Morning Jac: 4th Time the Charm for Ferrum?
The fourth year of Ferrum's existence was supposed to be its last one as an independent. With the SCAC supposedly adding five associate members, including the Panthers, 2015 was set to be the dawn of an automatic-qualifying world for Mark Frey's gang. With the SCAC agreement crumbling last year and the USA South seemingly stuck on five teams, it appears Ferrum will remain in Pool B for the foreseeable future.
But this fourth year does hold some significance.
"This is our first senior class and I couldn't be more excited," said Frey, who has been the head coach since the program's first varsity season in 2011. "This is the year we've been building for. We've had our butts handed to us every year by Washington & Lee and being able to play teams like that is preparing us for that awesome adventure this year."
The Panthers almost pushed up the timeline a season, coming thisclose to making the tourney last spring. It came down to the last contest of the season against Christopher Newport. The winner would get one of the five Pool B bids and the winner would be under .500, and thus ineligible for the postseason. Leading 5-3 with six minutes left to go in the game, Ferrum watched the Captains score two goals 40 seconds apart to send the game into overtime before CNU won it, 6-5.
Thus ended the season, but now the Panthers return almost entirely intact. They might not have a conference, but they finally have a senior class to lead it.
"This is what we've been building toward," Frey said. "We don't have a conference championship, we don't have player of the week, we don't have any personal accolades. The only thing we're striving for is the NCAA tournament. We have one goal and one goal only. It's the only thing we can go for."
Attackman Andrew Senft, pole Tyler Muckle and goalie Damian Pulos are seniors that Frey will lean on, but the two top offensive players are sophomores. Tyler Poage and Will Walter combined for 54 goals and 21 assists last spring.
While the bulk of Ferrum's roster comes from Virginia, 18 different states are represented on the roster. Located an hour south of Roanoke, the school wouldn't be described as an urban campus.
"We're Duck Dynasty meets lacrosse," Frey said, with a chuckle. "Half my kids are in camo. I have kids who can gut a deer in five seconds, but we're still trying to figure out a zone defense. It's a hidden gem down here and we make our own fun."
The fun would come if Ferrum can pay off the senior class with a trip to the NCAA tourney. The Panthers play another challenging schedule, featuring tourney qualifiers W&L (to open the season on Feb. 11), Centre and Christopher Newport. All of the games will be played on the road. An early March home game against Eastern will also be a key Pool B contest.
The most important goal is to finish with a .500 record or better to get eligible. If they can do that, the fourth year could be the charm for the Panthers.