COLCHESTER, Vt. - While posting a program-record 21 wins over the last two years and advancing to a Northeast-10 Conference Championship semifinal five of the past seven springs, the Saint Michael's College men's lacrosse team has positioned itself as a perennial league title contender while earning regional and national attention.
With the Purple Knights heading into Pat Ivory's '08 first year as the interim head coach, Saint Michael's was chosen to finish second among New England Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (NEILA) squads and fourth in the NE-10, as well as being ranked ninth in Lacrosse Magazine's preseason national poll.
"I think there's definitely some pressure, and expectations are high, as they should be," said Ivory, who inherited a 35-player roster with 11 seniors and 11 juniors upon being hired in January after coaching with the program for three years, but not since fall 2011. "But the advantage is that we have a senior-heavy team. We have guys who have had these expectations before and are used to operating under that certain amount of stress."
The Purple Knights were 11-5 overall and 6-4 in the NE-10 last year, losing four times by two goals or less before suffering a conference tournament semifinal loss to eventual NCAA Tournament semifinalist Le Moyne College. Defense keyed its success, as the Purple and Gold allowed more than eight goals only once, posting the sixth-best scoring defense in Division II and killing penalties at the third-best rate. Its 6.12 goals-against average and 11 victories were school records.
Ivory is joined on the coaching staff by second-year assistant Craig MacDerment and first-year assistant Kevin Hunt '12, one of the Purple Knights' captains last year and an all-region attack. An assistant coach between 2009 and 2011, Ivory assisted during 2011 fall ball before coaching high school lacrosse last spring.
Three fifth-year seniors are slated to heavily lend experience to the squad. Senior captain Evan White (Sudbury, Mass./Lincoln-Sudbury Regional) and classmates Christian Cook (South Burlington, Vt./New Hampton School) and Max Zuccarini (Medfield, Mass./Medfield) are back for an additional season, while seniors Neil Kelly (Narragansett, R.I./Bishop Hendricken) and Marty Vanzo (Westford, Vt./Essex/Vermont) and junior Chris DeMairo (Bethpage, N.Y./Bethpage) complete the contingent of four captains.
Ivory, who said the past relationships he had with the student-athletes as an assistant coach are already helping him coach the players on an individual basis, expects much of the lineup to be similar to last year's.
"We have a pretty good idea of who our starters are at attack and defense, since we return most of them, so we don't have to change too much there," Ivory said. "At the midfield, we're still playing with the pieces of who's going to work best with whom. We know who our top guys are, and who's good at what, but we're figuring out how to put the pieces together and find the continuity."
As for improving upon last year's 11-5 record, Ivory is looking for the Purple Knights to focus on better discipline. "I think discipline was a difference in those one-goal losses last year, those games that come down to one too many penalties, or talking to the ref rather than busting to get a ground ball. We've been focusing on those sorts of things, practicing with a lot of intensity, and trying to keep everything as though it was a game situation, so we're prepared for those close games, and we turn those one-goal losses into one-goal wins."
Vanzo, senior Pete Donnally (Madison, N.J./Morristown-Beard School) and junior Evan Antolino (Exeter, N.H./Exeter) figure to be the Purple Knights' starting attack. A two-time all-region selection, Donnally posted 43 goals last year, coming within three of the school record, and has 96 through three seasons, 13 short of the program mark. He was fifth in Division II in goals per game as a junior. Vanzo was both All-NEILA and all-conference while notching 32 goals and 15 assists, while Antolino turned in five goals and five helpers last season.
Sophomore Matt Dromeshauser (Norwell, Mass./Norwell), who had a pair of tallies in five contests as a first-year, is slated to be the squad's first attackman off the bench. Senior D.J. Dauria (Sherborn, Mass./Dover-Sherborn) had two goals in 10 games and joins first-years Lawrence Dee (Charlotte, Vt./Champlain Valley Union) and Jared Spence (Sherborn, Mass./Dover-Sherborn) in fighting for time in a reserve capacity.
Upperclassmen dominate the midfield corps, with Zuccarini and juniors Connor Glackin (South Huntington, N.Y./Saint Anthony's) and Tim McDonald (Walpole, Mass./Walpole) again set to make an impact on the offensive side of the ball. Zuccarini had 14 goals and 10 assists last year, Glackin deposited 14 goals, and McDonald netted 10. The versatile Cook posted four goals and four helpers.
