseason Developments: Morgan is excited about the addition of sophomore LSM Brad Duhaime, who transferred in from Division III Lasell (Mass.) College, but the addition of Andrew Vigne will be more important. Vigne, a former goalie for Guilford College and an assistant at the Middlesex (Mass.) School, is a welcome addition to the coaching staff. "You can never find a goalie coach, so that is amazing," said Morgan. "He knows his stuff. With three young goalies, he's going to be valuable working on a day-to-day basis with those guys."
Big Question: Do the Merrimack players have the desire to put in the time? The Warriors have built a brand as one of the top teams in the country, but if they start to rest on past accomplishments the 2011 could be a rude awakening. "That comes with leadership and out-working every other team from now until the end of May," said Morgan. "We need to keep doing what we've done in the past and continue to know that stakes only get higher. There's going to be a bulls-eye on our back all year and that's the way we want it."
Fall Schedule: The Warriors usually head over to Beverly, Mass., to face Endicott, but the Gulls opted for the Catamount Classic this year, so Merrimack held an impromptu play day on Oct. 9 with Eastern Connecticut, Bishops (Quebec) University and Northeast-10 rival Southern New Hampshire. It was Warrior-on-Warrior (EConn) action to start, and Morgan liked what he saw. Merrimack will finish off the fall season with a Halloween alumni game.