February 24, 2012
Dragons will still aim high
Stickers open season on Saturday
Just because a handful of All-Americans graduated from the SUNY Cortland men’s lacrosse team does not mean the Red Dragons’ lofty ambitions have changed at all.
When the Red Dragons open the season at 1 p.m. this Saturday afternoon facing Widener University in Chester, Pa., they are expecting that outing to be a first step towards returning to the NCAA Division III title game.
After making four straight appearances in the national championship game from 2006-09 — and capturing national crowns in the first and last years of that stretch of post-season success — the Red Dragons have been knocked off in the NCAA semifinal round in each of the past two springs by Tufts.
In order to return to the title game this season, sixth-year head coach Steve Beville will have to fill some big voids. The losses of versatile national Midfielder of the Year Chris DeLuca and imposing figure of first-team All-America defenseman Justin Schneidman loom largest. They are just two of six starters who graduated off last year’s 16-3 squad that captured SUNY Athletic Conference regular season and playoff titles.
Cortland is ranked sixth in Division III pre-season national polling heading into the Widener opener.
“We’ve had a couple of these years where we’ve had impressive classes graduate and we still have been able to find a way to still be successful,” said Coach Beville, who will have DeLuca still around as an assistant coach.
Beville will also have seniors Mike Tota and Greg Wright back as experienced attackmen, have sophomore Joe Slavik and senior Zack Mulvaney returning to the midfield, and have sophomore Brian Winterfeldt stepping into the role as the top Cortland defender.
And there are goalies galore to protect the Red Dragons crease, like 2011 second-team All-SUNYAC selection and sophomore Scott Tota (Mike’s younger brother), junior 2010 SUNYAC Rookie of the Year Mike Kaminski, senior returnee Kyle Gaebel, sophomore returnee Nick Costabile and sophomore transfer Steve Mahle who played previously at Division I Massachusetts.
KAMINSKI HAS GAINED the upper hand on the goalie battle, and will start against Widener. “Kaminski has kind of taken the lead there. He had a good fall and played very well in pre-season. Mike Tota and Steve Mahle are the back-ups, but I feel confident using either of them,” said Beville of his goalie situation.
Though the towering 6-foot-6 Schneidman and 6-foot-3 second team All-America Shane Crossett were truly BIG losses off a defense that allowed just 4.68 goals per game, Coach Beville is confident about his close defense. The new Red Dragon ‘D’ allowed only seven goals through four quarters during a recent pre-season scrimmage session against Division I Princeton, and returning starter Winterfeldt missed that tune-up with an injury.
Winterfeldt is expected to be ready to go against Widener, while Coach Beville was impressed with the starting junior trio of C.J. Nye out of Marcellus, Craig Sullivan and B.J. Simmons from Auburn in the Princeton scrum. Frosh Matt Moro from Fayetteville-Manlius and sophomore Mike Warner could also be part of the defensive rotation.
“These guys are faster and more physical than the big, tall guys we’ve had over the past two years,” said Beville of his defense. “It will be a little different style, but we’ll be quicker to slide. They’re built more like running backs than basketball players.”
Long-stick defensive midfielder Jack Kennedy will be one of the best in the country at that specialist spot, the talented senior out of West Genesee backed by junior veteran Sean Davern and freshman Pat Brown out of West Genesee.
“Kennedy’s looking the best he ever has. He’s just grease-lightning out there,” said Coach Beville.
Replacing defensive middies Eric Parah (a second team All-American in 2010) and Pat Hayes will be a difficult task. Senior Matt Hoey out of Auburn and redshirt sophomore Doug Meehan are the top candidates to replace that Dragon duo, along junior Brandon Mulholland and freshman Andrew Billups.
ON ATTACK, 2010 scoring leader Jay DiStefano (35 goals-22 assists) has departed, though both Wright (19-33) and Tota (40-11) have already proven to be capable scorers.
Two freshmen — Hunter Osborne out of Homer Central and Matt Rakoczy from Albany — are battling to be the third starting attackman. Osborne had 44 goals and 15 assists for the Trojans a year ago. Coach Beville expects sophomore Cody Consul to step up on attack, too.
There will be strength in numbers at midfield where DeLuca’s faceoff ability will be missed, not to mention the 27 goals and 17 assists he scored last year. Coach Beville hopes to use three lines, saying: “We do lack experience at midfield so we’re going to be running more guys.”
Sophomore Joe Slavik out of Binghamton Seton Catholic is back after scoring 31 goals and picking up 14 assists during his rookie campaign, to join senior veteran Zack Mulvaney (5-9) out of Carthage on the first midfield group. Sophomore Sean Dwyer and a freshmen trio of Mike Cantelli, Skaneateles grad Zach Brownlee and Billy Davis will run with the first or second middies.
A third line featuring freshman Nick Wolak, senior Brendan Bellew and junior Taylor Mendoza will also be put to use. Middies Davis and junior Nick Jarvis out of Onondaga Central will handle faceoffs, under the direction of new assistant DeLuca.
The mild winter has helped speed along pre-season preparation, which will come in handy with a tough early schedule prior to opening up SUNYAC play hosting Plattsburgh on March 31. After the Widener opener, the next six games will be against Union (ranked 13th nationally), Gettysburg (12th), Stevenson (7th), Middlebury (10th), arch-rival Ithaca and RIT (5th).
“When you come to Cortland, you’re going to expect that,” said Beville of the rugged schedule. “The players expect that kind of schedule and challenge when you come to Cortland and we’re going to provide that for them.”
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