KEENE, N.H., 3/3/09 - Men's lacrosse players are known as a hearty
bunch - take a licking and keep on ticking. However, thanks to
Mother Nature, both Keene State and Bates College players will have
their resolve put to a test when they take to the Owl Athletic
Complex turf for Thursday's season opener.
Game conditions will be far from ideal for the 4 p.m. face off. The field will be bordered by piles of drifting snow from this past weekend's storm, temperatures are predicted to be in the low 20s (but feeling more like 11 degrees), and the wind is expected to gust in the 14-mph range. You'd be hard pressed to determine if keeping warm or scoring goals was a bigger objective.
"Games like this build character," said KSC Coach Mark Theriault. "You have to try to block out the conditions and concentrate on the task at hand."
Easier said than done. Practicing outside since mid-February, the Owls have not only experienced changing weather conditions, but changes brought about due to a reconstructed roster.
While Theriault returns for his 10th season as the Owls head coach, he will welcome a new assistant coach, Alex Loscialpo, and 19 players to the program. The change doesn't end there for the Owls, who will also have new faces at attack, midfield, and goalie positions, not to mention new uniforms.
"It's definitely a different team than you've seen in the past," said Theriault, who is seven wins shy of his 100th career victory at KSC. Speaking to the squad at the start of preseason, Theriault told them that he was excited about the teams' prospects and scared to death at the same time.
Theriault's apprehension is understandable. The Owls lost several key players that helped elevate Keene State into a top Division III program, capture a pair of Little East Championships, and earn two NCAA tournament berths.
According to Theriault, Keene State's fortunes for the upcoming season will be determined on how well the several returning veterans adapt to their leaderships roles. There will also be the motivation factor. "The returnees have a sour taste in their mouth after posting a 9-3 (5-1, 2nd LEC) record and losing in overtime to Western Conn. in last year's tournament," said Theriault.
Despite the changes, Theriault feels the Owls can challenge for the Little East Conference championship. "We're going to have to do it the old fashioned way," he said. "We have to find the right chemistry, and everybody has to be willing to work hard."
The most apparent change for Keene State will take place in goal, where sophomore Alec Corliss and freshmen David Brochu and Kevin LeSage will battle to fill the large vacancy left by Matt Johnson, a three-time LEC Defensive Player of the Year. Theriault is hoping one of his aspiring keepers steps up and wins the top spot.
The loss of former All-LEC defenders Ron Ward and Mike Wood has created two holes on Keene State's back-line. Senior Kevin McCarthy, an All-LEC second-team selection last season, will anchor a Keene State defense that will include senior Brandon Rottler and sophomores Kyle Barnett and Dan Scimone. A two-time All-LEC pick, Easton Kezer returns for his fourth season as the team's top long-stick defensive midfielder, while junior Bryan Sweeney and sophomore Warren Dill will see time at short-stick midfield.
Although the Owls will miss All-LEC midfielders Mike Fontaine and Ryan Hazelton, Theriault feels the top line of senior Casey Brodersen (11-5-16), the team's top face-off man, and juniors Jamie Lesage (9-1-10) and Riley Benson (3-0-3) can get the job done. "They want to score," said Theriault. "That's what you want from your first group."
Senior Tony Santa Fe (32-24-56), the reigning LEC Offensive Player of the Year and a Face-off Yearbook honorable mention All-American, will once again run the Owls' attack. He will be joined up front by Griffin Meehan and Cam Sousa. Meehan is a freshman high school All-America from Simsbury, Conn., while Meehan, a sophomore transfer from the University of Hartford, is a strong crease player.
Keene State will once again face a challenging schedule that includes long-time LEC rivals Eastern and Western Conn., as well as non-conference opponents Bates and Bowdoin. The Owls will prepare for the season with a spring-week trip to Florida, where they will face Geneseo (N.Y.) State, ranked among the top teams in several preseason polls.
"In many ways we're starting from scratch, which is fun," said Theriault. "It's not a bad thing, just a different thing."
Fun might not be the best way to describe Thursday's game.