October 1, 2012

30 in 30: What Will Colgate Do for an Encore?

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Second-year Colgate coach Mike Murphy is preparing the Raiders to improve upon their NCAA quarterfinals appearance last spring.
© Greg Wall

If Colgate had the nation's second-ranked scoring offense last season, can you imagine what the Raiders will look like in 2013?

With no horns, an expanded substitution box and quick restarts, the new NCAA rules changes should only serve to increase the pace of play. And, oh by the way, Colgate coach Mike Murphy said senior goalie Jared Madison played all of last year with a broken back — impressive work keeping it a secret for four months — yet even that barely stopped the Raiders from running roughshod.

"You'd think I would have been a guy to get called for stall warning after stall warning, just because I was trying to protect [Madison], instead of saying, 'If we're going to win, we'll win 16-14,'" Murphy joked.

Colgate, whose up-and-down style made them one of the country's most exciting teams to watch, might have surprised some in 2012. Next spring, they won't catch anybody off guard.

"The phrase we've used a lot this fall is this: We spent the summer getting patted on the back. Now we have to be prepared to be punched in the face," Murphy said.

So what's the next step for Colgate? And how about for reigning Tewaaraton Award winner Peter Baum?

To answer those questions, Lacrosse Magazine caught up with a fired-up Murphy, not long after he had hosted a 6-8 a.m. Colgate fall ball practice.

Murphy's message: The Raiders remain hungry. Their goal: Get to Championship Weekend.

"Everybody has got their own little thing that's the carrot in front of their face personally, but the carrot of having a better year is in front of our guys' faces as well," he said. "That's keeping us very, very motivated."

And while everyone will focus this fall on Colgate's prolific offense that returns six of its seven double-digit scorers, Murphy has an eye toward the other end. In order to improve upon a 14-4 season — the best in school history which had a bitter end against Duke in the NCAA quarterfinals — the Raiders need to improve in two areas: goalie play and defense.

"The best way to equate it is this: We've got to play better complimentary lacrosse — not just our offense supporting our defense, but our defense supporting our offense," Murphy said. "We've got to be able to come up with a stop. We showed that we've got the ability to score on some of the best defenses in the country. But we've got to be able to stop some of the best offenses in the country. There were times late in games when we were a little nervous, when the ball was down on our end. We've got to be better defensively."

All three starters at close defense return, including junior Bobby Lawrence, whom Murphy described as "An All-American type player." Kevin Boyle and Jimmy Queeney are the other returnees.

But who starts between the pipes will be a story to follow as the fall progresses. Murphy called the position "probably the most competitive we've got going on in practice right now." Sophomore Conor Murphy (no relation to Mike), who started in goal in place of Madison in the NCAA tournament, would be the easy pick. Though Mike Murphy said freshman Jake Danehy "may be the leader in the clubhouse right now, but that was a couple days ago."

"I met with Conor and I said, 'Conor, you're the heir apparent. But there's a lot of pressure on you, because I got three young puppies in here that are looking for it,'" Mike Murphy said, referring to the three freshman goalie recruits he brought in this year, after starting last season with only two goalies on the roster.

Which brings us back to Madison's injury. How in the world did Colgate ever hide his broken back?

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"We're not like the NFL where we have to give an injury report of what guys are doing every day in practice," Murphy joked. "The whole world would have 10-man rode us and made Jared carry the ball. We wanted to make sure that we didn't do that. It would've been an even tougher position."

At the time, Murphy told Lacrosse Magazine he had "a lot of sleepless nights" before making the decision to go with the freshman. Turns out, it was Madison who had the sleepless nights.

"Everybody wants to say Jared had a not-so-great senior year, he wasn't the same player he was in his junior year, and blah blah blah. But he played the whole year with a broken back. If he could have stayed healthy, Jared would have been one of these guys who was looked at for some postseason honors. Jared, in a selfless way, came out in the fourth quarter of the Maryland game and said, 'Coach, I can't stay in my stance.' We sent Conor in, and everybody knows the rest.

"I don't know if you can equate my love for Jared Madison in words," Murphy said. "What he did for this program, he was an absolute warrior for us. What a gutty performance to lead your team, day-in and day-out with that sort of severe injury. He would gut it out on Saturday afternoon for a game, and we wouldn't see Jared again until Thursday. He was in getting treatment, getting an ice bath, doing his rehab and therapy. Jared was never really able to get into a rhythm. If he had a good game, he would have to sit for three days because his back was so sore. Jared's ultimate sacrifice and leadership will always be a fond memory of mine, and will continue to be a staple of what we talk about with our young goalies."

