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
It's Personal: Sullivan Resurrecting UNH
|Senior Daniel Milano, who led UNH in assists with 30 as
a midfielder last year, will be counted on to continue the
Wildcats' improvement and help coach Jake Sullivan achieve his
quest to put New Hampshire back on the map.
© UNH Lacrosse
There are a lot of different reasons that men decide to become
head coaches in the MCLA – a job that provides little money,
publicity or security.
Jake Sullivan, the head coach at the University of New Hampshire, took the job in order to rebuild a brand.
Sullivan was a player for the Wildcats before graduating in 1996, a year before the university dropped the program from its varsity roll. While it is unlikely that the Wildcats will resume their former status anytime soon, that doesn't mean Sullivan is willing to lower his expectations for the program.
"When I was in high school, these guys were Top 20 in the country [in NCAA Division I]," he said. "They had guys like John Fay, an All-World team member. Those guys had powerhouse lacrosse teams back in the day and that is the standard I always wanted to see."
When he signed on five years ago with his alma mater, even being competitive in the lightly-regarded Pioneer Collegiate Lacrosse League - a subset within the MCLA - was a challenge. Even in 2009, the Wildcats stumbled to a 6-7 record and suffered lopsided losses to the two ranked teams – Florida and Boston College – they faced, seemingly reinforcing the notion that UNH would never be a player.
But then 2010 happened.
It started with a surprising win over Colorado, an eventual MCLA quarterfinalist, in the opening game of the season and continued to the very end, when UNH came up just short in overtime against Boston College in the PCLL finals with a bid to the tournament on the line. In one of the peculiarities of the ranking system, Colorado punched their ticket to Denver with an upset win over defending champion Michigan, but the Wildcats win over the Buffs barely resonated in the polls.
Having a huge accomplishment overlooked didn't sit well with the UNH players, but it's an easy motivating tool for Sullivan.
"We can always play the disrespect card to make the players go a little harder," said Sullivan, who admitted that Colorado's inability to scout the Wildcats was likely a huge factor in the upset.
With the numerous losses to graduation, UNH will have to go quite a bit harder this fall if they want to stay on the MCLA radar. Most of the heavy lifting will have to happen on the defensive end, where the 'Cats felt their largest attritition rate.
But Sullivan isn't in this for the one year of notoriety. He has blood in this program, and that's why he has worked hard to reconnect with a lot of the varsity alums who have previously been hesitant to associate with the MCLA version of the Wildcats.
While building an alumni base obviously helps with donations,
that's not Sullivan's motivation in accessing the program's roots.
He wants his current players to get a glimpse of the talent that
the UNH program has produced in the past, while reinforcing the
point that there are still high expectations.
In short, Sullivan sees an increased number among the alumni contingent as a way to reduce a different number - the digits to the left of UNH in the national poll.
"My goal was to build this program back up and crack the Top 20 list last year," said Sullivan. "That felt good for me. Now we want to crack the Top 15."
FALL BALL BLITZ
Team: New Hampshire
2010 Record: 11-3 (4-1 PCLL)
2010 In Review: The expectations for the season were set in the opener when the Wildcats stunned Colorado, an eventual quarterfinalist, 9-8 in Boulder. Ranked for much of the year, UNH could not solve Boston College for the PCLL auto qualifier, losing in overtime, 10-9.
Goodbye... Mike Maloney. He might not have been the most impressive physical specimen – "You could have pulled anyone out of the stands and they would have beat him in a 40-yard dash," said Sullivan – but he had the kind of leadership and confidence that was infectious. In one overtime game last year, he put that on display.
"We called in the huddle and he said, 'I'm sick of this, get me the [gosh darn] ball, I'm going to score, and we're going home,'" recounted Sullivan. "Eleven seconds later, he's walking off the field with his finger in the air."
Hello... Kyle Kenney. A talented midfielder out of the Holderness (N.H.) School, Kenney is projected to be on one of the top two middie lines in his rookie season. "He has speed, quickness and vision," said Sullivan. Aaron Goodwin, a face-off man out of St. Thomas Aquinas (N.H.) School, is also expected to see quality time.
Offseason Developments: There's nothing monumental for the Wildcats. Tim Wyeth, one of the UNH goalies, rolled an ankle just prior to the team's trip out to Colorado and battled the malady all season. Wyeth worked hard in the offseason and is expected to strengthen an already deep goalie crew for the 'Cats.
Big Question: With the graduation of pure leaders like Maloney and others, leadership is the question. "We had some pretty powerful four-year seniors this year and if we can find a leader who will give this team an identity, I think it can take us pretty far," said Sullivan. In 2010, the team had an easy-going mentality, but Sullivan isn't sure if that will hold up for a second season.
"Last year we had the 'chill' identity, where everyone was just pretty relaxed – be there and do that and things will take care of themselves. I'm not sure if this bunch of kids can get by on the same type of mentality. Establishing themselves with their own identity is a big question in my mind about whether we can compete on the national level."
Fall Schedule: The Wildcats have already been a busy group this. They played in a jamboree at Southern New Hampshire (NCAA D-II) with St. Anselm and Franklin Pierce on Sept. 25, and the team was severely tested. A memorial game for Mike Bowen, a UNH player who passed away last year, against PCLL rival Boston University occurred on Oct. 2 and this past weekend (Oct. 9), the Wildcats had their alumni game. New Hampshire will wrap up the fall slate on Friday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. when they entertain Bridgton (Maine) Academy, a post-grad factory for D-I NCAA hopefuls.
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