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
Fewer Question Marks for Cardinals
The defense will be the least experienced of the Wesleyan units, but sophomore Mark Simmons (No. 11) should be a solid presence between the pipes.
© Tony Pratt
Playing in the NESCAC has its inherent advantages. There’s the ease of recruiting, the facilities and, most importantly, a program knows that if it finishes in one of the league’s top two spots, it’s nearly assured of an NCAA tournament berth.
But there are drawbacks.
While optimism was running high for the Cardinals heading into the 2010 season, mostly because of Wesleyan’s decade of success and the conference title in 2009, the rest of the NESCAC was ready to give John Raba’s youngsters an initiation.
“Last year was the biggest turnover we’ve ever faced,” said Raba, who enters his 15th season with the Cardinals. “We knew we were going to have some question marks, but we felt talent-wise we could compete with most teams. And we did. But we had some tough losses.”
Bowdoin started the woes, which was followed by a stunning non-conference loss to Montclair State. After a two-goal loss to Colby and a one-goal setback to Williams in mid-April, Wesleyan was 6-6 overall and 2-5 in the conference.
Starting with a convincing win over Amherst, the Cardinals came around near the end of the season. They lost a hard-fought battle with No. 10 Connecticut College in the regular season finale, but bounced back to shock the Camels in the first round of the NESCAC tournament.
In the semifinals, a clash with eventual national champion Tufts, Wesleyan led with two minutes to play and in possession of the ball. A couple of costly turnovers allowed the Jumbos to escape, but Raba believes the seed for success in 2011 was planted in the last four games.
“One thing we tried to impress on our guys was we weren’t that different from these teams,” said Raba. “Let’s just focus more on the preparation part. Let’s not worry about what everyone says. Just know that when it comes right down to it, we’re not that much different from Tufts. They made a couple of plays on us to win the game, but we were right there.”
In addition to the confidence gained at the end of last season, Wesleyan will now return eight starters and a talented incoming class recruited on the heels of the ’09 NESCAC championship. The top two midfield lines return, along with Spike Malangone and Teddy Citrin -- who returns after an injury-marred 2010 season -- on attack. The defense will be young, but competent in running the Cardinals' infamous zone.
So instead of entering the season with a lot unknowns, the Cardinals have the experience and talent to return to the top of the stacked NESCAC.
“We’re in a much more comfortable spot,” said Raba. “We know we have and what we can do. There are a lot fewer question marks.”
FALL BALL BLITZ
2010 Record: 8-8 (3-6 NESCAC)
2010 In Review: Questions about goaltending and injuries to key players forced the Cardinals to stumble out of the gate. They found their stride late, however, jolting Connecticut College in the NESCAC tourney and spooking Tufts prior to bowing out.
Goodbye… John Killeen. A starter from the day he stepped on campus and an important part of two NCAA tournament runs, Killeen was the Cardinals' top gun (25g) and primary playmaker (26a). “Johnny was just an excellent guy playing behind the cage,” said Raba. “He played a nice role for us.” Raba noted Killeen’s leadership will be missed, as well.
Hello… Casey Lasda. One of the top attackmen in the country coming out of Christian Brothers Academy (N.Y.), Lasda played in five games for UMBC last year before opting to test Division III. With most of his work coming from "X," he’ll make it a little easier to fill the void left by Killeen. “He’s a really athletic, tough kid,” said Raba.
Offseason Developments: The addition of Lasda is the only event of note, according to Raba. “Nothing major for us, luckily,” he said. “Coaching staff is intact and we’re healthy. Nothing dramatic over the summer -- no blown out ACLs playing lacrosse or anything like that. We just met with the team and they are just starting to get out and play now.”
Big Question: Who will be between the pipes? The Wesleyan zone is at its most potent when it has a confident goalie capable of shutting down the 12-yard shot. That was lacking during the early part of the 2010 season and it showed. Now both junior Grant Covington and sophomore Mark Simmons give the Cardinals experienced depth at the position. Simmons was the starter at the end of the season, but Covington is expected to push him during the preseason. “They are both athletic kids who can make some athletic saves,” said Raba. “We’re really excited about that competition.”
Fall Schedule: NESCAC teams do not have any sanctioned “non-traditional” seasons, so it’s just captain’s practices for the Cardinals during the fall.