"Play hard. Stick together."
That's the message Washington College head men's lacrosse coach Jeff Shirk has emphasized with his team since taking over the reigns of the program last summer. It's also the team's new motto.
The Shoremen finished the 2010 season with an uncharacteristic 4-10 record - the program's first sub-.500 season since 1995. Shirk is confident this year's Shoremen are ready for a new start and are back on the right track.
"We're rebuilding, but we have a lot of talent and a great group of guys," notes Shirk. "We've got a whole new system and a whole new direction. Our guys are working hard - coming early to practice and staying late."
A young team (18 freshmen and only five seniors are on the 51-man roster) helps give the Shoremen that fresh start, but a buy-in by last year's Most Valulable Player and representative on the All-Centennial Conference Team - senior captain and midfielder Doug Herdegen (Baltimore, MD/Archbishop Curley) - has also been important.
Herdegen scored a team-best 29 goals last season and assisted on seven others to lead the team with 36 points. He also led the Shoremen in extra-man goals (five) and shots (110), but it's been his leadership off the field in the fall and in preseason that has especially impressed Shirk.
"He has really embraced being a captain and looks out for our guys off the field as much as or more than anybody else."
The offensive midfield unit is perhaps the Shoremen's most experienced group. Fellow captain and classmate Shane Kaski (Mosley, VA/Midlothian) (11 goals, two assists) joins Herdegen there. Kaski and Herdegen are the only two players remaining from the 2008 team that reached the NCAA Division III Quarterfinals. Sophomores Patrick Coyle (Reisterstown, MD/Calvert Hall) (eight goals, eight assists) and Sam Witham (Falmouth, MA/Cape Cod Academy) and juniors Dave Lundquist (West Chester, PA/Henderson) (five goals, six assists) and Morgan Braendel (Chester Springs, PA/Owen J. Roberts) are among the Shoremen's other top returners in the offensive midfield. Freshmen Hunter Nowicki (Baltimore, MD/Franklin), Sam Eckerson (Fairfield, CT/Fairfield Warde), and Tom Petty (Annapolis, MD/St. Mary's) should also be in the mix.
Junior captain Billy Stafford (White Hall, MD/Hereford) (six goals, nine assists) will lead the attack along with sophomores Matt Lewis (Mt. Airy, MD/Glenelg Country School) (six goals, one assist) and Bennett Cord (Gaithersburg, MD/Gaithersburg) (three goals, three assists). Sophomore Glen Tompkins (Manhasset, NY/Manhasset), who spent the fall 2009 semester at WC and returned for this spring, and freshmen Ryan Ohlin (Stafford, VA/Mountain View) and JD Campbell (Baltimore, MD/Mount St. Joseph) are expected to bolster the attack unit.
Junior captain Bryan Botti (Hereford, MD/Hereford) anchors Washington's close defense. Botti led the team in caused turnovers with 16 and also scooped up 22 ground balls in 2010. Juniors Matt Hager (Graonsville, MD/Kent Island) and Jack Vermeil (West Chester, PA/Henderson) and sophomore Michael Pierandri (Ridgefield, CT/Ridgefield) are the other top returners at close defense. Freshman Taylor Lynn (New Canaan, CT/Kent School) is also expected to contend for playing time.
The Shoremen's top long-stick midfielders should be sophomore Jonny Poe (Coronado, CA/Coronado) (17 ground balls, 13 caused turnovers, two assists), freshmen Casey McKnight (Ridgefield, CT/Ridgefield) and Mike Barbalace (Baltimore, MD/Calvert Hall), and junior Garrett Matthews (Chestertown, MD/Mercersburg Academy [PA]). The top short-stick defensive midfielders include junior Michael Pancottine (Bellevue, WA/Issaquah) (21 ground balls, nine caused turnovers, two assists), senior Nash Evans-Hodgson (Maple Grove, MN/Maple Grove) (12 ground balls, one goal), and freshman Eric Crosby (Annapolis, MD/St. Mary's). Three of the team's four face-off men from last season return in senior Zechariah Rogers (Bear, DE/Middletown), junior Stephen Evans (West Chester, PA/Henderson), and Hager. Lundquist may also see time facing off this season.
At the start of preseason, there was a healthy three-man competition in goal. Junior Peter Stewart (Annapolis, MD/St. Mary's) posted a .557 percentage in four starts before his 2010 campaign was cut short by injury, while sophomore Matt Miller (Baldwin, MD/Calvert Hall) made 10 starts, posted a .556 save percentage, and led the team in ground balls with 34. Freshman Ted DiSalvo (Boca Raton, FL/Spanish River) is competing with both of those returning netminders for the starting job.
Shirk, who came to Washington after four years as the head coach at Division I VMI, brought in an experienced staff of assistants. Andrew Delaney has spent time as an assistant coach at both Washington and Lee and Limestone, JL Reppert is a former Harvard assistant with a number of successful high school stops on his resume, and Ian Shure is a veteran of the Baltimore-area high-school coaching scene.
The Shoremen will open the 2011 season February 26th, at 2010 Landmark Conference Champion Goucher College, the first of six 2010 NCAA Division III Tournament participants they will face this season. The non-conference schedule also includes early-season home games against long-time rival Washington and Lee, York (PA), and Wesley, a trip to 2010 Colonial States Athletic Conference Champion and NCAA Division III Tournament participant Cabrini, and, of course, the annual "War on the Shore" for the Charles B. Clark Cup against 2010 NCAA Division III runner-up Salisbury, which will be played in Chestertown May 7th.
The always-challenging Centennial Conference schedule includes stops at 2010 conference champion and NCAA Division III Quarterfinalist Haverford and NCAA Division III Tournament participant Gettysburg and a home game against 2010 NCAA Division III Tournament participant Dickinson.
With such a daunting schedule, the Shoremen will be in the historically unusual position of underdogs heading into the season, but that's not something Shirk or his team is concerned about.
"We're already headed in the right direction off the field and with work ethic. We don't talk about winning games - we talk about putting in the work and preparing for game days. We're trying to create that mentality of focusing on preparation so that when game days come, we're confident that we have a great chance to win."