The goal for the 2014 Canisius College men’s lacrosse team is a simple one – play every play to its fullest.
Just two years removed from the program’s second MAAC Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance, a young Golden Griffins squad just missed qualifying for the conference tournament last season, falling in the last day of the regular season to the eventual champion in a contest where the winner advanced and the loser went home. The Griffs got off to a slow start in the contest and couldn’t fully recover to just miss out on the chance to defend their title.
In 2014, 16th-year head coach Randy Mearns wants the Griffs to just focus on one play and winning each shift one at a time and the rest will fall into place so Canisius can once again reach the pinnacle of the conference.
“Our goals are more simplistic to start this season,” Mearns said. “We want to win every shift. If things don’t go right, we have to have the mental toughness to not worry about it and just focus on the next play.
“If we do all the things necessary to be successful and win every shift, odds are we will be successful in the end. Lets just take care of the little things and control what we can control. It’s not that we haven’t talked about playing for or winning a conference championship – that’s an overall goal. We just know for us to reach that level – and we are capable of doing it – we need to make sure we are doing everything we can on and off the field throughout the year.”
To fulfill its mission of another MAAC Championship, it starts with the five captains selected to lead the team – Kevin Collins, Adam Donner, Tim Edwards, DJ Giacobbo and Alex Govenettio. The five captains don’t have to look far for successful examples of strong leadership as the Senior Class of 2012 willed the team to a championship two years ago after missing out on three-straight conference tournaments.
“In 2012, that senior class decided amongst themselves that they were going to put in all the hard work and the effort to be successful,” Mearns said. “They won a ring at the end of the day but our underclassmen that were a part of that team have now decided to make that same commitment. We didn’t make the conference tournament last year, which we hosted. The day after the season ended, our returners made the commitment and dedication to not have that feeling again. They just do so much work on their own outside of practice because they want to reach that level again.”
The effort and commitment is there for this season and the good news for the Griffs is that the talent is also there. A year after having to replace 16 seniors – including 75 percent of the scoring, 3-of-4 starting defenders and the starting goalie – Canisius returns most contributors from last season and the established chemistry to go along with a talented freshman class has Mearns excited for the 2014 campaign.
“A lot of our players last season were freshmen and sophomores and they really went through a big learning experience,” Mearns said. “There is nothing like going through a year and battling through the adversity of a Division I season. You now fast-forward a year and everybody is another year older, a year strong and a year wiser. We play with so much more chemistry. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and their tendencies. Now the challenge as a coaching staff is to fine tune what that chemistry looks like and define the roles of our personnel.
“I think this team is our most talented. It’s still unproven but it’s the most talented and athletic team we’ve ever had. With all the experience that our returners received last year and you then have a talented freshman class to also tap into, we are really excited about the season.”
A season after having to replace all three starting attackmen – who combined to total 89 goals and 32 assists in 2012 – Canisius has the luxury of returning four contributors from 2013, including two that made the conference’s all-rookie team.
Juniors Cody Gould and Austin Romantic both moved into starting roles last season and were joined by sophomores Vince Gravino and Billy Jacobbi.
“We are still young at the attack position with mainly juniors and sophomores,” Mearns said. “They have grown so much from last season in terms of athleticism, stick work and the understating of our systems. They are all so athletic that they can also play midfield if we need them to. They had a year to work on their chemistry and can provide a variety of different looks. Our job as coaches is to really just manage that.”
Romantic and Gravino played throughout the season, while Jacobbi replaced Gould in the starting lineup after Gould missed the final eight games with an injury. The four combined to total 54 points, 40 goals and 14 assists in their first significant year at the collegiate level.
“Vince Gravino and Billy Jacobbi both had terrific freshman seasons and were rewarded with MAAC All-Rookie honors,” Mearns said. “Vince had a great statistical year. He can create his own dodge, has good vision and is a big, strong kid. He is so much better than a year ago and put up some pretty good stats then. So, we’re excited to see how he ups his game this season. For a freshman, Billy brought some pretty good confidence and smoothness to our right-handed attack spot. He can dodge and is quick and shifty. He has pretty good vision and is not afraid to take the ball to goal.
“Austin Romantic is the leader of our attack and was really the quarterback of the position last year. He has very good footwork and his athleticism is up from a year ago. We didn’t really utilize him enough last year in letting him dodge but we have taken the leash off him a little bit, which will help balance our offense. Cody has worked on his change of direction and his change of speed. He has always had good range and has come back with a vengeance after a tough season in 2013. He is going to be a player that we are going to count on contributing.”
Adding depth to the unit is junior Sam Connors in addition to freshmen Nick Binnert and Adam Huber.
