March 18, 2011

Hartford Gains Ground in America East, Respect Nationally

by Chris R. Vaccaro |

Hartford sophomore goalie Frank Piechota has played well in the absence of two-time all-conference goalie Scott Bement, who fractured his thumb in practice and has yet to play this season.

Lacrosse has become a game of parity at the Division I level, and adding a team like Hartford to the list of America East Conference contenders only makes sense.

Hawks coach Peter Lawrence took over a Hartford program six seasons ago that finished 0-14 in 2004 under Andy Towers, now the head coach at Dartmouth. It's taken until now for Lawrence's recruiting classes to mature, turning his young underclassmen talent into polished veteran leaders.

"We finally have the pieces," Lawrence said. "That's what we lacked in the past. We've needed leadership to go with the talent."

With back-to-back wins over Brown and Bellarmine -- followed by a narrow loss Wednesday to Bucknell in which it relinquished a fourth-quarter lead -- Hartford has shown signs of turning the corner. The Bellarmine win was symbolic, in a way, with Jack McGetrick dying of cancer last October. He spent 11 seasons at the helm of Hartford's program and was the head coach at Bellarmine from 2004 until the time of his death.

Although the Hawks (3-3) slipped slightly Wednesday, Lawrence said his team just "needs to tighten everything up."

"We don't have to change anything major," he said.

Brown coach Lars Tiffany and Stony Brook coach Rick Sowell both cited Hartford in preseason as a potentially troublesome opponent, understanding it might not be the usual easy go-around against the Hawks this season. Hartford has surpassed UMBC in the America East pecking order with victories over the Retrievers the last two years. The Hawks play Saturday at Quinnipiac.

"I'd rather not have a target on our backs," Lawrence said. "It's a positive in terms for us as a coaching staff that we're going in the right direction. It's been a lot of hard work to turn this around. Everybody has more experience. We've been so young.

"We try not to get ahead of ourselves and we're trying not to think about that. It's a whole new experience for the guys who have been in the program for four years."

One of the leaders Lawrence referred to was Tim Fallon, an All-American last season who has grown into one of the best faceoff men in the country, sporting a winning percentage of .625 this season so far.

Ryan Compitello leads the Hawks with 15 points (7g, 8a). Carter Bender, Aidan Genik, and Rory Nunamacher 11 points apiece. They're all juniors, minus Nunamacher, a sophomore.

"Some of our better offensive players really haven't found their groove yet," Lawrence said. "We're going in the right direction. The strength of us is we feel like we have a good number of weapons."

In the loss to Sienna, Lawrence said his team was shorthanded, playing without eight men on the roster for various injuries.

Two-time all-conference junior goalie Scott Bement hasn't suited up yet this season because of a fractured thumb suffered in practice. Junior midfielder Michael Cudmore, who was fifth on the team last season with 21 points, tore his ACL and is out for the year. He was slotted to be a first-line starter.

No one said it would be easy being a contender.

"As a coaching staff we really like our team," Lawrence said. "We have good chemistry, have talent and feel like the guys are working hard. We know what it takes to win a lacrosse game. We're finding ways to win."

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