February 23, 2016
New Dragons’ season has same old optimism
Heading into his 10th season commandeering the SUNY Cortland men’s lacrosse team, head coach Steve Beville knows each season is different.
One constant is the optimism that the Red Dragons will always be among the top Division III squads in the nation, Cortland looking to continue that tradition after finishing 16-5 overall a year ago. That success included an unbeaten run to an eighth consecutive SUNY Athletic Conference title.
The Red Dragons have been to the NCAA Division III playoffs for 15 straight springs, with national titles in 2006 and 2009. They fell in the quarterfinals a year ago to eventual national champion Tufts.
“It’s really crazy,” said Coach Beville of how quickly it seems he has reached his 10th season at Cortland, which is slated to get underway Wednesday afternoon with 3:30 p.m. visit to Scranton in Pennsylvania. “We take them one year at a time, and every year’s a new adventure. We look forward to it.”
Though seven of the top scorers from a year ago are no longer around, senior attackman Zach Hopps is back after leading Cortland with 41 goals and 37 assists.
Though starting goalie Scott Tota has moved on after making 611 saves in 21 contests as a senior, defense figures to be a Cortland strength with two of the team’s captains — senior Joe Brand and junior David Foster — leading the way.
Though Cortland’s first midfield unit has graduated, Coach Beville thinks he might be blessed with a deeper group of productive middies with transfer Cory Becker arriving from Division II Mercyhurst and junior Ryan Mahon back after missing last year with an injury.
And the Red Dragons have to feel good with top senior faceoff men Pat Baldwin (who won 280-of-415 draws at the X) and Gino Prestigiacomo (54-of-91) back. Conner Johnston, the former Homer Central standout who took last season off, returns for his senior campaign with the Red Dragons to add depth to faceoffs and the midfield.
How quickly things develop will be crucial, especially with a brutal early-season non-conference schedule. After scrimmages with the Iroquois Under-18 team and Middlebury College, Coach Beville noted: “Some of our weaknesses really showed up.”
WHILE HOPPS IS a proven scorer, he will be joined by junior Nate Beresovoy out of LaFayette who also missed out on last season while injured. Sophomore Devin Phelps out of Chittenango had five goals and 16 assists and will get the chance to improve on those numbers.
Junior Andrew Gonzales had four goals and two assists in primarily a man-up role last year but is ready to see more playing time, while sophomore Liam Erickson has also improved on attack. Freshman Dean Riley is another Homer product on the Red Dragons’ roster on attack, and Coach Beville said “we love what we see from him” in expecting the rookie to progress into a contributor.
With the top middie trio of Matt Rakoczy (32-11), Mike Cantelli (30-16) and Billy Davis (13-15) having graduated — with Rakoczy and Cantelli now assistant coaches along with former Red Dragons defenseman C.J. Nye and newcomer Logan Tousaw — a big offensive hole will have to be filled.
Coach Beville is high on the talents of Becker, who will run on a first midfield unit with Mahon and freshman Joey Panariello out of Islip. Cortland’s depth at midfield will be on display with folks like junior T.J. deLyra (11-7), junior captain Jimmy Nielsen, senior Ethan Printy, sophomore Eddie Eddington and Johnston.
“I don’t think we’re going to have trouble scoring goals,” said Beville of his attack and midfield. “We have plenty of weapons, with transfers, a bunch of freshmen and players who are a year older. We’ve got guys who have been waiting their turn, working hard in the weight room and working hard in fall ball. We’ve got plenty of guys who can score, it’s just getting them more playing time.”
WITH FACEOFF MEN Baldwin and Prestigiacomo capable of dominating, there should be plenty of Cortland scoring opportunities. “Its’ a good feeling having those guys in there, because that means more possessions and more possessions means more goals,” said Coach Beville of his faceoff performers.
Brand and Foster were part of a close defense that allowed just nine goals per game a year ago. They will be joined in the starting line-up by Anthony Zangari, a junior transfer from perennial junior college power Onondaga Community College in Syracuse.
Coach Beville is still waiting for a long-stick defensive midfielder to emerge, and moved senior Anthony Vaccaro over to that spot to help out.
Cooper Brown will start in goal against Scranton though Coach Beville said there’s still a stiff competition between the freshman from Connecticut and Joe Scalise. Sophomore Scalise got into seven games last year and made 35 saves over 151 minutes of playing time.
A schedule stretch in early March will certainly test the Red Dragons, visiting Nazareth on March 4 , facing RIT at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse on March, hosting Stevenson out of Maryland in a March 12 home opener at 1 p.m. and taking on Amherst during spring break in Florida. Non-league challenges against Ithaca, Union, Clarkson and Pennsylvania’s Cabrini are also on the schedule to go along with SUNYAC play.
Having a young coaching staff is also a concern, since 21 is their average age.
“They know the system, the school and all the preparation that goes with it,” said Beville of the staff members who played for the Red Dragons. “We have to hope they mature and learn and grow, but I’m confident they have the work ethic to make it work.”
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