February 2, 2011

Lunney Leads Merrimack's Young Guns

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

The Warriors had a ridiculously young team last year and managed to win the Northeast-10 championship. Merrimack is just as callow this season - two-thirds of the roster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores - but the expectations are even higher, according to super-soph Corey Lunney.
© Merrimack Athletics

Merrimack men's lacrosse coach Mike Morgan was watching a highlight tape of Corey Lunney, an attackman out of Red Bank (N.J.) High School, in 2009 and thought, "What am I missing?" Lunney came on the radar late in the recruiting cycle, but still, how could he be on the market?

"As a coach sometimes you ask yourself, 'Am I the one who is crazy?' Because this kid is outstanding and I'm surprised more teams aren't on him," Morgan said. "You always get that little question in the back of your mind: 'Wow, maybe I'm the one who's wrong.'"

Recruiting entails misreads and busts. But when it came to Lunney, Morgan could not have been more right. While he had some offers from mid-level Division I programs and a couple of D-IIIs, Lunney gravitated toward the attention he was receiving from Morgan.

"I knew that I would be able to come in and compete for a spot," said Lunney. "I didn't know if I'd start right away. He just told me that he starts his best and hard-working players."

Lunney was an instant hit on the North Andover, Mass., campus, displacing a junior to take over one of the starting attackman spots within three days before leading the Warriors in points (46g, 12a) in 2010. With Lunney's contributions, Merrimack finished with a 13-3 record and the Northeast-10 championship.

"He had the perfect personality for our team, and we knew he would fit right in," Morgan said. "You don't notice his numbers, because he's not that ankle-breaking dodger or the guy with two slick hands. He's just a lacrosse player. He knows where to be on the field, and he's a great shooter."

Now that Lunney has established himself at the collegiate level, he has larger objectives.

"Our goal is to out-work every opponent in front of us, win the NE-10 and then move on to the national championship," Lunney said.

Though just a sophomore, Lunney will be asked to lead an extremely young team. Senior attackman Michael Balbuena and junior defender Peter Schielke are the captains, but Lunney and the corps of freshmen and sophomores – a group that comprises two-thirds of Merrimack's roster – will be just as important in determining what direction this season takes.

The rise of underclassmen at Merrimack is a result of the recruiting realities that come along with a coaching change. Morgan took the reins of the program in 2008. A late jump on the recruiting trail meant this year's junior class was put together quickly with quality players such as Schielke and Brad McAdam (12g, 12a).

But Morgan's first chance to engineer a complete recruiting class came last year with Lunney, who drew the spotlight amidst a group of other clutch players.

"The thing with our team is we have a lot of options," Lunney said. "Even though I was the leading scorer, there were a lot of guys who did all the dirty work. Greg Melaugh (19g, 13a) was also a freshman. Nick Vasquez (14g, 5a) and Mike Perdie in the midfield. They all worked so hard and can finish just as well as I can. I just happened to be on the scoring end last year."

In all, 63 percent of the Warriors' scoring last year came from freshmen or sophomores.

"You'd think with the younger team, the more structured the offense you'd need and the more micro-managing I'd be doing," Morgan said. "But the sophomore class last year went to a final four, the freshman class from last year won an NE-10. These guys are seasoned, and they've been in big games."

Merrimack's young players have been in big games and had some success, but, like any team, they are vulnerable to a let-down. An early season loss to St. Leo on spring break last year was a key reason the Warriors did not qualify for the NCAA tournament despite their conference crown.

"The sophomores last year went to a final four when they were all just freshmen," Morgan said. "Going to the final four as freshman and playing so many key roles, there was a little bit of, 'Hey, we made it to the final four as freshmen; we're going to win the whole thing next year or the year after.' That played a part in that early loss to St. Leo. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way."

"Having a lack of experience in situations like that could have hurt us," said Lunney. "Everyone kind of got the message that that can't happen again. This year, we can't make those mental errors if we want to compete for a national championship. This year, we're going be a lot more focused each and every game and not overlook any opponent."

The Warriors will find out quickly whether they learned their lesson. Merrimack must travel to NYIT for the season opener Feb. 26 in a game that will either give Merrimack a leg-up in the race for the four-team NCAA tournament or force it to scramble for the rest of the season.

It's a challenge that Lunney and his band of youngsters are excited to tackle, and one that Morgan has built this team to handle.

"There is not going to be a let-up with this team with the type of kid we have, and there's no question they remember the St. Leo game," Morgan said. "They know this. I would be hard pressed to see them work harder than they did in the fall."

Said Lunney: "It's the perfect game to open with, especially with them beating us on our own field last year and us getting to go down there. It could make our season."

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