The 2012 men's lacrosse season was a magical one for Canisius with a story-book ending.
After s slow start to the campaign, the Griffs won their final two regular-season games to qualify for their first MAAC Tournament in four years. Once there, the team then earned victories against conference rival Detroit and Siena, avenging early-season losses and earning the program's second conference championship. The Griffs then advanced to the NCAA Tournament and even held eventual champion Loyola to its closest halftime game during its tournament run.
But make no mistake about it, the team the Griffs put on the field in 2013 will not be defending a MAAC title. It doesn't, however, mean that the team cannot end in the same spot at the end of the season - on top of the MAAC.
"We lost 16 seniors to graduation," said head coach Randy Mearns. "It's a new team this year. Is it a chance to repeat? Not really because it is a completely different team.
"Now the question is how do you replace 75 percent of your scoring? How do you replace your starting goaltender for three years? How do you replace three of your starting defensemen? Those are hard guys to replace but I think we have some answers with the talent on our roster right now."
One answer may lie in the fact that while the senior class is no longer at Canisius, their message remains as the team looks to reach the pinnacle of the conference once again.
"We knew it was going to be a major challenge for us to replace that class," Mearns said. "The 16 seniors from last year had never made a conference tournament before so they pushed each other. They ran extra, they shot extra and they watched video extra. They did it all extra. At the end of the day, they got to the NCAA Tournament and that work ethic has now transferred over to this new team."
It's not only positive messages and work ethic that has been left behind in 2013 as plenty of talent can be seen roaming the Canisius sideline. Overall, the Griffs return 21 letterwinners to mix with 13 newcomers as the program attempts to win a second-consecutive conference crown.
"We think that we're talented," Mearns said. "We think that we're athletic, especially from the attack standpoint. We think that we have guys that can score, that can feed and that can defend. It looks good in practice but until we get into the games that count, it's still unproven.
"We see it as coaches and we're confident about it. We tell our guys that they can play and that they're good but until we get to the real game scenarios, its unproven."
The key for Canisius in 2013 is to now mix the talent returning with the newcomers and earn a spot in May's MAAC Tournament with a chance of winning another conference championship.
"We look at this season as we want to start by working hard every day in practice and go shift-by-shift in games," Mearns said. "Our ultimate goal is get to the conference tournament, which we are hosting and we haven't been in the last two times we've hosted. That's the first goal and everything that we do - every practice that we have and every game that we play, we have that goal in mind.
"If we reach our goal, then in May, with a full year under
their belts, inexperience isn't as much of an issue and anything can happen
with this team."
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Griffs during the 2013 season is how to replace the three starting attackmen from last season. During the 2012 campaign, two-time first-team All-MAAC selection Simon Giourmetakis, MAAC Championship MVP Jimmy Haney and Travis Gibbons combined to score 89 goals to go along with 32 assists.
Now, the Griffs face the daunting task of replacing the three highly-regarded seniors.
"Simon, Jimmy and Travis scored 89 goals together last season," Mearns said. "They worked really well together and had great chemistry. That's tough to replace but we've challenged our attack group to be better than those guys. We like where they're going and they're well on their way to getting to that level."
Four players are expected to fill the role of the three graduated players in senior Brendan Fox, sophomores Cody Gould and Austin Romantic and freshman Vince Gravino. The players have a combined 28 games of collegiate experience with seven points, three goals and four assists.
"We feel like there is a lot of talent in our attack," Mearns said. "We have a good group with players that are all fairly ambidextrous. Cody Gould played some minutes for us last year in the midfield and we moved him back into his natural spot as an attackman. He has high heat for a shot and has really worked on his vision and athleticism. We are pretty confident his skills.
"Austin Romantic seems to be a little more of the quarterback of the group. He learned from Jimmy Haney the whole entire season last year and now is ready to make that position his own.
"Vince Gravino is a freshman who has really taken advantage
of some of his opportunities and is battling Brendan Fox for that third
position. Vince has good change of direction,
can create his own shot and has good vision, while Brendan has more of a
Canadian box background with good stick skills and good vision."
The second position that will see a lot of change in 2013 is at goaltender. Gone is three-year starter and member of the 2012 MAAC All-Tournament Team, Sean Callahan. In his place are three goalkeepers looking to cement their position as the number one option in seniors Kyle Bell and Nick Carrasco and sophomore Alex Govenettio.
"We knew that going into the season, we weren't going to have much experience at goalie," Mearns said "We continued to challenge our goaltenders in the fall and it became clear that we have three guys vying for that number one spot. They all have different strengths and we have an option of taking advantage of matchups depending on the opponent.
