April 9, 2014

Meade, Paladins Working Through Growing Pains

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive

Furman coach Richie Meade addresses the Paladins before an early-season game against Lehigh. Furman has had a rough go of it with an 0-10 start, but Meade sees the value in his team's struggle out of the gate. (Jeremy Fleming)

Related: Photo gallery from Furman's season opener against Lehigh

Richie Meade had his eyes wide open when he agreed in 2012 to take over the budding Division I men's lacrosse program at Furman University.

Meade knew his freshman-dominated team would run into a few walls as it grew in its first season. He knew the spring of 2014 would bring on the pain that accompanies lots of losing. That didn't stop Meade from scheduling nonconference opponents that might send most first-year coaches running in the other direction.

As he was chewing on the Paladins' latest defeat, a 13-10 loss to Richmond – another first-year operation – Meade regretted one that got away.

This wasn't nearly the same as getting kicked around by Duke or North Carolina, top five schools that whipped Furman by a combined score of 38-7. That wasn't the same as losing to top 20 teams Lehigh and Army by a combined 17 goals, or to unranked Georgetown by a 16-9 count.

Saturday was a day when Furman could have taken that first big step. Instead, after a mistake-filled, fourth quarter, during which the Paladins blew a 9-6 lead by surrendering seven goals, Furman was sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic Sun Conference at 0-2, with an overall record of 0-10.

"Going through this process is difficult for everybody. It's tough being 0-10. But I put us in this situation for a purpose, and that purpose is to get us through some adversity," said Meade, who resigned from Navy in 2011 after a mostly successful, 17-year run, topped by an appearance in the NCAA title game in 2004.

"We were going to play a really tough schedule, because we have to know where the bar is. Why not figure out how to do it against the best?" he added. "We tell our recruits it's going to be tough, and you'd better believe in the power of adversity and be willing to bleed a little bit."

As a member of the six-team Atlantic Sun Conference, the winner of which is destined for one of the NCAA tournament's new play-in games between automatic qualifiers, Furman is a 52-man squad loaded with 43 freshmen. Attackmen Graham Dabbs (team-high 16 points) and Matt Geran (seven goals), goalie Jake Gavin (.474 save percentage), midfielder Chase Hancock (seven goals) and faceoff man Hil Blaze (.458) are part of the team's youthful core.

"[The freshmen] don't really know what this is. They don't know what the grind of April is about," Meade said.

The youngsters have had to swallow some unpleasant reality this spring. After mostly lining up against superior athletes and players, the Paladins have scored 6.3 goals per game, while allowing 14.6. Furman has shot 20 percent, while opponents have shot nearly 38 percent. The Paladins are averaging 17 turnovers.

"I think the guys are frustrated because they haven't won a game, but as crazy as it sounds, we still have hope. We can still do something in the Atlantic Sun tournament. It's the middle of April, and Furman can still win the national championship."

 -Furman head coach Richie Meade

The collapse against Richmond had its bright spots. Furman reached double digits in scoring for the first time. It put together its best, three-quarter stretch of defense by limited the Spiders to six scores before the fourth.

"Offensively, Saturday was the best we've played all year," Meade said. "We created in transition. We ran some good, six-on-six. We got Richmond out of their zone defense. We were up, 9-6, with two chances to go up by four goals. There are no forgiving mistakes."

The Paladins will get after it again at VMI on Saturday then finish up with Mercer and Jacksonville to complete their regular season. They will try to taste that first win, maybe a second, maybe enter the league tournament with a chance to do something that gives the program a launch of confidence for 2015.

In the midst of the building project is Meade, who also has the most unusual dual jobs in the lacrosse coaching ranks. Besides running a start-up at Furman with no assistants that have reached age 30, Meade also is the head coach of Team USA, which is preparing to go after its second straight gold medal at the FIL World Championships this summer in Denver.

Curious timing led to this unusual arrangement. Meade agreed to coach the U.S. Men's team in late 2011, not long before Furman began to pursue Meade, who had been forced out at Navy the previous spring.

By April 2012, Meade had decided to leave the Naval Academy, where he had taught combative skills in the school's physical education department for nearly 20 years. He and his family relocated to Greenville, home of South Carolina's oldest and most selective, private college. The only thing Meade teaches at the liberal arts school is lacrosse.

Meade said he doesn't look back at Furman's decision to bring the sport officially on board this year, instead of waiting until 2015. He noted that Furman's decision to go Division I, which preceded Richmond's official announcement, essentially helped form a new league.

"That fact that we started our program is what started the Atlantic Sun," Meade said. "We also thought that if we waited two years [to officially move to Division I], it was going to hurt us in recruiting.

"I think the guys are frustrated because they haven't won a game, but as crazy as it sounds, we still have hope. We can still do something in the Atlantic Sun tournament. It's the middle of April, and Furman can still win the national championship."

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