YORK, Pa. – The York College men's lacrosse team enters the 2011 campaign as a squad looking to breakthrough. Coming off last season's 7-9 season, the Spartans feature a revitalized lineup that begins the year as one of the most talented and possibly the deepest squad the program has seen in its 11-year history.
"We really like what we have this season in terms of overall quality," Spartan head coach Jim Griffin said as he enters his seventh season at the helm of the program. "This is definitely one of, if not the deepest team we have had during my time here. We are all excited to get the season going."
The Spartans do understand however, that it will take hard work and dedication in order to make this season a special one. And so far, with preseason about to conclude, the Spartans' overall health has allowed that to go as planned.
"One of the best things about this preseason is that pretty much everyone is healthy," Griffin said. "It makes a huge difference when you have guys able to participate in every practice. That allows us to gel more quickly and effectively install critical pieces of our offense and defense."
The Green and White begin the season with their most dangerous attack in several years. York returns a bevy of talented scorers who should be able to light up the cage throughout 2011.
"Our attacking unit it one area in particular that we are exceptionally excited about," Griffin said. "There is so much experience and skill within our attack that I believe we will really be able to put up great numbers offensively this season."
Senior captain Josh Gamble headlines York's attack as he enters the season ranked third in career points in the Spartans' history. Coming off a career-best 43 goals and 22 assists in 2010, Gamble has totaled 131 points over his three previous seasons recording 90 goals and 41 assists.
Joining Gamble in the attack is sophomore James Lowe. Lowe made a huge splash in his rookie season posting nine goals and a Spartan single-season record 26 assists. With a full-year of experience to his credit, Lowe has the ability to be even more dangerous this season. Senior Brendan McLaughlin adds even more experience and depth to York's pool of veterans.
Transfer Jimmy Langton will join the York attack as a dangerous player who could post solid numbers in his first season with the program. Rookies Justin Aita and Adam Knox have each put together quality preseason efforts and should see time in York's rotation during the season.
"We have a strong group in the attack," Griffin said. "We have a number of talented players who understand what it takes to get the job done. With the core we have in place we could be an excellent offensive squad this year."
The Spartans sport a solid crew of midfielders heading into the 2011 campaign as they look to have a nice mix of veterans and new talent. B.J. Blaker, who served at attack last year, moves into the midfield for 2011 to take advantage of his tremendous athleticism. Blaker, a junior captain, landed on the All-Capital Athletic Conference squad as a sophomore after registering 20 goals and 12 assists and will look to build on his impressive first two campaigns with the Green and White. Along with Blaker, senior captain John Powell will look to be an excellent leader for the midfield while Russell Tutt, Corey Cooke, Patrick Coppinger, and Marcus Coppola head into the season having posted quality experience during their careers. Each will be called upon to step up and play key roles this year. Seniors Nick Bach and Patrick Raymond will look to provide even more solid depth to the Spartan midfield.
"We have several veterans in the midfield that are going to be quite valuable for us moving forward," Griffin said. "The midfield is such a key area to play well in and I think our returning guys really understand that and know what to bring day-in and day-out."
In addition to the returning core, the Spartan program should see several newcomers be prominent pieces of the midfield in 2011. John Dubois transfers into York oozing talent and ability that he will look to turn into quick results. Fellow transfer Jake Beneke has experienced quality success at the collegiate level and should be able to continue that success this season. Freshmen Seth Krolus and Andrew Taylor are a pair of Spartan rookies who possess the ability to see quality time right away.
"Our program has brought in some outstanding new midfielders this season," Griffin said. "We are all very excited to see how these guys gel with our returning players. We really believe that we are going to see great results from these new additions."
For as potent York's offense is predicted to be in 2011, the Spartans understand that in order to win big games rock-solid defense will be of the utmost importance.
"No question that our defense is going to be a huge key to our success as a team this season," Griffin said. "I like where we are and even moreso, I like the fact that we have consistently improved as a defense throughout the preseason. That constant improvement will be vital to what we are able to accomplish this season."
Returning in the defensive unit is fifth-year senior Jason Underwood, who has been named a captain for the 2011 campaign. An exceptionally experienced player, Underwood will be called upon to lead York's defense.
Travis Atwell and Bob Braun are two senior Spartans who, with their combination of experience and talent, should prove key pieces of the Spartan defense. Senior captain Adam Cooper, who was York's fifth-leading scorer last season, moves to the defensive midfield for his senior campaign and will provide the Spartans with added athleticism and poise in the defensive third of the field. Long-stick midfielder Nate Stewart enters his sophomore campaign looking to become a solid piece to York's defensive efforts. Fellow sophomore Joshua Crego will look to add quality as the Spartans' short-stick defensive midfielder while senior John Silverio will bring depth to the defense.
The Green and White will also turn to several newcomers to play quality minutes in 2011. Junior college transfer Justin Gordon, who experienced outstanding success on the JUCO level, will look to come in and contribute right away. Freshman Dale Kowatch could also see significant time while fellow rookies Andy Kihn and Kevin Braun will provide depth.
In the cage, the Spartan squad has a pair of viable options as Mike Karwoski returns for his junior season in the Green and White while junior college transfer Tyler Powell brings his talents to the York program. Karwoski served as the Spartans' top backup in 2010 and has greatly developed over his two seasons. Powell led CCBC-Essex to the 2010 NJCAA national championship game and will look to translate that success to the Spartan program.
Daniel Schuck returns to the Spartans for his sophomore campaign after gaining significant face-off experience as a rookie. He had 220 face-offs in just his freshman campaign (he won 106 of them) and with a year of experience under his belt, should be able to post bigger numbers this year.
Fellow sophomore Pat Wills as well as Cooke and Cooper will shoulder some of the face-off duties and help the Spartans gain valuable possessions throughout the year.
"I think sometimes people can forget how important face-offs really are in lacrosse," Griffin said. "It is extremely important to get as many offensive possessions as you can in a game and the face-off is the first way to get that done. If our face-off specialists have big years we could be even better than we think."
Second-year coach Chris Read and newcomer Rich Lefever will join Griffin on the sidelines this year as key assistants. Both bring tremendous backgrounds to the squad and will help the Spartans throughout the field.
"Coach Read and Coach Lefever have been great to work with," Griffin said. "Their knowledge of the game is outstanding and what they bring to our program has been invaluable. They are going to help take us to a higher level."
With such optimism surrounding the squad as they enter the 2011 campaign, Coach Griffin knows that the college lacrosse season is a grind and one that requires constant improvement.
"I know that we will be successful if we go out every single day and do what this program needs to do," Griffin said. "If we are able to keep a humble attitude, work with and for each other, and keep level heads we will be able to compete with some of the best teams out there."
And the Spartans will be tested in just that area. The Capital Athletic Conference is home to two of the nation's top-four teams as Salisbury and Stevenson begin the season ranked #3 and #4, respectively, (Lacrosse Magazine) while fellow conference foe St. Mary's is consistently a strong program.
"If we want to be included in the discussion of top teams, then we are going to have to not only contend with but beat top teams," Griffin said. "The great thing about our conference is that there are a number of excellent, nationally-recognized programs who we get to compete against every year. I think our players understand that unique opportunity and more than anything are excited to get the season underway."
York officially opens the 2011 campaign on Saturday, February 19, when they host Virginia Wesleyan in a non-conference tilt. Start time is slated for 1:00 pm.
Team photo courtesy of Zach Clabaugh - www.sharpedgefoto.com