April 22, 2014

Tuesdays with Corey: Richmond Flying Banner for First-Year Programs

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Richmond freshman Jean-Luc "J.L." Chetner was found by Spiders coach Dan Chemotti late in the recruiting process. Chetner had 16 goals and 11 assists and is five points off the team lead in scoring. (Richmond Athletics)

Everyone remembers the start.

Richmond, even in a losing effort, announced its presence in its first game as an NCAA Division I men's lacrosse program before more than 4,000 spectators in early February. The news of its 13-12 season-opening loss at home to in-state foe and majorly established program Virginia, resonated across the country.

In a post-game locker room a two plus-hour drive south, Duke coach John Danowski — addressing his team after its opening win against Jacksonville — was the first to deliver his players the score from up north that went final right about the same time the Blue Devils' did.

He talked about past times when a start-up program would almost surely get rolled over in its debut. And although acknowledging the fact that Virginia played an emotional overtime game against Loyola just two days earlier that may have contributed to the result, Danowski said to the room, "Those days are done."

"The deck was stacked in our favor going into that game," Richmond coach Dan Chemotti said, "and we took advantage. [Virginia] didn't know anything about our guys, either, which is a huge advantage in this day and age with all the film prep coaches do.

"But it was great to see right then and there, with a chance to tie it late in the game, for our guys to see that the rankings really don't matter come game day. It's about who plays better on that day."

While the rest of the season may not yet have produced a game as much special and emotional as what the Spiders experienced in their debut — other than their first win — the next couple games brought them back to reality. But the reality isn't all that bad when gauged in the greater lacrosse landscape.

These guys — and other start-ups this year and of recent past — can play.

Richmond, in its inaugural season, is 4-9 overall, 2-2 in conference and has qualified for Atlantic Sun tournament two weekends from now.

And just look at Marquette, which in its second varsity season, has a 4-1 Big East record and a chance to win the conference regular season title if they beat Denver on Saturday.

Or High Point, which in its sophomore year, played North Carolina on Friday night to within a goal early in the fourth quarter, before losing by four. Or Boston University, which also started this year with Richmond, Furman and Monmouth. The Terriers have a 2-11 record, but have been competitive in most of their losses. Third-year program Michigan will play in the ECAC tournament this year for the first time before heading to the Big Ten next year.

"When there were start-up teams back in the prehistoric days when I played, they wouldn't win any games for a long time," said Drexel coach Brian Voelker, whose team plays High Point on the road Friday night and who played defense at Johns Hopkins from 1988-91. "A lot of these coaches are doing a really good job. Part of it is there's a lot of good lacrosse players from a lot of different areas. You look around at all these teams and say, 'This guy is pretty good, the team is pretty good, or this team has these couple of pieces.'"

True, but Richmond, in its second game of the season right back on their home turf, lost to Hartford 19-11. Spiders defenseman Brendan Hynes said late in the game, "We're clearly not as good as we think we are," in anti-Denny Green fashion.

The Spiders lost their next three before notching the first win in program history, a 12-11 win over Vermont, on a neutral site in Durham, N.C. They won their second game, against Wagner, three games later and are now 2-1 in the Atlantic Sun. With a 13-12 win over Jacksonville on Sunday, Richmond clinched an A-Sun post-season tournament berth. They play VMI this weekend to close the regular season.

Along the way, there's been several different lineups and players that have developed at different rates. That's to be expected with 22 freshmen, nine sophomores and five juniors on the roster, including four transfers that joined the program after the fall. One of them, attackman Brad Burnam, previously of Siena, is the team's leading scorer. Another, midfielder Alex Hatem, previously of Syracuse, is fifth with 15 goals and nine assist and scored three goals, including the winner in the most recent Jacksonville win.

"It's proof that there are good players still left in the process and we don't necessarily need to keep up with the trend, where everybody has their 2016 and 2017 class finished."

— Richmond coach Dan Chemotti

But this isn't a transfer story. Chemotti points to the development of a pair of developing freshmen on offense, Canadian midfielder Jean-Luc Chetner and attackman Dan Ginestro, from West Genesee, N.Y.

And he looks at his rookie starting defensive unit, with six true freshmen and one sophomore transfer, including a first-year starting goalie, and sees that it's possible to compete right away if you just take the time to find the right players.

Chemotti was hired at the end of October 2012 and the plan called to field a varsity team by spring 2014, so he didn't have much time.

