Men’s Lacrosse | Transfer Callahan brings Div. I experience to promising squad
Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 08:03
The men's lacrosse team is a talented group of players. No one can deny it; The Jumbos are the reigning NESCAC and NCAA Div. III Champions.
But how good are the Jumbos, actually? Is playing Div. III lacrosse comparable to playing in the more televised, glorified Div. I? The best way to find out is to talk to someone who has played in both settings.
Enter Matt Callahan.
Callahan, a sophomore transfer from Div. I Fairfield University, has a bold answer to the question of how the Jumbos stack up against the nation's top Div. I squads.
"I believe that our team this year could beat any team, at any level, when we play to our ability," he said.
Callahan was a highly touted recruit coming out of Phillips Exeter Academy in 2009 as an All-American long-pole defenseman. He started 12 of 14 games during his freshman season at Fairfield, sitting out the other two with a concussion.
He thrived at Fairfield from an athletic standpoint, but the overall experience wasn't exactly what Callahan wanted out of his time in college.
"I decided to transfer because I wanted to have more balance in my college experience between academics, athletics and social/extracurricular activities," he said.
The Jumbos' national title was certainly an added reason to come to Tufts, yet Callahan's process of choosing a school was underway long before — and continued after — the championship run. And with the graduation of Tufts' Third Team All-American defenseman Eytan Saperstein (LA '10), as well as other defensive starters, Callahan's transfer couldn't have come at a better time for the team.
"We graduated a lot of defensive players, but we also have a lot of younger guys who are capable of playing, and adding Matt has increased our depth at defense and provided us with another impact player," senior quad-captain defenseman Alec Bialosky said.
The addition of Callahan to the team will add to the strong roster, according to senior quad-captain attacker D.J. Hessler.
"We had all the confidence in the world in the guys we still had on the team, but it is always great to get a talented player like Matt to come to our team," he said. "His experience playing last year will help to be a voice of leadership on our defense."
Of course, no one appreciates a great defender as much as a goaltender. Sophomore goalie Tyler Page, a former teammate of Callahan's at Phillips Exeter, knows well the type of presence Callahan has around the crease.
"Having Matt as a part of the defense in front of me definitely makes my life easier," Page said. "He is an extremely consistent player on the ball so I don't have to worry too much about getting slides ready for him. But I believe his strength is his off-ball defense. He is a great communicator and really helps to bring the defense together as a unit."
When it comes to slides — defensive shifts that occur after an offensive player gets past his defender — speed, vision, communication and, in most cases, intuition are vital to success. According to Page, Callahan's abilities help make the slide system smooth.
"We are a quick-sliding team that relies more on our collective team defense than on individual talent, so a leader like Matt is essential to our style of play," he said.
Callahan's transition to Tufts has been a fruitful one both in terms of his lacrosse play and in his personal and academic lives, which is just what he was hoping for when he decided to transfer to the Hill in mid-June.
"My experience at Tufts thus far has been outstanding," he said. "In general, I really enjoy my classes and the location of campus. Lax-wise, I couldn't have asked for a better transition. The guys on the team were incredibly welcoming and are a group of just great people that I thoroughly enjoy spending time with."
It's a mutual respect. His friends and teammates consider themselves lucky to have Callahan with them during their Tufts careers. And as if fate itself had dressed Matt in brown and blue, a spot opened up for him in a Wren suite this year with many of his sophomore teammates, including Page and their fellow Exeter alum Sam Gardner, who is also a defenseman and was Callahan's roommate at Exeter.
"When Matt decided to transfer to Tufts, I was very excited because I knew what it would mean for our lacrosse team and because of our friendship," Page said. "We had a kid who was supposed to live in Wren with us this year transfer out, so Matt was able to move into our suite and get to know a bunch of the guys right away. Having Matt at Tufts has been great both on and off the field."
A revamped defense laden with high -school classmates could be a recipe for success for the Jumbos, who struggled at times last season to stifle opposing offenses. Fortunately for those hoping for back-to-back titles, Callahan's transition into the Jumbos' defensive sets so far has been as seamless as he could have hoped.
"The coaching staff certainly knows how to win," he said. "I just want to contribute in any way they think is best to help continue the success of the team."