October 19, 2011

Fall Ball Brief: Rhodes College

Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Rhodes College is kicking off its first season in a peculiar spot. While they are new on the Division III scene, the Memphis school is starting in a conference – the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference – that is on its last breath. At least for the Lynx.

At the conclusion of the 2012 season, Rhodes will transition to the Southern Athletic Association, along with Birmingham-Southern, Centre, Hendrix, Millsaps, Oglethorpe, Berry and Sewanee. While the footprint of the new league still stretches from Arkansas to Georgia, it eliminates geographical outliers Colorado College, Dallas and Southwestern (Texas), which will retain the SCAC label (along with Centenary in Louisiana).

Regardless of the teams on the schedule – and the Lynx will play the full SCAC slate this spring – this could be a challenging year for head coach Dave Zazzaro's troops.

- Fall Ball Priority: As with all start-up programs, the goal is to become mildly competitive in the first year of action. "We just want to establish an identity and a set of standards and expectations," said Zazzaro.

- Know this name: Peter Hall. With the paucity of numbers, versatility will be a key for all of the players on the Lynx roster, and Hall will be emblematic of that. A senior out of Alexandria, Va., Hall will have to make sure he is in shape this spring.

"He'll be on the field a lot for us," said Zazzaro. "He's kind of a blue-collor, in-between-the-boxes, player who will play defense and help us clear the ball, but he also likes to generate offense."

Hall is used to being multi-dimensional. The International Business major has helped start a non-profit company from his dorm room that uses bottled water sales to raise money for the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

- Need a Little Patience: Zazzaro is certainly no stranger to Division III lacrosse, but this will be the first time he's had to build a program from scratch. Zazzaro's previous two gigs – Colby and Colorado College – were established programs, but now he has to start from square one. He doesn't necessarily consider equanimity to be one of his biggest strengths (very few coaches do), but Zazzaro understands that he'll have to learn to take a slow, steady approach through the formative years.

"I think it is just patience; that's the challenge," he said. "If we understand that it's a process and it's not going to happen all at once, we'll get there. It's going to take a couple of swipes at recruiting. You have a vision in your head and you've just got to stay the course."

- Walking in Memphis: Situated on the western border of Tennessee, snuggled up against both the Arkansas and Mississippi border, Memphis may not seem like a good spot for lacrosse, especially for those in the East Coast bubble, but Zazzaro is optimistic. Primarily, it's because Tennessee prep programs are churning out high quality players. There will be Volunteer State freshmen at Dartmouth, Syracuse, Navy and Bellmarmine this spring and goalie Patton Watkins from Chattanooga (McCallie) started the 2011 D-III national championship for Tufts.

In addition, the combination of a Rhodes education combined with a big-city opportunities will making it enticing for in-state players, as well as to the burgeoning lacrosse hotbed in Dallas.

"Rhodes is one of those places where you have to see it to understand it," said Zazzaro. "It's a small, liberal arts college, but it has all the accoutrements of a big city. You get the best of both worlds. You have a close-knit community with the college and if you want to venture to the city, it's three miles down the road. Not many small, liberal arts colleges have that as one of their assets."

- Verdict: The successes for Rhodes this year will likely be of the intangible variety, such as "identity" and "expectations," because it could be a very difficult season for the Lynx. With the active roster hovering between 19 and 25 players this fall and a couple of unflattering scores – including an 18-0 setback to conference rival Hendrix, which finished fifth in the SCAC in 2011 – it's unlikely that this new program will get anywhere near the .500 mark.

There is hope for a couple of wins because Zazzaro is keeping things reasonable with a 12-game schedule, which will include games against fellow rookies Piedmont (Ga.), Augustana (Ill.) and Huntingdon (Ala.). Wins won't be the initial focus, however.

"We could really take it on the chin this first year, but one of the primary reason I came here is I think this place is a sleeping giant," said Zazzaro. "We're going to go through some rough spots, particularly this first year, and maybe for two years. But the guys on the team have bought into what we're trying to do and are having a lot of fun and working hard. Certainly, results are important, but it is not something that is going to define us."

News & Notes: Because of the timing of his hire, Zazzaro will be operating with players who were already on campus this spring...Zazzaro is finding that the recruiting calendar has changed just in the couple of years he was out of the mix. There aren't a whole lot of players available in the summer before their senior year...the Lynx will open the season on Feb. 25 with a home date against Piedmont.

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