February 11, 2009

Scranton Eyes Big-Time Recruits, Opponents

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Kyle Frank's decision to attend Scranton was based on his coach's willingness to play a tough non-conference schedule. They don't get much tougher than Salisbury - the Royals' season-opening opponent on Sunday.
(Photo: Bill Johnson)

As the third cog on the 2007 Boys' Latin (Md.) attack with Travis Reed and Brett Weiss, now playing for Maryland and Georgetown, respectively, Kyle Frank had a lot of recruiting eyes on him. He weighed his options, deciding which school he would attend and which division best fit his talents.

When he finally revealed to his high school friends and teammates where he was headed, the conversation promptly moved from lacrosse to television.

"When I told them that I was going to Scranton, they all went straight to talking about how that was where The Office was filmed," said Frank.

Frank's friends knew more about Dunder Mifflin than the University of Scranton. Coming off a 3-12 season, having a new coach and moving from a second-tier conference to a brand new one, the Royals weren't exactly in the collective Boys' Latin consciousness.

But most of them hadn't met Kevin Dugan, Scranton's new coach who is hell bent on turning the Royals from an also-ran in the middling MAC to the bully of the Landmark Conference. And as it turned out, Frank was just the highest profile of the 23-player class, now sophomores, which Dugan put together in his first year at the helm.

As rookies last spring, the group set the school record for wins (12), playing a relatively soft schedule. Things have gotten a whole lot tougher this year, and it starts Sunday with defending national champion Salisbury.

"Kyle didn't come to Scranton to play bad D-III teams; he came to try and play the top teams in the country," said Dugan. "It's just delivering on the promise I made to the current freshmen and sophomores that, ‘Hey look, you're going to come here, we're going to build a top 20 program, and we'll play the best teams in the country.' If I don't increase the schedule, they're going to say, ‘Hey coach, this isn't what you told us we were going to do here.' To get them, we needed to let them know we were going to be ambitious."

The ambition doesn't stop with Salisbury. NCAA semifinalist Ithaca, traditional Empire 8 power RIT and up-and-coming Franklin & Marshall are all on the slate this year. Next year, the Royals will play those same four and add Lynchburg.

"With teams like Salisbury, Ithaca and RIT, they are such well-rounded, experienced teams, and Scranton being so young, it will be good for us to grow," said Frank. "I'm sure we're going to get kicked around pretty good playing teams like that, but it will show us what's out there and what we'll be up against possibly in years to come."

While there may be some ugly scores this spring, Dugan is thinking a year ahead.

With the Landmark Conference moving from provisional status - meaning it competes in Pool B this year with independents - to full automatic qualifier status next year, even if Scranton doesn't defeat its elite competition, the Royals could eventually qualify for an NCAA tournament.

Because of the nuances involved in earning a Pool B berth - playing a lot more independents, especially those schools in the NCAC - Dugan has essentially conceded that the Royals will not get an NCAA bid this season. And he's okay with that.

"We're more concerned about the long-term interest of the program; saying, ‘Look, we have the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, the first recruiting class is going to be juniors, we want to prepare to be a top 20-caliber team by the time they graduate,'" said Dugan. "And trying to plan your schedule around a Pool B bid is a real inexact science.

"To be quite honest, in my first year, we had a much softer schedule and that is what we were trying to do - plan around that Pool B. This year, we're just saying we're not going to worry about it. We want to set our sights on emerging as a top 20 program, and the only way we're going to do that is to start to schedule a more difficult non-conference schedule."

Every top program the Royals play means more experience for the current players and gains the attention of another high-end recruit.

If the plan works, Scranton may soon be known for lacrosse instead of sitcoms.

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