For most programs, the graduation losses of a team’s top-two scorers and starting goalkeeper – all of which were All-Americans – might be too much to overcome.
For the Merrimack College men’s lacrosse team and seventh-year head coach Mike Morgan, it is business as usual. The mantra, once again, is reload and not rebuild, as the Warriors eye another promising season when the 2014 campaign opens up this Saturday at home.
With the return of six of their top-nine scorers, as well as a plethora of promising freshmen and transfers and three Preseason All-Americans, the Warriors are in prime condition not only to match their 11-win mark from last spring, but surpass it.
“Expectations for this season coming in are that this is a top-10 team again,” Morgan summated. “This is a team that can certainly compete in the NE-10, if not the NCAA Tournament. I think for us, it’s more about work ethic and the process. The expectations from our staff and from our guys are that we have to continue to work hard, and if we do, I think we’re going to be one of the more talented teams in the country.
“At the end of the day, no one’s going to give anything to us. I think that last year, the way things ended [just short of the NCAA Tournament] motivated us. Expectations are that guys are going to show up and play hard each day and be prepared to play in tough games. We put the work in so hopefully it transcends into wins.”
The question will likely not go away in its entirety until the season officially begins and someone other than 2013 graduates Corey Lunney and Greg Melaugh find the back of the net, but it will be there to start the year: how will the Warriors replace last year’s dynamic scoring duo this spring?
That answer, low and behold, might be easier answered than one might have expected; while Lunney (59 points) and Melaugh (50) accounted for nearly 40 percent of the team’s total scoring last season, Merrimack should fare just fine in the goal-scoring department thanks to the return of six of the team’s top-nine scorers.
Leading the way up front is Preseason All-American Jamie Shand (Massapequa, N.Y.), who represents the team’s lead returning scorer after a 47-point (22g, 25a) campaign a year ago. The junior will have plenty of options to turn to, with senior Paul Jones (Guilderland, N.Y.) and junior Kyle Guilbert (Walpole, Mass.) expected to be right there with him after each posted 18- and 17-point campaigns, respectively, in 2013.
While no individual may leap off the charts like Lunney and Melaugh did, Merrimack might be in better shape thanks to a more balanced offense this spring. And the Warriors should benefit from the services of an infusion of talent from transfers and freshmen: junior Andrew Vivian (Slingerlands, N.Y.), who joins the Warriors from Drexel, should help spread out the offense even more, while freshmen Tucker Schwarz (Tallahassee, Fla.), John Bassett (Clifton Park, N.Y.), and Max Allen(West Caldwell, N.J.) will all contend for time and should have an impact throughout the year.
Merrimack’s midfield unit remains almost entirely intact from a year ago and, thus, should not miss a beat when the season opens up on Saturday.
Led by Preseason All-American and 2013 NE-10 All-Conference selection Mike Perdie (Wading River, N.Y.), the Warriors bring back all of its top-four scoring middies from last spring, and the unit should be just as – if not more – involved in the offense in 2014.
Perdie highlights that cast after putting up 24 points (11g, 13a) a year ago; the senior will enjoy the services of sophomore Tim Towler (Topsfield, Mass.), who produced a strong rookie campaign after posting 17 points (7g, 10a) and should be even stronger with a year of experience under his belt.
Fellow sophomores Ryan Poirier (Warwick, R.I.) and James Caruso (Needham, Mass.) were also regulars in the lineup last spring, with the former recording double-digit point total (6-6—12), while versatile senior Paul Gallagher (Simsbury, Conn.) will see time both at midfield and up front. Quinnipiac University transfer Andrew Walsh (Derry, N.H.) should add depth, while rookies Danny Loprete (Watertown, Mass.), Jack Trask (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Bobby O’Brien (Duxbury, Mass.) all could work their way into the lineup.
With all of the flashy offense that the Warriors boasted in 2013, it might have come as a surprise to see Merrimack ranked third nationally in scoring defense, yielding only 6.86 goals per game.
Junior All-American and all-conference honoree Brandon Waiter (Westport, Conn.) certainly had a say in that; the Preseason All-American was a constant disruptor to opposing teams’ top offensive threats and wreaked havoc up close, causing 1.77 turnovers per game (14th nationally).
Waiter will not be alone, joining senior Jimmy Holland (Billerica, Mass.) to form a daunting one-two defensive punch. The two-sport student-athlete recently completed a dazzling career with the Merrimack College football team and returns to the turf after ranking 12th nationally 1.86 turnovers per game. Those two will join junior Andy Basler (Chelmsford, Mass.) to start the season.
Seniors Steve Souza (Wilmington, Mass.) and Connor Whittemore (Walpole, Mass.), juniors Ralph Barisano (Westford, Mass.) and Owen Jarem (Clifton Park, N.Y.), and sophomore Scott Corcoran (Haverhill, Mass.) all logged time in double-digit games for the Warrior backline last year, while junior transfer Nick Dirado (Northville, Mich.) joins Merrimack after helping lead Onondaga Community College to a pair of national titles in each of the last two seasons. FreshmanBrennen Morin (Wilbraham, Mass.) should also contend for time, as well.
Junior Morgan Green (Portsmouth, R.I.) highlights a cast of three capable goalkeepers after the graduation of All-American and USILA Goalkeeper of the Year Connor Reagan. The Portsmouth, R.I., native boasts plenty of experience after starting all 16 games as a freshman in 2012. Green appeared in six games last fall and posted a 6.59 goals-against average and .680 save percentage during that span.
Senior Sean Payne (Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J.) and freshman Dom Madonna (Liverpool, N.Y.) will be in contention to see time in net, as well. Both have been stellar in fall and spring practices and will provide plenty of competition for the starting spot between the pipes.
The 2014 campaign gets underway this Saturday (March 1), as the Warriors play host to conference foe Saint Rose to kick off the year. Merrimack will stay at home for three of its first four games but will face a serious test on Sunday, March 9, traveling to Maryland to square off with No. 5 Limestone in a neutral-site showdown between two of the top teams in the country.
After that, the Warriors host 14th-ranked Saint Michael’s at home (March 15) before a midweek trip to No. 11 Dowling (March 19). Then, on March 25, the Warriors travel to reigning NE-10 and national champion Le Moyne aiming for revenge after the Dolphins ended their season in last year’s conference semifinals.
Merrimack will have little room to rest after that showdown, returning home to host fourth-ranked LIU Post in the first game of April. After hitting the road for three games, the Warriors round out their home slate with Saint Anselm (April 16) and a highly anticipated clash with third-ranked Adelphi, the only team to hand Merrimack a conference loss in 2013, on April 19.
The NE-10 Championships will be held from April 29 through May 4, with the top-two seeds earning byes to the semifinals. The NCAA Tournament begins Saturday, May 10.