YORK, PA – Experience, talent, and depth
– a trio of luxuries that have been foreign concepts to the
York College men’s lacrosse program. Until now.
The Spartans hit the field in 2009 with high expectations given the abundance of resources available to fifth-year head coach Jim Griffin.
“There are pieces, aspects of this squad that we have not had before,” Griffin commented. “The level of experience alone gives us something to be very excited about. As long as we work hard and stay healthy, this could be a special season.”
The Green and White enter their tenth season as a varsity program having made steady improvement over the past nine seasons. Gone are the days of a .276 winning percentage, a mark accumulated over the program’s first six seasons. In the past three campaigns, the Spartans have more than doubled that statistic, achieving a .565 winning percentage.
“We have been building over the past few years,” said the Spartan mentor. “That consistent building effort could pay off in a big way this season.”
The core of the 2009 squad lies in the Spartans’ stout defensive unit. Senior Steve Mersinger returns to York’s back line after being selected as an All-CAC first-team defenseman last year. Possessing fantastic mobility and a strong stick, Mersinger is a hulking 6’5” 215-pounder who led the Spartans with 72 ground balls and 29 caused turnovers in 2008.
“Mersinger is one of the best, if not the best, defenseman in our league,” Griffin raved. “He does so many things for us. His size, athleticism, experience, and knowledge of the game are unparalleled.”
Mersinger headlines a group of defensemen that could prove to be one of the top squads in the CAC. Dan Wood, Gavin Scherr, and James Greenwood will each vie for significant time in the back this season. Wood made a huge splash in the Spartan back line last year, playing all 17 games and starting 16 of those contests in his first season in the green and white. His innate ability to cause turnovers and gain possession will be valuable to York’s defensive success in 2009. Fellow senior Scherr will look to elevate his game to a new level in 2009 after a 34-ground ball 12-takeaway performance as a junior. Scherr is an aggressive and tough defenseman, who, at 6’2” 220-pounds, brings an additional swagger to the Spartan squad. Junior Greenwood, the lone underclassman in this group of stout defenders, is primed for a breakout year after missing all of 2008 due to injury. The 6’4” 215-pounder is another physical specimen who will bring a hunger for success that will surely rub off on his Spartan teammates this season.
“These guys can flat-out defend,” Griffin commented about his returning group of talented and experienced defensemen. “We have never had a core of defensemen with this much talent, this much size, and this much experience. They are going to be leaders for us and a vital key to our success.”
Junior Dan Sadler and sophomore Jim Oleskowitz have the ability to push the first-line defenders, while freshmen Pat Glenn and Ryan Glavin add significant depth to the close defense.
Long-stick midfield looks to be up for grabs as several Spartans will compete for time this season. Senior Jeff Bell is set to be the front-runner after playing in 15 games last season. He brings plenty of experience to the position and could have a much greater impact this year. Junior Josh Muskin and sophomore Bryce Johnston will also be in competition for LSM.
“Overall, I am extremely pleased with the amount of talent and depth we have in our defensive ranks,” Griffin said. “Lacrosse is a tough game, which means you need to have players ready to step in at any moment. I believe the student-athletes we have on defense give us just that.”
Providing the Green and White with an even stronger defensive unit will be four young and talented goalkeepers. Sophomore Chris Collins headlines this group after showing flashes of brilliance as York’s #2 last season. Collins, who possesses lightning-quick reflexes and positions himself well in the cage, posted a solid .609 save percentage in his nine appearances last season as he turned away 42 of 69 shots on goal. With a year of experience to his credit, Collins could prove to be one of the top shot-stoppers in the CAC.
“Collins is a legitimate top-of-the-line goalkeeper,” Griffin commented of his talented sophomore net minder. “He has all the tools. The experience he was afforded last year is going to pay dividends this season.”
Looking to push Collins for time will be sophomore Devin O’Neill. As a freshman O’Neill saw limited action but a full off-season of work could lead to more time between the pipes in 2009. Freshmen Rob Kreider and Mike Karwoski bring solid depth to the cage as they will look to adjust to the collegiate game this season.
“We have four solid goaltenders,” Griffin said. “They each bring something to the table that will be valuable to our success in 2009.”
In the midfield, the Green and White sport what could possibly be the fastest and most athletic group of midfielders in the ten-year history of the program. Senior Brian O’Neill and junior Ryan Schab lead this fleet-footed core and return as York’s two top scoring midfielders from a year ago. O’Neill is coming off a solid first season in the green white in which he posted six goals and 12 assists – the second highest total on the squad in 2008. Now more comfortable in his role, O’Neill has the opportunity to put up huge numbers this year. Schab, who tallied eight goals and six assists in 17 games, brings a smooth style of play to the Spartan midfield and has the ability to be even better this season.
“O’Neill and Schab are both fantastic midfield players,” Griffin said. “They can do so many good things for us from scoring to defending. This could prove to be a banner year for both of these young men.”
Joining O’Neill and Schab in the midfield are seniors John Gaeta and Mike LaRoque as well as sophomore Adam Cooper. Gaeta is a 6’3” 215-pound midfielder who not only can lay the big hit but also score timely goals. As a junior, Gaeta tallied eight times from his midfield position and will look to be even more productive this year. LaRoque is primed for a career year after seeing action in all 17 games in 2008, posting 60 ground balls, five goals and four assists. With the confidence gained from last season’s success and a quality off-season, LaRoque could prove to be one of the conference’s top midfielders. Cooper brings the attitude and swagger of a talented young player who is hungry for success. After seeing early dividends last year, Cooper’s rookie season was cut short due to injury. With a full off-season of rehabilitation and conditioning, the sophomore could post a fantastic 2009.
