March 7, 2011

First Win Just the Start for Young Hoosiers

by Jac Coyne | | Twitter

Senior middie Dan Helfrich (above) leads Indiana in scoring, but the roster is dominated by freshmen and sophomores. Despite the youth, the Hoosiers have an opportunity to make a splash in the GRLC.
© Indiana Lacrosse

Monday Notebooks: MCLA-I | MCLA-II

As he stood on the sidelines as the final horn sounded in the game between Indiana and Ball State on Friday night, Hoosier first-year head coach Peter Tumbas was a cream and crimson mess.

Every thread of his Indiana gear was completely drenched by the continuous rain that soaked players, fans and coaches alike. Even though Tumbas had just picked up his first win as an MCLA head coach -- the Hoosiers beat Ball State, 9-5 in Indianapolis -- he didn't take the time to savor the milestone.

"I really didn't have time to enjoy it because as soon as the game had ended, I was speaking with three recruits who came to watch," said Tumbas. "Nor did I particularly care because the weather was awful and I knew what we were getting into against Ball State."

Tumbas, who was the leading scorer for Pittsburgh just last year, isn't interested in basking in the victory because the Ball State was more of a means to an end than a singular accomplishment. The game didn't appear on the initial Indiana schedule, but was added late in hopes of giving the Hoosiers a positive mindset heading into a three-week break.

Sitting at 0-2 after opening-weekend losses to No. 14 Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, Tumbas saw Ball State as a chance to spur some good vibes.

"It's disappointing that we didn't get the first one two weeks ago, but to end the first half of our season on an upswing was important because we're such a young team and we didn't want them to get comfortable with losing," Tumbas said.

Tumbas is building on the upward trajectory started by Matt Karweck, a former Notre Dame player who joined the Detroit Mercy staff after three years with the Hoosiers. Karweck also oversaw the transition of the program from the Central Collegiate Lacrosse Association -- a league dominated by Michigan and Michigan State -- to the Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference.

The move was initiated because of a dispute about eligibility with the CCLA administration, but it may inadvertently prove to be a boon for Indiana. While the GRLC is more geographically inconvenient -- it includes teams as far away as Missouri and Wisconsin -- the league is competitively wide open this year. Each of the teams that made the conference tournament in 2010 has already taken a loss and there are five teams that could conceivably win the automatic qualifier to Denver.

That includes Indiana, which lost, 6-5, to eventual GRLC champion Illinois in the league semifinals last spring. This likely fed Tumbas' desire to get a check in the win column with a late addition to the schedule. It allowed him to change the team's focus from the slow start to what promise this season could hold.

"I didn't want them worrying about the possibilities of an extended losing streak, so we were more focused on taking care of our play versus being concerned with Ball State in the week leading up the Friday's game," said Tumbas.

Indiana is young. Senior middie Dan Helfrich is leading the team in scoring (8g, 5a) and junior LSM Jeff Redish is a take-away pole who anchors the defense, but many of the other key cogs for the Hoosiers are young and inexperienced. Of the 32 players on the roster, 19 are either freshmen or sophomores.

Thus, the immediate goal for Tumbas is to make the conference tourney, which takes the top four GRLC I-A teams. To earn a bid to St. Charles, Mo., Indiana will have to beat one of the four teams -- Missouri, Lindenwood, Illinois or Wisconsin -- vying for a spot and clean up against the bottom of the league.

It's a quest that is nearly a month away. There is a three-day, three-game weekend in Memphis against UConn, Tennessee and Texas A&M on March 25-27, but the first GRLC contests occur in the first weekend in April at No. 23 Illinois and Illinois State.

The Hoosiers will get a good idea of what lays in store for them then, so don't expect Tumbas or Indiana to get too excited about a miserable rainy night in Indy.

"The first win was going to come eventually, whether it was against Virginia Tech or Ball State," said Tumbas. "It made no difference to me."

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