Men’s Lacrosse | Jumbos dig deep to open up 2013 season
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 02:03
As the 2013 season opens up for the Jumbos, head coach Mike Daly’s squad begins their hunt for a fourth straight NESCAC lacrosse title. It may seem a farfetched goal, but Daly’s men are up to the challenge.
The Jumbos last season fell 12-10 to Cortland State in a come-from-behind NCAA semifinal heartbreaker, but this spring, Tufts is determined to return to Championship Weekend. The last remaining members of the 2010 championship team now lead the Jumbos as seniors and hope to use their experience to get back to the peak of Div. III lacrosse.
“Of course we see this goal as doable,” senior midfielder Brian Ruggiero said. “I think it speaks volumes to the type of program that Coach Daly has built here and the type of players he recruits that we now expect to be competing for that NESCAC title every year. That being said, the most important game is always the next one, so for right now we’re focused on [Saturday’s season opener against] Hamilton.”
In addition to facing a rigorous schedule, Tufts will face the first two games of the season short-staffed while more than 20 members of the roster are temporarily benched in light of university-issued suspensions.
Tufts must also deal with the graduation of several All-American and All-NESCAC impact players and adjust to new faces that have joined the team.
“Coach Daly does a great job drilling our style of play at practice and in the film room to the point where it really becomes a habit,” Ruggiero said. “We lose guys every year — that’s the nature of playing a college sport — and we see this as just another opportunity, nothing more and nothing less.”
On the Hunt
On the attacking end, the Jumbos have one primary role to fill. They will sorely miss co-captain Sean Kirwan (LA ’12), who finished his chances nearly every time they arose and is perhaps the best crease finisher in recent Div. III history.
Kirwan, who has joined the Tufts lacrosse program as an assistant coach this season, became the Jumbos’ all-time leader in goals last spring, passing the previous mark of 148 to finish his career with 150.
“Obviously, Sean was a tremendous player and team captain last year,” junior midfielder Beau Wood said. “He has been a great addition to our coaching staff because of his wealth of knowledge on the offensive side of the field.”
While Kirwan’s absence will be noticed, Tufts proved itself by holding strong without him last year with an 8-2 record. Two very important starters — Wood and sophomore Cole Bailey — will improve the team’s chances by returning this season.
Last year, the dynamic duo from the Severn School near Annapolis, Md. proved themselves a force to be reckoned with, delivering a one-two punch that many defenses found impossible to decipher.
Bailey, who was named the NESCAC Rookie of the Year, led the conference with 68 points, averaging more than three per game. He also topped the charts with 42 assists — the second-highest number of assists in the conference was 23 from Amherst quad-captain Evan Redwood. As the season progressed, Bailey emerged as a crucial set-up man, and showed a willingness to take big hits in order to get the job done.
Bailey’s long-time teammate Wood came out of nowhere in 2012, displaying a fluid style of play and ability to rip shots from the wings and top of the circle. After appearing in just four games during his freshman season, Wood opened his sophomore campaign strong, scoring four goals and an assist in his first collegiate start, and kept the momentum going to finish second behind Bailey with 66 points and lead the league in goals.
The Jumbos also have a game-experienced candidate to step up as the third attackman in sophomore Chris Schoenhut. Schoenhut split time during the first half of the season last year, but emerged as a strong and intuitive player around the crease, demonstrating off-ball improvement as well.
The Jumbos return two of three offensive starters, but have suffered greater losses in the midfield, including last year’s co-captain Kevin McCormick (E ‘12), a two-time All-American and All-NESCAC offensive midfielder who finished his senior campaign with 59 points.
“It’s always tough when a team loses multiple players at one position, especially players like Kevin and George [Shafer],” midfielder Peter Bowers said. “But we feel that we have plenty of guys who can step up into more significant roles at the midfield.”
Bowers, a junior, can help catalyze the Jumbos’ revamped midfield unit. The midfielder had 34 points in 2012, is also a capable dodger, and might well begin to fill the role of his predecessor. However, Tufts is primarily focused on employing the talents of all of its midfielders.
“The losses at midfield present a great opportunity for younger players to see more playing time, which is exciting for everyone,” Bowers added. “We are confident that our depth and talent at the midfield will allow us to fill the holes left by the senior class. As a team, we stress the importance of having leaders at every position — freshmen through seniors — so although it’s great to have some experienced guys at the midfield, we expect everyone to be a leader.”