March 23, 2009

A Roanoke Rebirth

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Thanks to play of Pat March and the rest of the potent Maroon offensive unit, Roanoke is back in the national discussion after a year away from the spotlight.
© Brendan Bush

Bill Pilat is getting sick of I-81 Northbound.

A painfully dull stretch of interstate, I-81 takes nearly four hours for Pilat's Roanoke team bus to navigate within the state of Virginia alone. And with three consecutive weekend trips to Eastern Pennsylvania already under his belt - to Franklin & Marshall, Dickinson and Cabrini - the monotony of viewing rural Virginia from the highway is getting on his nerves.

Who is making Roanoke's travel plans, anyway?

"That's just bad scheduling by the head coach," laughed Pilat, in his 21st season as the skipper of the Maroons.

As annoying as the stretch of road has become, it has provided Roanoke, 9-0 and ranked No. 3 in the latest USILA weekly poll, with much of this year's schedule strength so far.

While the offense has been prolific - the Maroons opened the season by posting five consecutive games of at least 20 goals - the schedule has not been as stiff as in years past. A 21-10 road victory over F&M and a 20-12 neutral site win over Kenyon stood out in the run. But the Maroons' latest victory, a 16-13 triumph over then-No. 8 Cabrini, gave Pilat's team its first signature win and confirmed the team's high ranking.

"We stayed on an even keel, but we knew it was a big game because they were ranked ahead of us in every poll that was out there to start the year," said Pilat of Cabrini. "So we knew they had high expectations for their team - and they are a good team that we're not done hearing from this year. I would say that we thought F&M was big, Dickinson was big, and Kenyon was big for us because they beat us last year. We've had a bunch of games that we felt were pretty big and if we can continue that mindset, we'll be okay."

Dickinson, who the Maroons played on March 14, may have been the key game in keeping Roanoke primed for its encounter with Cabrini. Out-shot by the Red Devils, 52-43, Pilat's squad found itself trailing, 13-11, with four minutes left in the third quarter. A strong defensive effort - the Maroons kept Dickinson off the board for the remainder of the game - and some clutch goals allowed ‘Noke to leave Carlisle with a 14-13 win.

"I think was really good for us. I told our coaches after that game that this was the best thing that could have happened to us other than a loss," said Pilat. "Sometimes you need a loss for guys to snap into gear. That game was pretty darn close and could have been a loss, so I think it woke some guys up a little bit and let them know that we need to continue to work hard and that there are a lot of good teams out there. And not just teams that are ranked, but a lot of top opponents you have to watch out for, so I think that gave us that mindset."

What has given Roanoke its offensive mindset - the Maroons are scoring 20.8 goals per outing - is a depth that was sorely missing on last year's team that finished with an 8-6 record and missed the ODAC tournament for the first time.

Junior Matt Quinton (34g, 9a), senior Zach Thomas (18g, 14a) and junior Pat March (19g, 9a) give Pilat three skilled attackmen while freshmen Jeff Keating (18g, 6a) and senior Chas Carlson (6g, 14a) provide pop in the midfield.

The offense is clicking so well right now that one of Roanoke's defensive middies, Justin Tuma, has 16 points this spring.

"We definitely have a lot of great depth," said Pilat. "I'm playing six attackmen every game and we play six to nine offensive middies, so I'm really pleased. I like seeing those guys step up and every attackmen had a point and every midfielder on the first line had a point [against Cabrini]. We're happy with the weapons we have and it's got us off to a fast start."

The Maroons have one more non-conference tilt against Williams, the defending NESCAC champion, on Wednesday, but then it's onto the ODAC slate. As great a start as it has been, if Roanoke flames out in the conference again and doesn't make the league tourney, it is unlikely the hot start will save them an at-large bid.

"Out of conference games are fun and we like to challenge ourselves with good competition, but nowadays with the conference AQs the conference games mean a lot, so everybody ramps it up a little bit," said Pilat. "We're used to being in the ODAC championship games and last year we weren't, so we really want to get back there. Each conference game is a big game for us and I think we'll be ready to go."

And what if Roanoke does take care of business in the ODAC?

Pilat might have to look at I-81 again - from 30,000 feet above on his flight to Foxboro.

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