There is no doubt that the Springfield College men’s lacrosse program had a tremendous year last season. The ability to turn their season completely around, and finish the season with a trip to the NCAA Tournament is just a general overview of the hard work and determination that the Pride showcased in 2013. But now it is 2014 and the Pride have a new look about them, a look that could potentially be very dangerous to the other 189 Division III lacrosse teams across the nation.
Ranked just outside the Top 20 in the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Pre-season Coaches Poll, the Pride finished last season with a 10-8 record, and with this season ahead of them, are sitting right where they want to be as the 2014 season will kick off on February 20 at Gordon College.
After starting the 2013 season off 1-7, losing heartbreaker after heartbreaker, the Pride utilized the momentum off of a hard fought 13-8 loss against Bowdoin College to turn around and head into their cross-town rivalry game against Western New England the following weekend.
With just a few seconds remaining in the game and the Pride with possession of the ball, junior attackman Ryan Murphy took his defender one-on-one and found the back of the net as time expired, lifting Springfield over the Golden Bears 11-10, defeating WNEU for the second time in as many years.
After this uplifting victory, the Pride finally gained some confidence and started to roll through their competition. In their next nine games, Springfield only suffered one loss to Amherst College, and finished the season with a Pilgrim League Championship 14-3 victory over Babson College.
With an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, the Pride drew a tough challenge when they were sent to Radnor, Pa. to take on the Cabrini Cavaliers, the No. 5 ranked team in the nation at the time. Despite impressive performances from freshman Brendan Boss, who netted three goals, and Bryce Serriello, who pumped in two, the Pride fell 20-8 and were sent home from the tournament after the first round.
With a bitter taste in their mouth, some solid newcomers to the program and returning their entire starting line-up from last season, the Pride will be a team to look out for in 2014.
Amidst their early season losing streak, the Pride got even worse news about midway through their March 16th battle with Union College on Springfield’s very own Stagg Field.
Sophomore Dylan Sheehan collapsed at the midline, holding his knee. The attackman’s 17 points, including 11 goals and six assists through six games, was undoubtedly impressive, and this season-ending injury would prove to be an enormous hurdle that the Pride were forced to get over.
However, the Pride were up to the challenge, made it through, and fortunately enough, Sheehan is back this year, and he is looking better than ever.
“Dylan Sheehan is a great player,” said senior captain Ryon Lynch, also an attackman. “He is the type of kid that makes everyone else look better because he’s constantly in the right spots, freeing people up and having almost perfect timing with his cuts. Dylan is easy to play with and has one of the highest lacrosse I.Q.’s I have ever encountered. Having him back this year is only going to add another dimension to our offense and make us that much harder for teams to stop.”
Last season, the Pride were mediocre on offense. Despite averaging 12.72 goals per game, this statistic was inflated against the lackluster Pilgrim League competition that Springfield faced down the stretch. Against respectable opponents, the Pride only averaged 9.9 goals per game.
Luckily for the Pride, the newest addition to the coaching staff and a former All-American midfielder for head coach Keith Bugbee during the 2012 season, Mike Delia, will be at the helm of the offensive unit in 2014.
“I have always had a great deal of respect for Coach Delia while I was playing with him because he brought such a lacrosse knowledge being from a great lacrosse area on Long Island,” added Lynch. “Coach Delia helped me a ton while we were playing together with getting the speed of the game down and little tips here and there on things I would never have thought of, and he continued that when he became Coach. Myself and the rest of the team are very excited with the direction Coach Delia has us going this season, and our offense should be a lot of fun to watch under his direction.”
Along with Sheehan, the Pride will return the dangerous tandem of Lynch and Murphy on attack, which will be no easy contest for the opposition’s defense. Last season, Lynch tallied 79 points, including 37 goals and 42 assists and was named ECAC Division III New England Offensive Player of the Year. The 79 points proved to be the 10th-most in the program’s history, while the 42 assists ranked fifth all-time in a single season.
“As a unit we have very high expectations,” added the senior from Frederick, Md. “There were times last year where we would score a lot, but we also had games where we wouldn’t. Being consistent on offense, controlling the ball and the tempo of the game are very important concepts that we are trying to master in order to be successful. We feel that we are full of talent on the offensive end from top to bottom, so the sky is the limit for our offense.”
Murphy proved to be just as dangerous last year, and with another year of experience under his belt, is ready to make his senior season a memorable one. In 2013, the Mansfield, Mass. native posted 55 points, including 34 goals and 21 assists, including an impressive five-goal performance against Western New England, including the game-winning goal in the final seconds.
Now for the midfield, the Pride return their top six offensive midfielders from last season and will be getting points from all different places come the spring. At the top of the list and on the first line this season, senior Kevin Freeman of Minisink Valley, N.Y. and junior Bryce Serriello of Barnstable, Mass. will pose as threats from the midfield just as they were in 2013.
Just one year ago, Serriello, a transfer from American International College where he was named Division II Rookie of the Year, posted 36 points in his first season in maroon and white, including 29 goals and seven assists. Freeman, a captain this year and four-year member of the Pride, tallied 33 points in 2013, including 22 goals and 21 assists.