"Alex Govenettio communicates very well and is a good stopper. He's athletic, has great stick skills and clearing the ball is a natural thing for him. Nick Carrasco might be our best stopper and has continued to improve on his outlets and clearing game. Kyle Bell has heart coming back from a serious head injury. He makes good saves and communicates very well as our last line of defense."
The three netminders have three starts between them with two
by Bell and one by Govenettio. As a rookie, Govenettio posted a 13.26 goals
against average and .413 save percentage, while Bell owns an 11.84 goals
against average and .342 save percentage in seven career contests.
Playing right in front of the goalies and helping ease that transition are the defenders. While the Griffs lost a number of contributors from the 2012 championship squad, Canisius is fortunate to have the return of captain DJ Giacobbo. The redshirt junior appeared in only three games last season before going down with an injury and he will now be expected to lead the unit in 2013.
"I think getting DJ back from injury is huge," Mearns said. "We needed leadership back there and to have DJ take control, which he kind of had last year before he got hurt, is really big for us. He is such a great communicator and brings a lot of aggressiveness and tenacity, while helping to direct traffic."
In addition to Giacobbo, Canisius returns two defenders from last year that were able to see a lot of game time in junior Dylan Knopfke and sophomore Adam Donner. Knopfke played in 12 games with nine starts last season with Donner starting the final five games of the campaign.
"Adam Donner continues to come into his own," Mearns said. "He was a replacement for DJ and then never left the field after. Dylan is a junior and has a little more size and more range. He continues to develop into a defensive player after coming here as a midfielder."
Filling out the defensive position are three talented and
athletic players but inexperienced in sophomores Mac Tomkinson and Colby
Wehner and freshman Rich Stapleton.
Aiding the defenders this season are the long-stick midfielders led by junior Kevin Collins. In his first season with the Griffs, Collins appeared in 13 games with two goals and 11 ground balls and Mearns doesn't think the team will miss a beat moving him into a bigger role.
"I don't know how you improve from Brendan Murphy and Ryan O'Hagan from last year because they really developed into phenomenal lacrosse players but I think somebody like Kevin that can challenge that," Mearns said. "Kevin Collins was midfielder but with injuries last season, we put into a long-stick midfielder role to support the defense. He's close to being the best player on our team, even with a pole. He's athletic and fast and can cover players. He basically can do it all."
Supporting Collins in the position will be sophomore Alex Chernosky and freshman Brendan Barren. Both players are
talented but unproven and will look for their first collegiate action in 2013.
One position that will see a lot of familiar faces in it is at the midfield. Leading the way for the Griffs this season is 2012 MAAC Rookie of the Year and a member of the Tewaaraton Award Watch List, Tim Edwards.
Edwards totaled 32 points, 13 goals and a team-best 19 assists during his freshman campaign. His biggest contribution came in the MAAC Championship game when he netted the game-winning goal with just 1:46 remaining against Siena. Edwards is set to once again lead the unit and perhaps take another step forward in his second season at Canisius.
"As good as Tim was last year, he plays with a ton more confidence now," Mearns said. "He has a good change of direction and good change of speed. He also has great vision and is really a do-it-all type player."
Teaming with Edwards in the midfield is a trio of seniors in Nick Caldiero, Joe Rautenstrauch and captain Hugh Weir, where Mearns will look to see more of a contribution on both sides of the field from the upperclassmen.
"With the new rules this season, we really want to emphasize this two-way midfielder type of position," Mearns said. "We have three seniors that are really buying in to what we are trying to do. They know what it takes and that now is their time to lead. Nick Caldiero was more of an offensive midfielder last year with Joe Rautenstrauch and Hugh Weir as defensive midfielders. Those players now understand the other side of the ball a lot better and we're excited to see what that looks like."
Also expected to see significant minutes in the midfield this year is senior transfer Kevin Lalley and sophomore Brandon Bull. Lalley joins the Griffs from Towson University, while Bull recorded four goals and 28 ground balls in his rookie campaign.
"Kevin Lalley is just a presence anytime he's on the field," Mearns said. "We expect him to come in this season and have an immediate contribution. Brandon Bull is somebody who saw good minutes last year and now plays with all kinds of more confidence. He really wants to be a player that can run 30 to 35 minutes a game."
Rounding out the midfield position will be senior Steve Berntson, junior Cody Soberanes and freshmen Jimmy May and Nick Tuttle.
Leading the Griffs in the faceoff position is senior Mike Moran. In his first season at Canisius, Moran posted a .514 winning percentage at the X, while collecting a team-best 63 ground balls. He was also at his best at the end of the season, winning 60.4 percent of his restarts in the final four games of the season.
"Mike Moran was instrumental in getting us to the NCAA Tournament," Mearns said. "He then did a great job against one of the top faceoff players in the country against Loyola. We're excited to have him back and expect more good things from him this season."
Bull and Edwards will also both see time at the faceoff position this season.