Colgate's development on defense will be a point of pride for Murphy, a long-time defensive coordinator at Army and Denison before being named the headman in Hamilton.

Yet, everyone else likely will have their eyes on Baum, who has a chance to become the first back-to-back men's Tewaaraton Award winner. (Red Mamba Rob Pannell will have something to say about that. Either way, Tewaaraton talk will be buzzing in Central New York next year.)

Is there a way for the Portland Trailblazer to improve on a 97-point season? "Absolutely," Murphy said. "Pete is always getting better."

"Pete's going to reinvent himself a little bit, because he knows different teams are going to try to do different things. He's going continue to elevate his game," Murphy said. "He's very much got Michael Jordan in him. He can score as many points as we need him to. But we need him to be in a Magic Johnson-kind of role, making the guys around him better. If he's going to draw a slide or a double-team, or teams are going to shut him off, he's got to be able to be part of the solution. Maybe that's not with the ball in his stick, and it's off-ball. There were some situations, even in the fall, where he has been the inside guy on the crease, in a simple rotation of our attack."

Murphy said Baum could improve on his .394 shooting percentage, and even though Baum handed out 30 helpers, "there were still some more assists out there he could have had."

Murphy said he has been more impressed with Baum's off-field development. Baum was unanimously voted a captain by his teammates, and he's working on leading both vocally and by example.

"Pete is arguably our hardest worker on the team. He's a first-in, last-out guy," Murphy said. "But he's trying to bring the other guys along too."

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That'll be important when opposing defenses go out of their way to slow Baum. But they'll have to worry about an armada of options, starting with The Wantagh Bulldozer, Ryan Walsh, who won Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors after a 60-point season.

"Here's a guy who burst on the scene," Murphy said. "Well, big boy, you've got to develop your game. You've got to be aware of the sophomore slump."

That isn't meant to question Walsh. It's meant to inspire.

Junior attackman Brendon McCann posted 34 points (23 goals, 11 assists), all of which were recorded after the third game of the season when Colgate shuffled the deck and moved Baum down from the midfield. Canadian Michael Thomas missed all but one game with a leg injury in 2012, and gives the Raiders a fourth option.

So you know the attack will be — ahem — solid. That adds another focal point this fall: "Find that dynamic dodger at the midfield," Murphy said, to replace Jeff Ledwick's 47 points. Ledwick was "kind of like a bull in a china shop, and a phenomenal, strong guy, a good shooter with his hands free who used his size and strength to his advantage."

Keep an eye on sophomore Conor Braddish (4 goals, 1 assist), a former well-regarded recruit from West Islip (N.Y.) High. "For Conor," Murphy said, "it's time to shine. He should be a 20-point guy for us. He's got those capabilities."

Meanwhile, Murphy said he hopes Matt Baker "is able to come out of his shell as a senior." Baker totaled 26 points (16 goals, 10 assists) last year, and "sees the field and understands lacrosse in a little bit more of a cerebral approach," according to Murphy.

Returning starter Matt Clarkson (5 goals, 9 assists) also will be asked to carry more of the load. "Maybe the best thing that could have happened to him was his struggles in the NCAA tournament," Murphy said, referring to Clarkson's one-point postseason. "I remember, just like it was yesterday, as we were getting ready to leave the locker room for the last time that Monday after Duke handed it to us pretty good, Matt was very frustrated with his play. He was not very good. He went off home, and he got stronger. He invested some time in the weight room. He invested some time with a bucket of balls, doing his shooting."

The Raiders likely will run two or three midfield lines, though, especially considering the pace they'll play. Justin Kirchner suffered a broken leg against Army last year but should contribute. Former Colgate coach Jim Nagle and the previous staff was "very, very high" on Parker Weinstock's potential, Murphy said. He also said freshmen Cam Williams — who wears No. 1, because he was Murphy's first recruit at Colgate — and Eric Foote have stood out among the newcomers.

To be certain, Colgate won't have any shortage of weapons. With progress defensively, including in goal, and even a measurable increase in Baum's production, the Raiders would make their next step a reality.

"A lot of folks have those expectations for us, and we do too," Murphy said. "We're working to reach those expectations."

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