February 3, 2012

Pedroso Helping Lebanon Valley from the Start

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Malik Pedroso is the first player to earn all-conference accolades in the modern history of the Lebanon Valley program. While he's still got plenty to learn, he has been key to building the Dutchmen brand. "He is exactly the kind of player we needed to get our program rolling," said LVC head coach John Haus.
© Gordon Oliver

It's easy to be a conference rookie of the year when you're playing on a good team. How about receiving that honor playing for a team in its second-year of existence and comprised mostly of freshmen? Well, then you're the most important player to ever come through that program.

Basically, you're Malik Pedroso.

Pedroso won the Middle Atlantic Conference rookie award after leading Lebanon Valley in both goals (29) and assists (14) last spring as an attackman. He was also named to the honorable mention all-conference team – the first individual honor for the Dutchmen in their modern history (LVC had a varsity program from 1965-85).

He won those honors being stacked up against his peers in the MAC, but Pedroso's real value is what he gives the Lebanon Valley program. When LVC head coach John Haus recruited Pedroso out of Chenango Valley High School in Binghamton, N.Y., he looked for someone to provide a foundation for the team's growth.

During the inaugural campaign in 2010, the Dutchmen finished with a 2-13 record. The outcome was predictable. With only a couple of months to get ready for the first game, Haus had to rely on a bunch of hard-working kids with varying levels of lacrosse acumen. "Kids would knock on my door and I'd throw a jersey at them," Haus said.

With a full year of recruiting, Haus reeled in a 24-man freshman class for last spring. Pedroso was the centerpiece.

"We lacked lacrosse IQ and we lacked creativity, and those are two things that Malik brings to the table," Haus said. "He brings a high lacrosse IQ and an ability to create, improvise and make good things happen while understanding the flow of the game. He is exactly the kind of player we needed to get our program rolling."

Pedroso's decision to join the Dutchmen was based on several factors. He liked the safety of the LVC campus and was impressed by Haus' resume, which includes head coaching stints at North Carolina, Johns Hopkins and Washington College, where he won a Division III national championship in 1998.

Most importantly – and like many who are entering college – he wanted to get on the field.

"When Lebanon Valley came along, I thought this would be a great opportunity to come to a program and start," Pedroso said. "I have a few friends at D-II and D-III programs and they don't play at all. This is their sophomore year and they probably won't play at all and I'm starting. I really thought that would be my best bet."

When he arrived on campus, the LVC staff was well aware of Pedroso's skill, but there's always that concern that a player just won't translate to the college game. That fear was erased very quickly. "That first practice I saw him and just said, 'Yup, he's going to be the guy,'" Haus said.

Pedroso creates most of his chances – and those of his teammates – via his quickness, often from behind the cage. When Haus describes Pedroso's game, he labels it as "high risk." While he is unquestionably the most dangerous weapon the Dutchmen have, Pedroso doesn't always take the easiest option.

"He gets the ball, he creates, he draws defenders, and sometimes the decision that he makes, he is thinking too far ahead," Haus said. "I'm going to dodge here, and create here and I'm throwing here, and that guy may not be there."

High risk is one way to describe Pedroso, but a lot of that stems from awkwardness inherent in having a freshmen be the best player on the team. Pedroso is a study in contrasts because he has high aspirations – "I want to be the best player in the conference and one of the best in Division III," he said – but there's still a deference to other players. He even said he was surprised he won the rookie of the year award, especially since the freshman LVC goalie, who Pedroso described as "spectacular," had the second best save percentage in the league.

"I would say that I'm a goal-scorer, but I don't want to be selfish out there on the field," Pedroso said. "So I'll go to the goal a few times, but if I'm feeling like I'm being too selfish, I'll dodge and look to straight feed. Not even look [to shoot]. That hurts me sometimes because I'll see myself looking to feed and I won't realize that I'm open to shoot myself."

There is a certain nobility in being an unselfish player, but sometimes you need an alpha dog when the game is tight and you need a goal. It's an attitude adjustment that Haus has been trying to instill in Pedroso.

"There were times in games when we would need to generate offense and Malik would distribute the ball around the field," Haus said. "I would stand there during a time out and say, 'Malik, get the ball in your stick and go.' We needed him to get a goal because he was the guy who could create for us."

Pedroso isn't unfamiliar with the concept. It's what he did a lot during his high school days, but it's something he'll have to work on. The Dutchmen had five one-goal losses in 2011, and a couple of those got into the rookie's head.

"Three games he's had me do that and I've choked on it," admitted Pedroso. "I would just miss the cage, just an inch or two wide or in the bottom corner, and it frustrated me every time."

Fortunately for Pedroso – and Lebanon Valley – his stress reliever is lacrosse. Haus says he constantly sees the sophomore in the gym, hitting the wall or shooting on the goal outside during his free time. It has helped set the tone for the rest of the players, and allowed Pedroso to blow off some steam.

"If there was one thing I could do in my life, it would be to play all day long," Pedroso said. "When I was younger and I got angry, I'd just go outside and shoot on my goal or go play with the backstop. Here, I just try go out there and calm down; relax away from my school work, but also get better."

He'll be better, and so will his team. Haus has another 10-man recruiting class in and he's beefed up the schedule, starting with Randolph-Macon in the season opener. The Dutchmen are still a third-year program and will have to battle for a spot in the MAC tournament, but as their best player improves, so will the entire program.

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