"Even though the pool of candidates that late in the recruiting process was small, we were able to find some pretty good ones," Chemotti said. "It's proof that there are good players still left in the process and we don't necessarily need to keep up with the trend, where everybody has their 2016 and 2017 class finished. That's OK.

"We're going to be OK, as long as we're doing our job and making smart decisions in recruiting," he said. "We're going to find guys that come in here and contribute and be the kind of guys that we're looking to to this build this program."

Chetner, J.L. for short on the first name, came by way of Brodie Merrill's Hill Academy, which has run out a long line of NCAA Division I men's lacrosse success stories. From British Columbia, Chetner has 16 goals and 11 assists for 27 points, just five back of Burnam for the team lead and three behind fellow midfielder Mitch Goldberg for second. Goldberg, Hatem and Chetner have formed a nice first midfield.

Chemotti was sent game film on Chetner by Merrill and his staff and eventually found online videos of indoor junior games from Canada, which sold him. Because of the timing, Chemotti never saw him in person.

"The ball was always directed toward him. He was a decision-maker and play-maker for his indoor team, which was a pretty good program," he said. "It was really all I had to go on before I had to make a decision. At the time, the list of midfielders was not that plentiful as you can imagine."

Ginestro comes from the fundamentally-sound New York powerhouse of West Genesse. He was a fourth attackman in the season-opener against Virginia, but is now in the starting lineup and probably playing the best of any, Chemotti said. He's also versatile on man-up, switching assignments from week-to-week: top center, in tight, or low on the wings.

"He gives us a calming presence and a guy with tremendous lacrosse IQ and someone who can get the ball up off the ground," Chemotti said. "We very much trust his decision-making process. If we have six Dan Ginestro's on man-up, our man-up would be tops in the country."

Late-bloomers or leftovers or off-the-radar. Call them what you will. It's in concert with the reputation Chemotti and the Loyola staff developed for beating the bushes for unheralded recruits, a theme which rose to national prominence when Loyola broke through and won a national title in 2012. Chemotti was an assistant and offensive coordinator. "We're trying to do things the same," he said.

His assistants now are former Loyola director of operations Steve Layne and Cornell assistant Paul Richards. Mason Poli, the former Bryant long-stick midfielder who played for Chemotti's former head coach, Mike Pressler, at Bryant the last four years, is a volunteer assistant working with faceoffs and running the substitution box. The program still is not fully-funded with 12.6 scholarships but is heading that direction and in a good spot, Chemotti said.

"We're really happy with the guys we have coming in next year, and the guys coming in the year after that," Chemotti said. "But by no means are we trying to wish away this year. There's still a lot for us to do."

Another relatively new program Mercer, which began in 2011 as first NCAA Division I team from the state of Georgia, is the top seed in the Atlantic Sun tournament. Another sign of the times, but nothing that the Spiders are looking at this week, unless they'd like to run sprints.

"If we hear any talk about conference tournament, we're going to spend a lot of time on the end line," Chemotti said. "Everything about this week is about VMI."

But the season, at large, has been encouraging for them — and could be for potential first-timers down the road. UMass-Lowell and NJIT are up in 2015. Who's next?

Johns Hopkins goalie Eric Schneider came up big in the Blue Jays' third game in seven days, making 17 saves against Navy on Friday night. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

Three Stars

Standouts of the week:

Dan Craig, Penn State, Fr. A
The Nittany Lions, ineligible for the CAA conference tournament, started two freshman on attack Saturday in a 10-6 win against Delaware, in Craig and Mike Sutton. Craig, a Canadian, notched two goals and two assists on three shots, with two ground balls. He's one to watch now and in the coming seasons.

Brian Fischer, Harvard, Jr. LSM
Fischer drew the assignment of covering MLL No. 1 overall draft pick Tom Schreiber on Saturday in Harvard's Ivy League tilt with Princeton. He helped hold Schreiber scoreless for just the second time in his career. The former two-sport star at Garden City (N.Y.) — the other sport being football, along with former high school teammate fellow Crimson defenseman Stephen Jahelka — is part of a talented Crimson bunch that has eyes on the Ivy League title.

Eric Schneider, Johns Hopkins, Sr. G
Schneider stood out as the Blue Jays played their third game in seven days Friday night on the road at Navy. He made 17 saves in the 6-5 win, including a key stop on a left-handed runner by Navy's Gabe Voumard with 1:01 left in regulation. Schneider has heated up in April.

