Blogs and Commentary

posted 01.23.2013 at 2.36 p.m. by Jac Coyne

Mike Murphy Making the Best of Weird Situation at Mount Olive

When Mike Murphy took the Mount Olive job last September, he was stepping into a pretty weird situation.

Part of it was taking over in September; an awkward time on the lacrosse calendar. There was also the fact that Murphy was basically finishing the job started by Mike Lawson, who was initially hired as the Trojans head coach, but left abruptly last August citing family circumstances. But mostly it was just the make-up of the team.

By first-year program standards, the roster is stacked. With just about as many college-tested juniors on the roster as freshmen, Mount Olive has the potential to set the bar as far as success by a new team. As Murphy looked at what he inherited, he also saw the possibility of schisms developing within his squad.

Lawson, who was the head coach at St. Andrews until that institution moved to the NAIA last year, constructed much of the roster. Not surprisingly, he drew several of the players from his old program. All told, there are 15 former St. Andrews players, with the other two-thirds of the roll consisting roughly of freshmen and junior college transfers.

Would they be able to coexist and form a cohesive squad?

"I was worried about having three cliques on the team," admitted Murphy. "I really haven't had any problems with that at all. They are all commingling. We've got St. Andrews guys hanging out with freshmen and junior college guys hanging out with St. Andrews guys. It's been an extremely smooth transition, and that's a credit to the guys on the team that they are working toward a common goal."

The attack will be led by the brother combo of Dan and Matt Shields, who come to the Trojans via St. Andrews and Australia. Junior middie Jake Duarte was an All-American at Harford Community College and he'll be joined by and Alex Tindall, who scored 20 goals in his rookie season with St. Andrews. Tindall's former teammates Sean Shewey and Curtis McMullen anchor the defense. The only rookie question mark is Ross Bowman, who appears to be the favorite to start in goal.

Despite the experienced players, Murphy is still trying to get a feel for his team and still figuring out what tactics optimize his team's talent.

"We wanted to start fresh," Murphy said. "They actually hadn't started practice out on the field, so I was lucky in that respect. But I wanted to bring in some things that I learned at Catawba that I brought with me. During the first couple of weeks of fall ball just sit back and watch the guys play and figure out what we have here, what we have to work with and how to best maximize what we have. I sat down with my assistant and figured out what would work the best and be the best strategy."

The challenge for Murphy and Mount Olive — as it is for every team in Conference Carolinas — is finding an antidote for Limestone, the South region's tough guy. It will be a tall task, but the Trojans aren't shying away.

"We're all in this to win, so there's no reason not to set our goals as high as possible," Murphy said. "We'll make the goals to try to get into the conference tournament, and the top four make it, and then do what we can to get ranked in the top 10. The national championship game? Maybe not, but there's no reason we shouldn't try our hardest to get there."

We'll find out what Mount Olive is made of in the middle of February when they play back-to-back games that will come with some baggage. On Feb. 20, the Trojans will travel to Catawba, of which Murphy is an alum and former assistant coach, and where his good friend and mentor, Peter Bourque, is still the coach. Three days later, MOC and its St. Andrews contingent will entertain Wingate, where Lawson was recently named head coach.

"Catawba is step one for me," said Murphy. "I'm sure the guys are looking at Wingate a little more. Most of the guys understand why Coach Lawson had to leave, and it was just turn of fate that the spot opened up down the road. I'm happy that Mike is back in coaching."

Happy, but still looking for the win. There might be more victories on the schedule this year than most people expect out of this start-up program.