Among the players also expected to make an immediate impact in the midfield, senior Austin Driscoll (Hingham, Mass./Hingham/Dickinson) had five ground balls in six games and can take face-offs, and classmate Asa Sargent (Ripton, Vt./Middlebury Union) had four points and three ground balls in five games and has secured a spot on the second midfield line. Junior Chris Casserly (Kensington, N.H./Exeter) is the team's top draw man, having gone 101-for-177 on face-offs in 2012, with his 57.1 winning percentage good for fourth in the NE-10 among players with 100 victories.
Junior Cooper Quenneville (Shoreham, Vt./Gould Academy) had 34 ground balls, 12 caused turnovers and seven points, and could also see time on the face-off X, sophomore Matt Casella (Yonkers, N.Y./Fordham Prep) was 36-for-76 on draws, and defensive-minded first-year Daegan Goodman (Montpelier, Vt./Montpelier) can contribute on face-offs. Classmate Jamie McGill (Needham, Mass./Needham) is also in the mix of players who could see time in the midfield.
Senior midfielder Dane Sengaloun-Homsab (Brattleboro, Vt./Brattleboro Union) returns to the squad for the first time since 2010, while junior Theo Ferguson (Bethlehem, N.Y./Bethlehem Central) continues to lend his skills to a new position: A goalie who drew three wins as a first-year, Ferguson transitioned to the long-stick midfielder position last year, as he appeared in three games, but will carry a short stick in 2013. In his first season with the squad, sophomore Mark Higgins (Plainville, Mass./Kent School), an offensive-minded defenseman on the ice hockey team, could appear as a midfielder or on the attack. First-year Owen Dayton (Bradford, N.H./Kearsarge Regional) rounds out the midfield contingent.
Kelly and White have locked down starting spots on defense, while senior Liam Pushee (Hanover, N.H./Hanover) and sophomore Luke Solms (Bedford, N.H./Northfield Mount Hermon) are in contention for the third position. The 6-foot-5 Kelly was all-region last year after scooping up 49 ground balls and causing 33 turnovers, while he and White are both in their second years as captains. White picked up 17 ground balls in just three games in 2012 before missing the remainder of the season due to injury, but was all-region and all-conference in 2011. Pushee saw time in six games as a junior, including one start, after entering college as an attack but beginning a transition to defense as a sophomore. Solms appeared in four games last season.
Sophomore Sean Curtin (Ledyard, Conn./Ledyard) heads into the season as the squad's top long-stick midfielder after playing in six games last year, while junior Sean Smith (West Islip, N.Y./Saint John the Baptist Diocesan) will also see time at the position after appearing in 11 contests last spring as a short-stick middie.
A quartet provides important depth to the defensive corps. Junior Conner Roohan (Saratoga Springs, N.Y./Saratoga Springs) appeared four times as a sophomore and can contribute either on close defense or with the long stick, while classmate Ted Van Sickle (Needham, Mass./Needham) is in his first year with the team and is transitioning into a defensive role. Sophomore Scot Masingill (Victor, N.Y./Victor Senior) saw action in three contests last year and can also aid both the defensive and long-stick causes, while first-year Brian Devilly (Norwell, Mass./Norwell) begins the season as a reserve defender.
DeMairo and fellow junior Andrew Landers (Manchester, Mass./Proctor Academy) are battling for the starting goalie job, while first-year T.J. Bicknell (Duxbury, Mass./Duxbury) figures to bide his time for the moment. DeMairo, who has started 30 of 32 games since coming to the College, set school records for wins (11) and GAA (6.04) last year, finishing third in Division II in GAA. Landers notched a 5.39 GAA and a .667 save percentage in four games off the bench last spring.
Saint Michael's jumps immediately into a difficult schedule, as five of the top seven teams in the Feb. 24 United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) national poll dot the slate, including two on an ambitious three-game Spring Break slate: No. 1 and 2012 NCAA Tournament semifinalist Mercyhurst University in the opener on March 10, and No. 6 New York Institute of Technology on March 16.
The Purple Knight begin their home and NE-10 slates against conference newcomer The College of Saint Rose on March 23 before hosting No. 7 Adelphi University on April 13 and fourth-ranked Merrimack College on April 23. Immediately following its match-up with the Warriors, the Purple and Gold closes the regular season at No. 2 Le Moyne on April 27. The six-team NE-10 Championship begins on April 30.
"With Mercyhurst and Le Moyne for the first game and the last game, it's easy to get up for those two, but we have to learn to handle everything in between," said Ivory. "It's all about taking it one game at a time, and focusing on the opponent that we're up against. We can't allow anyone to sneak up on us, because the NE-10's too competitive. The senior leadership should help with that. You have to win the games you're supposed to, and if we can take some games we're not supposed to, we'll be in really good shape."