March 6, 2013

Bryant, at 0-4, Trying to Fix Shooting Woes

by Gary Lambrecht |

Bryant has one of the best faceoff specialists in the country in Kevin Massa (above), a talented long-stick midfielder in Mason Pole and a freshman goalie in Tom Carey who is playing beyond his years. But the Bulldogs' offense can't get it going and Bryant sits at 0-4.
© Bryant

When the Bryant University men's lacrosse team began its quest to build on last year's 14-4 record, topped off by a Northeast Conference title, the Bulldogs surely did not expect this.

Bryant has run smack into a 0-4 start that is testing their mettle in ways they could not have imagined.

The Bulldogs, under seventh-year coach Mike Pressler — he landed in Smithfield, Rhode Island after getting canned in the early wake of the notorious Duke scandal in the spring of 2006 — have cut a torturous path as they pass the quarter pole of a season with plenty yet to salvage.

Bryant has dropped four decisions by a combined total of six goals, including two in overtime. It has lost a close, high-scoring contest, a season-opening, 14-13 downer in overtime to Colgate. It has dropped two-goal decisions to Fairfield and Bucknell. Last Saturday, the Bulldogs took a five-hour bus ride to frosty, 0-3 Vermont and swallowed a 6-5 loss in OT, after blowing a 4-1 lead at halftime.

The theme has been pretty much the same. Bryant, an up-and-coming Division I story, is stuck in a spin cycle of costly turnovers and errant shooting. The Bulldogs are averaging 18 turnovers a game and making just 22.5 percent of their shots. That kind of offensive futility will get you beat often.

"We've got great kids who really care, and we face the issues here," Pressler said. "This is much more about us than [the opponents]. As shooters, we are all over the goal. We're missing the key shot or making the key mistake, and it's costing us. It's tough to get better when you don't win, but we have to get better. You want to go into conference play with a lot of confidence. So far, that hasn't been the case."

"The individual shooting [problems] and the errant passes, those are on us," added senior attackman Peter McMahon, a first-team, all-NEC player in 2012 who has two goals on 10 shots in 2013.

"Our coaches are doing a great job of scouting and preparing us, and we're motivated. We just can't find the net. We're [shooting] over it, wide left, wide right. Some of our lead guys on offense, especially me, have not stepped up."

The Bulldogs are so close and so far. They have a defense that has played well enough for Bryant to be 3-1. They have a freshman goalie in Tom Carey who is saving 57 percent of the shots he has seen and has held opponents to an average of 7.8 goals per game. They even have a long-stick midfielder in 6-foot-2 senior Mason Poli, who has scored five goals.

In addition, Bryant has a faceoff specialist in sophomore Kevin Massa who has been stellar. Massa's 70 percent success rate after taking 83 draws ranks second in Division I.

If only the offense would wake up and start ripping some net. Consider that McMahon and junior midfielders Alex Zomerfeld and Colin Dunster — who combined to score 78 goals in 2012 — have produced 10 goals so far in 2013.

Zomerfeld (sevens goals on 28 shots) has actually been on fire by Bryant's current standards. McMahon and Dunster, not so much. Dunster, a year removed from 36 goals, has scored one goal on 25 shots, with 11 turnovers. It's probably fair to say he is pressing right about now.

"When your top five offensive players shoot 0-for-19, you can see why we lost like that at Vermont," Pressler said. "Colin Dunster is one of the top five middies in the game, in my opinion. He's our best player, and he has one goal in four games. And I know how much he cares. He spent four hours shooting on his own on Sunday [the day after Vermont]."

It wasn't supposed to be this aggravating in 2013 at Bryant, the program Pressler has grown skillfully from its Division II roots. The Bulldogs returned most of the starters from a squad that won 13 of its last 15 games, finished in the top 10 in the nation in goals scored and allowed, and whipped Mount St. Mary's to win the NEC tournament.

Without enough strength-of-schedule juice to boost its Selection Sunday fortunes — and without an automatic qualifier to get into the NCAA tournament — the Bulldogs went into the offseason buoyed by the knowledge that the NEC has been granted a conference AQ in 2013.

Besides their own competitive determination, that AQ carrot is partly what is sustaining the Bulldogs. Over the next 17 days, they will prepare for the NEC schedule with games against Drexel, Albany, Harvard and Stony Brook. They fully intend to find their finishing touch on offense, and erase this mess.

"The fact is, we're not playing our best, but I'm not too worried about it. If we hit one or two shots here or there or make one or two more plays, we could be 4-0," Zomerfeld said. "We definitely didn't see this [0-4 start] coming. But it's crazy how good we are when we play together. We'll click. We'll be good."

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