The young and the restless

By any standard, the 2002 men’s lacrosse season was a disappointment. Last season began with high hopes, as a young team with a lot to prove returned several key starters and was shooting for a good showing in the NESCAC.

But those hopes were dashed by the unsettling habit the team had of coming out slow. Time and again, Williams entered the fourth quarter trailing by four or five goals. That the team rallied in almost every one of those games to put pressure on the opposition was noteworthy. Just as amazingly, in two of those games, the second half turnaround led to comeback wins.

Unfortunately, this habit caught up with the Ephs in the end. Standing at 6-5 going into their last two regular season games, the team went 0-2 in that critical stretch. The slide cost them a home playoff game. Instead, the same day as their last regular season game, the team boarded a bus for the five-hour trip to Colby. There, even the elements conspired against them, as a blizzard joined the White Mules in their opposition to the Ephs. For some strange reason, Maine schools have an advantage in the white stuff, and it was with injured pride that Williams took the bus ride home, their season over.

All that is in the past, and a new season greets Head Coach Renzie Lamb and his Ephs, ironically in Maine again. This Saturday, at 1:00 p.m., the Ephs face off against the Bates Bobcats in Lewiston. A revamped offense and a new commitment to defense have the team aiming high again this year.

“We’d like to compete for the one seed [in the NESCAC],” Lamb said, while supervising practice on Thursday night. “If the adversity brings us together, if we play together, I think this team can be competitive with anyone.”

Lamb is in his 35th year coaching Williams lacrosse and he’s seeing a lot of things he likes about this team. “It’s a bunch of athletic kids, not like when I was younger, when I first came here.”

It is this athleticism that the Ephs hope to harness. The graduation of captain Scott Goldberg ’02 removed a formidable weapon from their offense. To replace this strong individual scorer, the team has turned to Assistant Coach Adam Pascal. Pascal, a graduate of Middlebury and assistant coach at Nazareth and Harvard before coming to Williams this year, has implemented a new spread attack. The Ephs are now circulating the ball around the edges of the field and utilizing cutters and quick passes to get good looks from the weak side.

In the new offense, and without Goldberg, the Ephs look to score goals by committee. Much of the load will be placed on tri-captains Chris Hayes ’03 and Pete Thompson ’03, who are also looking to provide leadership and focus, especially in the early part of games. The spread offense takes advantage of new personnel; two freshmen, Tim Pingree ’06 and Drew Gottenborg ’06 have gotten looks among the top lines. With two lines working up top, six attack-men will be expected to step up time and again.

While the offense looks set, the fate of the team rests on the defense. Assistant Coach George McCormack is counting on the squad to keep the Ephs in games early and prevent the kind of come-from-behind desperation that characterized their play last year. Tri-captain Guy Danella ’03 leads a deep defense aided by upperclassmen David Rackovan ’04 and Steve Szalkowski ’04. Once again, several youngsters look to make an impact on the field, as McCormack is counting on Kellen Benjamin ’06 and Andrew Bisset ’06 to support the upperclassmen.

A very deep goaltending pool aids the defensive commitment. Four players are competing for time, but incumbent goalie Matt Rade ’04 currently has the edge. Indoor practices are hard on the goalies, who have a very difficult time picking up the ball, so the position is not locked up yet at all. Fellow junior Baemen Vertovez ’04 will push Rade, but for the moment, the job is his.

The defense can also count on help from a deep midfield. Lamb’s athletes in the midfield all play both ways, but defensive specialists Brian O’Connor ’06 and John O’Hanlon ’06 will come on to aid in the penalty kill and on defense. Long sticks Trevor Scott ’05, Roberston Follansbee ’04 and Peter Vecchio ’05 also look to help out the defense.

To aid this commitment to defense, the Ephs are looking for a little bit of luck, as the schedule is not very considerate. The first five games are played on the road, two of the games being played in Florida over spring break. But because Williams’ spring break is so late, the first three home contests will be played before the rest of the student body comes back in early April. The final two games of the year are at home, as are the two biggies, as Middlebury comes to visit for a midweek game on April 23. The following Saturday, April 26 is Williams-Amherst. Neither game should be missed.

And so a new season dawns, full of promise. Middlebury, the traditional NESCAC power and three-time defending National Champion is still the cream of the crop. But with young flair and the some key experienced leadership, the Ephs appear to have a mix of talent that can run with anyone, by Lamb’s estimation. Whether the recipe is a masterpiece or just a pretty good meal, the season will tell. It’s what makes this time of year so exciting. Either way, the Ephs are looking to make some noise.