Looking Ahead

Conference tournament season is upon us this week in the Patriot League and ACC, which will hold their semifinals on Friday and finals on Sunday. The championships are of course games to watch but because the matchups are not set yet, the are not included here:

1. No. 9 Notre Dame (6-5) vs. No. 7 Maryland, (10-2) 7:30 p.m. Friday, PPL Park, Chester, Pa. (ACC Semifinal)
The Irish are teetering on the brink of an NCAA tournament at-large berth. With a loss in this game, Notre Dame would face a must-win against Army to close its regular season. With a win, things will feel a lot better. How about the one possibility probably few have considered? The Irish beat Maryland in the ACC semifinals and then either Duke or Syracuse in the championship to take the ACC AQ bid.

2. Marquette (6-8) at No. 3 Denver (11-2), 2 p.m. Saturday
The Big East standings are led by the two of the three most western NCAA Division I lacrosse programs (Air Force is the other). In just its second season, Marquette is 4-1 in the conference standings and faces 5-0 Denver with a share of the Big East title on the line. We profiled Marquette after its first win of the season against Hofstra, after losing its opener to Lehigh. Since then the Golden Eagles have beaten Detroit, Rutgers, St. John's, Providence and Georgetown and lost to Ohio State, Marist, Jacksonville, Duke, Villanova, Bellarmine and Notre Dame.

3. No. 10 Hofstra (10-3) at Penn St. (6-6), 1 p.m. Saturday
The Nittany Lions can really funk up the NCAA tournament at-large race by beating Hofstra. The Pride have locked up the top seed in the CAA tournament already so a loss won't hurt them in the league landscape, but if Penn State manages a win, the result could come back to bite Hofstra should it not win the CAA AQ. There's a lot and ifs and buts, but to make a long story, short, the Pride will do themselves a bunch of favors and win in Happy Valley.

4. No. 4 Syracuse (9-3) vs. No. 2 Duke (12-2), 5 p.m. Friday, PPL Park, Chester, Pa. (ACC Semifinal)
The Orange and Blue Devils will be very familiar with each other by the time this game is all wrapped up. They played in last year's national title game and again this regular season — a 21-7 thumping by Duke — and now its time for Round Three. Could there be a fourth in the NCAA tournament? Another storyline of this year's ACC. Hate to harp on it, but faceoffs will be key.

5. Ohio St. (6-6) at No. 14 Fairfield (10-3), 1 p.m. Saturday
Another conference regular season title and tournament top seed is on the line with the Buckeyes, winners of four straight, visit Fairfield. For all of its early-season non-conference losses, Ohio State remembered it was still the preseason ECAC favorite and can improve to 4-0 in league with a win here.

Bonus: Binghamton (7-6) at No. 20 Albany (7-5), 7 p.m. Saturday
The winner takes the America East title and the top seed in the conference postseason tournament. Binghamton has won five of its last six with the lone loss coming April 2 in a hard-fought 10-8 decision against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. The early half of the season was not kind on the Bearcats. Look at this: close wins over Sacred Heart and Hobart and losses to Siena, Cornell, Delaware, Colgate and Air Force, the last three by a combined four goals. Binghamton has lost six games overall, but hasn't been blown out in any.

Honorable mention: Penn at Towson, 7 p.m. Tuesday; Villanova at Johns Hopkins, 7 p.m. Wednesday; St. John's at Penn, 7 p.m. Friday; Drexel at High Point, 8 p.m. Friday; Saint Joseph's at Hobart, 1 p.m. Saturday; Harvard at Yale, 1:30 p.m. Saturday; Virginia at North Carolina, 7:30 p.m. Saturday at PPL Park, Chester, Pa. (ACC Showcase)

End Lines

If you are making plans for Memorial Day weekend, the start times for this year's NCAA Division I final four games are 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, home of the NFL's Ravens. The Division II and Division III men's finals are at 1 and 4 p.m., respectively, on May 25 and the Division I men's championship at 1 p.m. on May 26. Ticket information is available here.

There will be at least some conflict with a pair of Baltimore Orioles home games on Saturday and Sunday, as Oriole Park and M&T share parking. The Orioles start time for the Saturday game is currently listed as TBD. The Sunday game starts at 1:35 p.m. and the O's are on the road Monday so there is no issue there.

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