Tennessee Wesleyan: Imminent Threat
|Ryan Horvath, a Wisconsin native, has given Tennessee
Wesleyan a crafty scorer in addition to the defensive strengths the
© TWC Sports Info
Kevin Parker rolled into to Athens, Tenn., home of Tennessee
Wesleyan, with the ambitious expectations of any newly hired coach.
He'd make a couple of changes, foster a new attitude with the
third-year program and they would be competitive right away.
You know, standard rookie coach fare.
But Parker also knew that if he didn't make an impact in his inaugural season, it wouldn't be too long before he did. That's because Tennessee Wesleyan is part of an emerging group of institutions that are on the cusp of blowing away the traditional MCLA Division II model through the amount of support they receive from their athletic department.
You've probably heard about MCLA teams paying dues, right? Not at TWC. The athletic department takes care of all program-related expenses. There's always that extra cash you have to raise if you go to nationals, right? Not at TWC. That's on the house, as well. And how do they treat their staff?
"In the lacrosse world these days any time you can find a full-time position, it's a good thing," said Parker, his team coming off a weekend sweep of former D-II Top 10 Emory and Division I hopeful Indiana.
"The support the program gets from the school is amazing," continued Parker, a Maryland native who married a Tennessee gal. "For a new program, you wouldn't expect the support I do get budget-wise as far as helping the kids out and keeping the kids in school."
What TWC has in institutional support is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the program is held to a higher eligibility standard than the baseline MCLA mandate. The students must conform to NAIA stipulations, which include grade point average and multiple semester components.
Parker is starting his tenure with the Bulldogs with a modest roster of 25 players, 17 of which have played in every game. There were six more, but they were weeded out during the new coach's fall ball regimen. Regardless, of the roster size, Parker can build on the game-changing talent at the goalie, LSM and face-off positions.
"Those are three positions I like to have," said Parker, who has seen his team rise to No. 8 in the country in the most recent poll. "If you get good guys at those positions, you're going to win some games."
Sophomore John Lemoine has excelled in between the pipes during the Bulldogs 5-0 start to the season. His finest game was his last one, when he made an astounding 30 saves to thwart Indiana and allow TWC to rally from a 5-1 second-half deficit for the 6-5 win.
Taking care of the face-off duties is junior Anthony Hunt. Parker estimates he is running at 78 percent winning clip right now, helping the Bulldogs control the pace of play against deeper teams.
"He doesn't get beat too much, and if he does, he doesn't get beat clean," said Parker.
At long-stick middie, it's junior Brandon Singleton, a groundball machine who has also given the opposition's top offensive middie fits.
Complementing the strength in the defensive half that this trio provides Parker is one of the cagiest attackman in Division II. Ranked first in goals per game (5.2) in the division and second in points per outing (6.2), junior Ryan Horvath always delivers for the Bulldogs. Against Indiana, Horvath, a Wisconsin native, scored five of the six TWC goals.
"He's one of those guys you look at he's not the fastest guy out there, he doesn't have the best stick, but he just goes out there and gets it done," said Parker of Horvath.
With those four as the core, Tennessee Wesleyan is quietly hoping to get a shot at nationals. The Bulldogs are in the driver's seat in their division of the SELC and should easily make the conference tournament, but there are no cupcakes the rest of the way. Because of his initial inexperience with the basics of scheduling within in the MCLA, Parker has three Division I opponents – Clemson, Vanderbilt and Tennessee – remaining as well as tester against SCAD on the road.
The program will be hamstrung by its lack of numbers, especially if it qualifies for the grueling national tournament in Denver that consists of four games in five days at altitude, so a championship run is likely out of the question.
But with the kind of support they're getting, the attractiveness of the school and the stability of the coaching staff, this just might be the last year TWC won't be expected to contend for the crown.