The third member of this midfield line is shaping up to be sophomore Brendan Boss. A local product from West Springfield, Mass., Boss joined the team after de-committing from Robert Morris University late in his senior season at West Springfield High School.
The Pride were gracious to have him in the line-up last season, filling in for Sheehan at attack, and posting 27 points, including 20 goals and seven assists in just 14 games. This season, due to the return of Sheehan and the necessity of having his offensive prowess and athletic ability on the field, the Pride will be playing Boss up top with Freeman and Serriello.
The second-line midfielders for the Pride prove to be just as experienced. Seniors Devin Abad and Matt Fleisher will provide the experience, while sophomore Tony LaGuerre of Lakeland, N.Y. will add the scoring touch, the same scoring touch he used to work his way onto the top offensive midfield line in 2013. LaGuerre posted 26 points, including 17 goals and nine assists as a first-year, and will look to build off of that impressive season in 2014.
Without possession of the ball, offenses can do nothing except watch their team play defense. Branden Fernandez, the Pride’s face-off specialist, is the key to this part of the game for Springfield, and he is one of the best.
After an injury-laden junior season, Fernandez is looking to repeat his impressive sophomore season in 2014. During his second-year campaign, the Warwick, N.Y. native posted a winning percentage of 63 percent, which ranked him 17th in the nation. He also led the team with 91 ground balls. There is no doubt that Fernandez has the capabilities to be one of the program’s best in recent years.
Now for the defense. The Pride are equally as deep on this end of the field, only losing two seniors from last season’s unit where the Pride only allowed an average of nine goals a game. Leading the group will be senior captain Matt Giannelli and graduate student and two-year captain Colby Verge.
Giannelli, a four-year member of the Pride and three-year starter, was the top defender in 2013, taking on the challenge of shutting down some of the nation’s top attackmen along the way. Giannelli’s most impressive performance last season was when he shut down Babson College’s Alex Patinkin in the Pilgrim League Championship, holding the senior to just one assist in the Pride’s 14-3 victory.
“My expectations for myself and the defensive unit this year are very high,” said Giannelli. “We have been working very hard this off-season and pre-season to make sure we are playing at a high level both physically and mentally. It will be important for us to play with high intensity in order to dictate the pace of the game on our side of the field. If we can do that, we will hold teams to a reasonable number of goals. I believe that the defense will meet the expectations that everyone has for us.”
Joining Giannelli at close defense will be junior Frank Verde of Mahopac, N.Y. and sophomore Connor Samuelson of Longmeadow, Mass. Last season, Verde started 16 out of 18 games for the Pride and tallied 28 ground balls and 10 caused turnovers. Samuelson, in his first season with Springfield, helped the defense out with eight ground balls and nine caused turnovers through 17 games and 12 starts.
Verge, utilizing his fourth-year of eligibility after missing his freshman season due to starting on the basketball team at Springfield, brings athleticism and leadership to the defense this season. After an impressive 2013, where the senior from Derry, N.H. posted two goals, two assists and 21 ground balls, Verge will take on the challenging of matching up with each team’s top midfielder, much like he has done for the past three seasons.
A defense is nothing without solid goalkeeping, and luckily for the Pride, the team has extreme depth and leadership coming from this position. Battling for playing time throughout their entire careers, Robert Maher and Connor Nash will once again be battling week in and week out for the starting spot in 2014.
In 2012, it was Maher’s net. The then-sophomore from Katonah, N.Y. was the last line of defense on a unit that was ranked 15th in the nation and posted a save percentage of .651 and goals against average of 5.64, ranking him in the Top 5 in both statistical categories.
In 2013, Maher played just as well, but down the stretch, Nash got the nod in the Pilgrim League Championship victory over Babson College and also picked up a start in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Cabrini.
The third member of the goalie staff that the Pride possess is senior Kevin MacBride. Although he has never started a game for Springfield, MacBride brings the energy and enthusiasm to practice every day in order to push Nash and Maher to become better goalkeepers.
“All three of our senior goalies work hard every day,” said Giannelli. “I think this allows for them to push each other and not get complacent with how they are performing. Not only is it comforting to know Maher and Nash are in net, but it is also comforting knowing that MacBride is ready to go at any moment. I am confident to state that we have three of the best goalies in the country and I think the whole defense never has to worry with them in net. They all bring a great skill set and personality to not only the defense, but the team as well. I believe that our younger keepers look up to all three of them, which is important for the future of the program.”
The Pride will get the ball rolling in 2014 against Gordon College on February 20 and then travel to Rochester, N.Y. the ensuing weekend to take on the 10th-ranked Nazareth Golden Flyers.
There is no doubt that the Pride will have a tough beginning to the season, but the consensus is that they are up for the challenge that awaits.
“We want to win. To achieve this goal it is important for us to play within ourselves and our systems,” continued Giannelli. “We always try to concentrate on the things we can control, which
I believe will lead us to our goal. The team spends much time preparing for different situations and everyone is always willing and motivated to learn. If our team can continue to grow throughout the season by keeping the motivation and drive we have already showed this pre-season, then I do not think anything will impede us from our goal of winning.”