|Junior Wesley Wagner will be counted on to lead the defense after an all-conference season in 2018.|
Opportunity may be the best term to describe the composition of the 2019 men's lacrosse team at The College of Wooster, as a very youthful team is set to take the field with aspirations of improving upon a fourth-place finish in a parity-filled North Coast Athletic Conference.
"We're going to be young, but I think in a lot of ways, that's pretty good," said head coach P.J. Kavanagh, who has 16 newcomers on his 35-man roster. "The guys are bringing a tremendous amount of positive energy. With our strong leadership and influx of youthful talent on the team, there's a really great vibe this year."
Among the 19 returnees, Kavanagh projects to lean heavily on sophomore Shaun Peirce and junior Cullen Kuhn in the attacking end. Peirce established himself as a reliable goal-scoring threat right away as a 2018 rookie, with his 32 goals marking the most by a first-year player at the College since 2006. Kuhn on the other hand, transitioned into a two-way role, and ranked as one of the top all-around contributors for a team with the second-fewest turnovers in the conference last season.
"Both of those guys are going to be pretty impactful," summed up Kavanagh. "I expect them to continue being effective contributors throughout the year. Thrown into mix is Joe Altieri, who will play both attack and midfield, and Ted Wells, who has rebounded to a starting role this spring on the attack. We have some guys who can be some impactful players in those attacking roles."
Altieri, a senior, was counted on heavily last year in the attacking end, evidenced by a top-five ranking on the team in points, while Wells, a sophomore, showed signs of promise in a reserve role.
Additionally, Kavanagh's "looking forward to seeing some of the young guys emerge."
"The combination of those guys with some of our returners creates a good mix of talent and lots of ball movement," stated Kavanagh.
In the midfield, rising sophomore Connor Mangan could see an expanded role similar to Kuhn's last season after spending his rookie season primarily as a wing on faceoffs in addition to his specialist duties.
The midfielders could factor even more heavily into the game this year, particularly with Kavanagh looking to continue to establish an identity of the Scots being one of the more up-tempo teams in the area. Those returnees here include junior Rob Driscoll, sophomore Abdoulaye Kebe, and sophomore Jack Redick, while first-year Adam Yeo has emerged as a potential go-to middie for the team.
"Our defensive midfielders are all pretty experienced," said Kavanagh. "They'll be relied upon to spark some offense in transition. We were an effective scoring unit last year, and I think this year we can continue to be that while expanding our ability to really push the tempo and take advantage of the new rules, which really bode well for our style of play."
The new rules Kavanagh's referencing, primarily center around the implementation of an 80-second shot clock on every possession. Also included as part of that is a 20-second clearing count, during which players must advance the ball across the midfield line or be whistled for a violation.
Defensively, Wooster will have to replace a pair of all-conference defenders, but there are a pair of all-North Coast Athletic Conference returnees back in the fold in junior goalkeeper Wesley Wagner (2018 all-conference selection) and senior Ethan Scully (2017 all-conference selection).
"We hope for Wes to continue to develop and excel at the position," stated Kavanagh. "He's a terrific leader, a great stopper, and a really nice athlete. He's excellent in the clearing game, and we hope he can help lead our defense."
"Ethan is our top returning defenseman and leader," continued Kavanagh. "He's a great stick-handler and great position defenseman. We'll count on him to communicate with some of the faces who are going to see more action this year."
The likes of junior Caelan Doherty, senior Sam Delano, and sophomore Ike Phelps project to slide into more featured roles on the defensive front, per Kavanagh, while Cole Bingham and Max Livingston are currently sharing the duties as the primary long-stick middie.
In the faceoff-x, junior Nick Gargaro looks to solidify the position, with Bingham, Kuhn, Livingston, and Mangan emerging as the early favorites on the wing.
Wooster's season starts with a 1 p.m. home tilt against Saint John Fisher College on Saturday, Feb. 23. The Scots have nine home games this season, including four NCAC tilts.