“Our first-line players in the midfield provide us with significant firepower,” Griffin said. “They are fast, big, and smooth. They will surely be a big part of what we are able to accomplish this season.”
Competing for time in the midfield as returning players will be junior Brandon Echard and sophomores John Mortimer, Erich Lindhorst, Bob Braun, and Zach Scherr. Echard’s experience at the collegiate level should bode well for the junior as he looks for time in the midfield. Mortimer posted a pair of scores over a ten-game span last season and could mold into a quality performer this year. Lindhorst and Braun each gained solid collegiate experience in 2008 and will benefit from that experience this year. Scherr came on strong for the Spartans during the season becoming York’s main choice in faceoff situations. Scherr went 61-for-148 in faceoffs and should be even better in 2009.
Several newcomers join the midfield ranks as transfers Pat Coppinger and Russell Tutt combine with freshmen B.J. Blaker, John Powell, Peter Schonk, Marcus Coppola, and Kevin Carlson. Both Coppinger and Tutt hail from Maryland community colleges and add quality depth to the midfield. Blaker and Powell will look to quickly adjust to the collegiate game and become contributors later in the year, while Schonk, Coppola, and Carlson will each add even more quality depth to the midfield unit.
“We have a good mix of experience and youth within our midfield,” Griffin said. “There is a solid group of starters in place but the guys behind them are quality lacrosse players as well. The stronger a team is through the midfield, the stronger the team is as a whole, and I believe we have a strong midfield.”
Up front, the Spartans welcome back five outstanding attackmen, highlighted by junior Ryan McNicholas. York’s top goal-scorer from a year ago will look to push his game to unprecedented heights this year. McNicholas, who tallied 27 goals last season after five his rookie year, is set to be York’s top offensive threat as he combines excellent skill with outstanding positioning and a nose for the goal.
“He is a superb goal-scorer,” Griffin said of McNicholas’ prowess around the cage. “He has a quick release, a fantastic shot, and can score from almost anywhere. McNicholas will be the focus of many opposing defenses but the talent he possesses should allow him to overcome those defensive schemes.”
McNicholas should have plenty of support this season as senior Paul Rudell and sophomore standouts Josh Gamble and Kalen Roundy return to the Spartan lineup. Rudell rejoins the Spartan camp following an injury that kept him out all of 2008. A seasoned veteran, Rudell’s 2007 campaign resulted in 15 points, including a team-high ten assists, and he should return to the lineup hungry in 2009. Gamble came on strong at the end of his rookie campaign, ending the year with 17 goals. A big, strong player, Gamble solidified himself as one of York’s premier offensive threats and should only improve this year. Roundy made an immediate impact as a freshman in 2008, playing in all 17 games. The shifty second-year attack will benefit this year from a full off-season in the weight room and could prove to be a major problem for opposing defenses.
“There is a wealth of talented student-athletes within our attackmen this year,” Griffin said. “These five at the top of the lineup are going to be key cogs in our success. We believe that they can each post big years as our offense continues to improve.”
Sophomores Brendan McLaughlin and Patrick Raymond and freshmen Nick Bach, Greg Joyce, and Tim Kuzma will look to push York’s frontline attackmen. McLaughlin and Raymond will both greatly benefit in 2009 from their year of experience as they look to become more complete players. Each of the three rookies will look to steadily improve throughout the year as they adjust to the rigors of stiff collegiate competition.
“The depth that we have at attack this year is simply fantastic,” Griffin raved. “We have guys that can score in bunches, guys who can step in a perform at a high level. As with any year, the attack is a key component to success, but if we can score at the rate which we are capable, I believe we could be very successful.”
Overall, the 2009 campaign has the potential to be the best season in the short history of the Spartan program. York’s combination of experience, talent, hunger, and confidence leads one Spartan mentor to believe this team has a chance to be special.
“We have a strong core of veteran talent at every position,” Griffin commented. “The depth we have is unmatched by any team we have had in my time here. Furthermore, the sheer athletic ability we have is unprecedented in the York men’s lacrosse program. This is a special group of young men who could combine to do something special this year. I am excited to see what this season holds.”
But to be special, York must contend with some of the nation’s top teams. Within York’s own Capital Athletic Conference are top-ranked Salisbury, winners of five of the past six national championships, #7 Stevenson, and an always tough St. Mary’s (Md.) squad.
“We absolutely compete in one of the country’s best conferences,” Griffin said. “But to be the best you have to compete with and beat the best. It will be a tough challenge as those teams, Salisbury in particular, are simply outstanding. With that said I think we have the capability to be up to the challenge.”
The Green and White begin their quest to meet that challenge on Saturday, February 21, with a trip to Salem, Va. to take on Roanoke College in a 2:00 pm tilt. The Spartans will then travel to Orlando, Fla. for a winter break trip and a neutral site game against R.I.T. on Monday, March 2, at 1:00 pm. York opens up their home slate on Wednesday, March 11, against Messiah at 4:00 pm.
Photo of 2008 All-CAC first-team defenseman Steve Mersinger