March 16, 2010

Lafayette's Hot Start a Matter of Perspective

by Brian Delaney | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

A lacerated spleen ended Steve Sterling's 2009 season prematurely, but the junior midfielder has returned in strong fashion, with nine goals and nine assists so far for No. 11-ranked Lafayette.

© Lafayette Office of Communications

It was a seemingly innocuous hit at the time, on a play seen every day, every quarter, almost every possession. A midfielder, ball in his stick, trying to split a converging double team at midfield en route to a successful clear.

It was a February practice in 2009, and Lafayette junior Steve Serling absorbed the hit and went down. It felt, he recalled, like the wind had been knocked out of him.

“I kept playing, but a couple minutes it later, it felt more than that,” Serling said. “I went off to the sideline and then the training room. The signs showed more painful than a bruised rib. The training staff was worried and sent me (to the hospital).”

It was the smart move. Serling had suffered a lacerated spleen and was bleeding internally. After tests, he was sent to surgery. The procedure was successful, but Sterling’s season was over.

“Pretty serious,” he said. “I wasn’t sure of the injury, really didn’t know that much about that part of the body. It was a lot to take in when they told me internal bleeding. It took me by surprise. The whole thing was kind of a big experience.”

Fast forward to last Friday. On a windy evening in Easton, Pa., the Leopards dealt lacrosse power Navy a stinging 15-8 defeat to run their record to 5-0. It’s the best start in program history, and the seven-goal loss was Navy’s biggest in Patriot League play.

Serling enjoyed every minute, pitching in a goal and two assists while his younger brother, Colin, produced a five-point effort.

“I definitely enjoy every practice and game a lot more when you have to sit on the sidelines and watch games,” Steve Serling said. “It’s been a good experience for me; put lots of things in perspective.”

Which seems to be the true strength of the Leopards. Coach Terry Mangan has 12 seniors and 13 juniors who missed out on the Patriot League tournament a season ago and are determined to make amends.

“That’s really made all the difference for us,” Mangan said. “Not just, certainly come game day, you have the confidence to be successful if you play good lacrosse for 60 minutes, but also how you prepare, what you do in the offseason, all those things. As we all do, when you get older and more experienced, you know what’s important and what’s not, what works and what doesn’t.”

Lafayette moved up to a program-best No. 11 in the USILA coaches poll Monday. The only other Patriot team that’s ranked, No. 18 Bucknell, will welcome Lafayette to Lewisburg on Saturday.

“They have so many weapons, we have to do a good job defensively to match up the best we can and play great defense,” Mangan said. “We have to handle pressure on our offensive end and find the open man and take good shots to score and be able to clear the ball well. They do such a great job of riding.”

Defensively, senior goalie Vinny DePasquale has been excellent, with a .624 save percentage in five starts. He made 17 saves against Navy. Junior Spencer Philpot, a 6-foot-3 close defenseman, gives Mangan a shutoff option. Faceoff man Cesar Munoz has proved capable with a success percentage of .526.

But it’s Lafayette’s offensive punch that is turning heads. Junior attackman Tom Perini, who’s on the preseason Tewaaraton Award watch list, has 20 goals and 86 for his career. He’s one of six players with double-digit points. Stefan Bauer has six goals and 14 assists, and five players have seven goals or more.

Steve Serling has nine goals and nine assists.

“Steve is a heck of a lacrosse player, and I think what he gives us isn’t always something you’re going to see in a box score,” Mangan said. “He’s a great leader.”

Serling’s newly polished perspective is enhancing his enjoyment.

“There’s a lot of guys here who’ve been around, a lot of experience,” he said. “Hungry guys changing the tradition of this program.”
News & Notes

Bucknell’s two losses have come in overtime to Duke and Navy. The Bison topped Hobart on Saturday, 9-7… Army has now lost four straight games, three of which have come by a single goal, after Saturday’s 8-7 overtime decision at Air ForceHoly Cross topped Colgate for its first win in a Patriot League opener since 1991. The Crusaders’ wins over Dartmouth and Colgate were a first… In the Ivy League, Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni, after a 12-4 loss Saturday to No. 1 Virginia, promised a shake-up to his top midfield line for Saturday’s game with No. 17 Yale (4-0). “I think a lot will depend on how we compete in practice this week,” Tambroni said. “We just got to become more athletic. We have to find guys who may not know the offense as well, but who are more capable and more athletic. They’ve got to get on the field...” Former Duke player Reade Seligmann leads Brown in points with five goals and seven assists.

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