March 9, 2011

Wheelock Ready for First Season

from press release

BOSTON, Mass. - When the Wheelock College men's lacrosse team faces off with Anna Maria College's third-year program on March 18, it will mark the culmination of more than a year's worth of work for Head Coach Dan Lee. A December 2009 hire, Lee spent 2010 prepping the program to begin its first season this spring, and the light at the end of the tunnel quickly approaches.

"When February 1 rolled around, and we could finally start practicing, it was almost surreal," said Lee, formerly both an attackman at Division I College of the Holy Cross and an employee for Major League Lacrosse (MLL). "It was like a year of the Wheelock men's lacrosse team being a concept suddenly became a reality."

Lee is joined by Assistant Coach Chris Demarest, an experienced college and youth coach in his native New Jersey who was a defender at Division III Centenary College. With an opportunity to assemble the program from scratch, Lee looks for the foundation to be based heavily on defense, with offensive production improving as the first season progresses.

Among the 16 players on the Wildcats' roster, nine bring prior college athletics experience, including eight who have competed for the men's soccer team. Defenseman Jesse Setaro (Branford, CT/Branford) is the squad's lone senior, leaving Lee with a youthful group to build around as he looks toward the future.

"The core of this team is freshmen, sophomores and juniors, and they will have good lacrosse experience and help us get off the ground over these next couple years," said the coach, who cited the importance of continuity from one year to the next in building the program. "It's not like we have a couple senior captains, and then next year we'd be starting over from a leadership standpoint. We'll have stability."

While keeping in mind the overall youthfulness of his squad, Lee charged his players with creating realistic, tangible goals for the season so they could measure improvement, both individually and for the team.

"We have aspirations of winning some games and competing in all of them, and for the younger guys to continue developing," said Lee, whose veterans have stepped up to help mentor the new players, as well as spend time after practice to continue working on skills. "I told them that even when we're not practicing they should be on the wall playing catch so they can get their stick skills right. Physically they can play the game; it's just getting the stick skills down."

Juniors Kevin Kareckas (South Berwick, ME/Marshwood) and Ben Lewis (Hopkinton, MA/Hopkinton) and sophomore goalkeeper Michael Manning (Brookfield, NH/Kingswood Regional) are captains for the inaugural team. A midfielder and attackman, Kareckas played tennis at the school in 2010, while Lewis was a member of the soccer program last fall. Possibly the team's most versatile player, Lewis will provide experience as a long-stick and short-stick midfielder while taking the occasional face-off with the long pole, and is the squad's emergency goalie.

"Ben is the vocal leader of the team: He's the one out there getting guys talking and picking them up," said Lee, whose players chose the captains, a trio the coach concurs should lead the team. "Kevin is just a natural leader. You can see that with everything else he does around campus. And Mike is going to quarterback the defense. Over the offseason, he stepped up to get guys together to throw the ball around, and helped begin creating a team atmosphere."

Jean-Jacques Dubreuil (Boston, MA/Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School) and Matthew Howard (Brunswick, ME/Brunswick), each of whom has played soccer for the Wildcats, round out the junior class. Dubreuil is slated to be an attackman, while Howard will provide experience as both a defender and an attackman.

Sophomores Matt Burns (Cheyenne, WY/Cheyenne East), Paul Collins (Hyde Park, MA/Sharon), William Hall (Hingham, MA/Hingham), Wayne Peterson (Winchester, MA/Winchester), Owen Robbins (Simsbury, CT/The Master's School) and Martin Rosa (Hartford, CT/Cromwell) comprise the Class of 2013. Collins and Rosa anchor the defense, while Burns and Peterson will lend their talents to the midfield, with Burns also serving as a face-off specialist. Hall and Robbins are expected to contribute in the offensive end of the field. Collins, Hall and Peterson have each been members of the soccer team.

Wheelock's roster includes a corps of four freshmen - all midfielders - in Zach Bushway (Bethlehem, NH/Profile), Matt Pennucci (Leominster, MA/Concord-Carlisle Regional), Sunshine Shearer (English Harbour, Antigua/East Lyme [CT]) and Connor Walsh (Northboro, MA/Saint John's). Bushway and Pennucci both played soccer this past fall, and Bushway will be one of Wheelock's primary face-off men. Shearer should see time as both a short-stick and long-stick midfielder.

With the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) not sponsoring lacrosse, Wheelock is one of 16 independent Division III teams, as it takes on 11 opponents this spring, with six contests occurring on its home field at Pine Manor College. Four of the teams it is slated to face have existed for three years or less, including three that are in just their second season: the University of Maine at Farmington, which the Wildcats oppose on March 27, Regis College (April 6) and Rivier College (April 30).

Less than two months into practice, Lee can already see cohesion. "The team has bonded together, and they all seem to have a good relationship with each other," said the coach, whose long wait to see his team play is nearing an end. "It's been a long road. I'm definitely excited to get going."

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