May 21, 2009

Lemon Hoping to Squeeze Out Another Title

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Luke Lemon (44) is the only remaining starter from the Red Dragons' 2006 championship team and he will play a crucial role if Cortland is to reprise its victorious role against Gettysburg.
© Darl Zehr

Luke Lemon is a relic.

The only remaining member of the Cortland team to earn a start in the Red Dragons' 2006 national championship, Lemon is the best connection between his teammates and that magical, 13-12 overtime victory against overwhelming favorite Salisbury.

While back-up goalie Michael Robinson and reserve long pole Kevin Mitchell - who were Lemon's freshmen classmates in '06 - also saw the field that day, it was Lemon who has the cachet of being a key component in slowing down the Gulls from start to finish.

Not surprisingly, he's afforded the appropriate amount of respect among the current players for this accomplishment.

Even Steve Beville, Cortland's head coach who took over the program the year after the championship, understands Lemon's large presence on his team. From a coaching perspective, it's Lemon's willingness to lead the charge in strength and conditioning that puts him on a pedestal.

"He's been just a staple of the program over the four years and a great leader," said Beville. "He's a big weight-room guy and he's a work-out monster. He has encouraged the younger guys that have come through to dedicate themselves and be committed to the offseason training."

It is not uncommon for Beville to take a promising young player searching for playing time and bring him to the weight room. The coach will then nod toward Lemon with a facial expression saying, "Be like him."

Lemon's leadership isn't limited to dumbbells and curl bars, however. He has been a driving force this year for the Red Dragons, mostly because he is determined not to have a repeat of the last two seasons.

While Lemon won his first title game appearance, he's also lost his last two.

And he's not running away from his role in the 15-10 loss to Salisbury in 2007 and the 19-13 setback to the Gulls last year.

"Looking back, I think the biggest difference between the first game that we won and the two that we've lost is our defensive play. I take personal responsibility for that," said Lemon. "I started in that first game and have been the leader ever since, and I guess I could have done some more things.

"I could have settled us down a little when they would go on a run, or give our players some words of wisdom that we're all right. Maybe talk more. Make some minor adjustments that we didn't do, but could have done on the field."

No one with a clear head would saddle Lemon with those losses, especially the way Salisbury was rolling, but the Colorado Springs native's willingness to bear the brunt gives him an almost fatherly-figure role for the Red Dragons.

As such, when he stands in front of his teammates in Foxboro as they prepare to play Gettysburg, all eyes will be on him.

"I'm going to emphasize teamwork because we're all brothers out there playing together. Play for each other and play with each other. If we do that, things will go our way," said Lemon about what he'll tell the rest of the squad.

"I'll just try to shed some light on my experience and let them know that all eight of us seniors have been here three times before, and everything's going to be alright."

The calming words are necessary because the Red Dragons are a relatively young team. There are 29 freshman and sophomores on Cortland's 45-man roster, led by rookie leading scorer Mike Tota (48g, 15a) - an impressively youthful lilt for a championship contender.

"Honestly, I think the leadership that guys like Lemon and [Joey] Morgan have brought to the t able, they have done a tremendous job at leading a young team back to another great opportunity," said Beville.

Regardless of what happens on Sunday, Lemon will be remembered for a long time in Upstate New York as the player who helped the Red Dragons make four-straight appearances in the national championship game.

And if Cortland wins its second crown?

Then Lemon graduates from a relic to that of legend.

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