September 28, 2010

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.


Wanted at WAC: 'Right Players, Right Attitude'

by Paul Ohanian | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Josh Perlow (right) and the Shoremen hope to do a little more celebrating under first-year coach Jeff Shirk in 2011.

© Kevin P. Tucker

Sometimes "who" is more important than "what."

That's the approach that Jeff Shirk is using this fall as he begins his first season as men's lacrosse coach at Washington College. Over 70 players reported for the first team meeting of the year, and midway through fall ball he still has 55 players practicing. With more cuts to make, Shirk just wants to make sure he has the right guys in the program heading into the spring.

"Our priority has been on making evaluations," said Shirk, who left VMI after four seasons to become the new head coach in Chestertown following the departure of J.B. Clarke. "We're not as concerned about executing plays perfectly or having the right clears in place right now. We're looking for players who are going to separate themselves. Our focus is to finalize the roster and identify the right personnel."

In the process of doing that, Shirk has placed a premium on attitude this fall, hoping that the right mindset will also pay dividends. The Shoremen have advanced past the NCAA tournament's quarterfinal round just once since winning the Division III national championship in 1998. Work ethic, dedication, a commitment in the weight room and even class attendance are among the criteria that Shirk has put under the microscope.

"We're looking for the right pieces on and off the field," he said. "I think the attitude of the players has been good, but there's always room to improve. I'm a believer that the right attitude is a difference maker."

Shirk said he has been pleased to see that several of the returning players have already transitioned to the changes that he and the new coaching staff have implemented. He acknowledged that adjusting to a new system with different terminology can be a bit daunting when a new regime takes over.

"Sometimes, that's tougher for returning players than for newcomers," Shirk said. "When things get difficult, it's easier to revert to what you know from the past. But it's all about creating a foundation for the future. Hopefully, constant repetition will reinforce those changes."

Returning midfielder and team MVP Doug Herdegen (29g, 7a), along with junior defensemen Bryan Botti and Jack Vermeil, are among players that have already "bought in to what we're trying to do," Shirk said.

Other returnees who could be key performers include senior midfielder Shane Kaski, senior attackman Josh Perlow and sophomore attackman Matt Lewis.

The players, however, are not the only ones adjusting to changes. In addition to the process of relocating his young family, Shirk, 32, is also learning to manage a larger staff than the one he had at VMI and adjust to less practice time.

"There's lots of moving pieces," he said. "As coaches, we meet on a daily basis and we have to make sure that we are structured and organized. It's about getting to know the players. I have been pleasantly surprised to see that we have a little more ability than I thought."


Team: Washington College
2010 Record: 4-10 (2-6 Centennial)

2010 In Review: The Shoremen suffered their first losing season since 1995, including losses in seven of their last eight games to end the season. While youth and injuries were among the primary obstacles to overcome, it didn't help that a preseason hazing incident cast a cloud over the season before the first game was even played.

Goodbye... J.B. Clarke. After 12 seasons, Clarke resigned as head coach on May 12. Under his leadership, Washington College amassed a 138-63 overall record and made seven NCAA tournament appearances. Alumni grew impatient, however, since the Shoremen have not won the Centennial Conference title since 2003 and have lost 10 straight in the annual "War on the Shore" rivalry to Salisbury.

Hello... Shirk is hesitant to highlight newcomers this early in his tenure, but he did mention freshman goalie Ted DiSalvo (Boca Raton, Fla.) as a player who adds good depth to the position. Sophomore returnee Matt Miller, who started 10 of 14 games in 2010, appears to still be the number one guy, but Shirk said DiSalvo "has lots of potential."

Offseason Developments: Shirk spent the summer rounding out his coaching staff, adding Andrew Delaney, J.L. Reppert and Ian Shure as assistants. Delaney offers the most familiarity with the Centennial Conference, having played collegiately for fellow conference school Franklin & Marshall. He spent the last three years as the defensive coordinator at Limestone College.

Big Question: Will Shirk and his staff effectively identify the players who will become part of the new foundation for the program? The focus has been primarily on the defensive end of the field through fall ball, but Shirk will also need to find some playmakers who can help the team improve on last year's paltry 7.8 goals per game average.

Fall Schedule: The Shoremen will line up against their alumni team for a scrimmage Saturday (Oct. 2), then take part in a three team round robin at Stevenson University on Oct. 17 that will also include Scranton.

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