Practice pennies, neon green laces, new faces and the promise of a new season not far off -- all signs point to fall ball, college lacrosse's annual rite of initiation.
With 2010 in the books and 2011 in mind, LMO's "Fall Ball Blitz" series checks in with coaches and players around the country for the latest developments.
RECENT "FALL BALL
BLITZ" STORIES | ARCHIVE
Bounce Back: 2010 Will Be NYIT's Motivation
|Senior Ryan Amengual is the leading returning scorer
for NYIT in 2011, but with 27 new faces and a healthy dose of
motivation from the lost '10 season, the Bears will again be a
force this spring.
© B. Ballweg/NYIT Athletics
Sometimes you get the bounces, sometimes you don't.
NYIT, for years used to getting all of the right hops, finally had the karma swing the other way in 2010. The four losses the Bears suffered last spring came in games in which they were within a goal or two in the fourth quarter, but they just couldn't catch a break.
"In 2008 we won the championship and we won five one-goal games and if they go the other way, we don't even get into the tournament," said Bill Dunn, a long-time assistant at NYIT who is in his second year as head coach. "Last year, they went the other way. I guess everything caught up to us after a while and our luck started going toward the opponent."
Dunn had an inkling things weren't going to go his way before the season even started. As the Bears prepared for their spring swing to Florida – a trip that included games against Limestone and Florida Southern – a massive snowstorm slammed into NYC.
Scheduled to leave on Thursday, the Bears were told they wouldn't get out until Sunday, forcing the excursion to be canceled.
A season that held so much promise got off to debilitating start.
"I think it did kind of hurt us," said Dunn. "We had a lot of seniors on the team and they were looking forward to taking their last trip together and after that we were just stuck in the snow for so long that we got off to a pretty slow start."
While there was no guarantee that NYIT would have won both, or either, of the games on that trip, the canceled flight stunted the team cohesion. This became obvious when the Bears hosted Bentley in the third game of the season and suffered a one-goal loss.
"We like to take those trips for bonding purposes and I think that during the season our guys always looked back at that and said that if that wasn't canceled, we might have been a tighter group," said Dunn. "Not that we weren't tight, but they might have been looking for an excuse."
Whether they were looking for an excuse or not, the early season loss, followed by back-to-back setbacks to Dowling and C.W. Post, effectively ended any chances of a postseason berth. For a program like NYIT, which has one of the most storied traditions in Division II, it caused a certain amount of apathy, especially among the senior class.
"Some of them kept practicing hard and some others threw the towel in," said Dunn. "For the seniors to kind of give up a little bit and to keep the underclassmen focused, it was a tough thing for us. I learned a lot from last year."
It's a devastating admission, but one that will provide NYIT, which is just as talented as it has always been, with extra incentive.
"I don't even have to use it," said Dunn. "The guys on the team are already motivated enough by it. They understand they have to have their 'A' game every time out. A lot went on last year and the kids have a bad taste in their mouths. They don't want it to happen again."
Is Dunn expecting the ball to bounce his way this spring?
"Luck is luck, and you have to make your own breaks."
FALL BALL BLITZ
2010 Record: 9-4 (7-3 East Coast Conference)
2010 In Review: A surprising home loss to Bentley in the third game of the season put the Bears in scramble mode, but conference losses to Dowling, C.W. Post and Mercyhurst wiped out any postseason dreams. NYIT clicked late in the season, managing to record an impressive victory over Northeast-10 champion Merrimack on the road.
Goodbye... Matt Sullivan. A First Team All-American and the national leader in both points per game (5.38) and assists (3.54), Sullivan was the quarterback of the Bears' offense. Austin Carino (43g, 3a), a four-year starter like Sullivan who finished with 160 career markers, and Kevin Hennessy, a three-time All-American and former Midfield of the Year, also leave big holes.
But maybe not as big as some think.
"People hear those names and think we lost a lot, which we did, but they don't understand what we have coming back," said Dunn. "I think we'll surprise some people. Everyone thinks we're rebuilding, but we're reloading."
Hello... Chris Lubin. After playing at Lehigh, Lubin is doing graduate work at NYIT this year and will finish off his eligibility with the Bears. Lubin, an attackman, was the fifth-leading scorer for the Mountain Hawks in 2009. Another transfer who is expected to help right away is Joe Herman, a middie who twice earned All-American honors at Nassau Community College.
Dunn has welcomed 27 new players this fall, and 22 of those are true freshman. Leading that group is Tyler Chin, a midfielder from Hauppauge (N.Y.) High School, and John Brandofino, an attackman from Dwyer (Fla.) High School.
"Many of the freshman are going to play for us early," said Dunn. "It will be similar to the group that just graduated. They came in and we probably had six or seven players who started as freshmen and played over 50 games for us."
Offseason Developments: The East Coast Conference athletic directors had a conference call to bring up the possibility of adding a conference tournament for the lacrosse teams, but the idea didn't gain any traction. While Dunn was in favor of adding the conference tournament, he understands the financial arguments against it.
With the expansion of the ECC to Ohio (Lake Erie), West Virginia (Wheeling Jesuit), Philadelphia (Chestnut Hill) and Western Pennsylvania (Seton Hill), the expenses for a postseason tourney, even if it was only four teams, would be considerable. For instance, had the top four teams played last year, it would have meant a fourth trip across the state of New York for Mercyhurst. "I have to hand it to [Laker coach] Chris Ryan," said Dunn. "That is like an eight-hour ride to the Island. That's a brutal trip."
Dunn is familiar with that kind trek. NYIT's last game of the season was a jaunt to Wheeling Jesuit – a cozy, nine-hour bus ride.
In other offseason news, Keith Henderson, the all-time leading scorer for the Bears, has taken over the offensive coordinator role. "He's used to the system we run here," said Dunn. "He's really been a big factor so far this fall, especially with the young kids." Christian Scuderi, who was an All-American at NYIT before transferring to Hofstra and earning All-American honors there, will be responsible for the defensive end.
Big Question: Will the Bears be able continue their dominance at face-off? Last year, NYIT had three accomplished draw men who helped the Bears lead the nation in percentage (212-of-302; 70.2%), bolstered by Peter Raab (71.3%), who led Division II. Both Raab and Paul Gibson (66.2%) have graduated, leaving Jeff Hunter to lead the way. The senior certainly showed a penchant for the position – he won 60 of his 80 face-offs (75%) – but he may not get many breaks.
"He's going to be a major factor in what we do," said Dunn of Hunter. "Our whole thing is getting the ball. We have found that if we have to play extended periods of defense it rarely ends in a good outcome. If we can get possession of the ball, we score a lot of goals and that's because we control the ball."
Fall Schedule: NYIT traveled down the street to the Farmingdale Tournament on Oct. 9 and squared off against Adelphi, Pace, Nassau Community College and the host Rams. "I was very happy," said Dunn. "We were missing seven starters, so it gave all the other guys a chance for extended time. I was very pleasantly surprised. We have a good nucleus we're going to be working from." The Bears will play in their alumni game this weekend (Oct. 23).
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