“All three are really good but don’t necessarily have the experience, especially with the two freshmen,” Mearns said. “They add some depth for us and are going to play this year. They’re skilled enough and have great vision.”
Junior Brandon Bull
The midfield position is led by junior Tim Edwards. In his first two years, Edwards has earned all-conference accolades in each season, totaling 71 points. The good news for Canisius fans is he doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.
“One man doesn’t make a team but one guy can be the leader and that is Tim Edwards,” Mearns said. “He has the will and the heart to win. He proves it in everything that he does. With that, he is the guy that has gotten the pole since the third game of his NCAA career. For us, it’s now about who do we have surrounding him that can help expose the opponent’s defense. Its not just the Tim Edwards show, as much as he is capable of making it that.”
The Griffs don’t have to look far for the desired balance. Junior Brandon Bull appeared in all 13 games last season with 16 points and 12 goals, while Tim’s brother, freshman Jeff Edwards, joins the team this season and reminds the staff a lot of the 2012 MAAC Rookie of the Year in Tim.
“Brandon continues to play with phenomenal confidence and has continued to work on his field lacrosse IQ,” Mearns said. “He is really coming into his own and understands the game so much more now. He is a guy that can do some pretty amazing things.
“Jeff has almost the same fundamentally sound game as Tim. They just do a lot of the same things and they do them very well and at a high level. Jeff already plays with confidence. He is phenomenal athlete and has great stick skills, range, vision and lacrosse IQ.”
Rounding out the position will be senior Cody Soberanes, junior Jake Giarrano and sophomores Jimmy May and Nick Tuttle.
“Last year, we were maybe one midfield deep and that second midfield was kind of more of a time management group,” Mearns said. “We feel that we have a second and maybe third group this season that can really play. They can score and they can run the offense just as well as the first group so we won’t miss a beat with them in the lineup.”
Five players will compete for time at the defensive midfield position this season in senior Dylan Knopfke, sophomores Patrick Gilman, Mac Tomkinson and Mike Vavonese and freshman Lewis Vacarro.
“All five of our defensive midfielders have really adapted to the mindset of being defense-first players,” Mearns said. “Dylan Knopfke and Mac Tomkinson are more lockdown defenders, while Patrick Gilman, Mike Vavonese and Lewis Vacarro can also mix it up offensively. They are concentrating on understanding the defensive side of the ball in terms of angles and different slide packages but can also provide some offense for us too.”
Leading the way at the long-stick midfielder position is senior Kevin Collins. In his two seasons with the Griffs, Collins has totaled 34 ground balls and eight caused turnovers to go along with three goals.
Adding depth to the position is junior Alex Chernosky, sophomores Brendan Barren and Conor Reilly and freshman Paul Burich.
“We’re really excited about our long-stick midfielders, especially with Kevin Collins leading the way,” Mearns said. “Kevin is one of our fastest players. He came back this year and has just owned the position. We can also funnel him down to close-defense at times when needed.
“Brendan Barren is now as sophomore and has put in a ton of work on his game. He got a lot of playing time last year and we are looking for him to build on that this season. Paul Burich is a terrific athlete and is very proactive. He is big and can stretch an opposing offense for us. Alex Chernosky is also looking really good and continues to work on his game every day, while Conor Reilly is maybe our best takeaway player.”
Another unit where the Griffs have the luxury of returning all of its contributors from last season is at defensemen. DJ Giacobbo, Adam Donner and sophomore Rich Stapleton had a season to gel together last year and continue to expand on that chemistry in 2014.
“We return all three starting defensemen from a year ago,” Mearns said. “It’s a group that played together for the first time last season. It took a little time to develop in front of a new goaltender but we liked what we saw as the season wore on. Their chemistry and communication is just phenomenal now.”
Donner received Preseason All-MAAC honors after collecting 18 ground balls and a team-best 11 caused turnovers last season. Giacobbo battled through injuries to total 15 ground balls and eight caused turnovers in just eight games, while Stapleton collected MAAC All-Rookie Team accolades after recording 17 ground balls and six caused turnovers in his freshman season.
Junior Colby Wehner rounds out the position and according to Mearns, can fill in without the unit seeing any drop in level of play.
Anchoring the defensive unit is set to be junior netminder Alex Govenettio. As a sophomore, Govenettio saw his first action as the team’s top netminder and is looking to expand on that experience during his junior campaign, especially with a familiar unit playing right in front of him.
“Alex has so much more confidence this season in communicating with his defense,” Mearns said. “Last year was his first year with also a whole new defense unit playing in front of him. He maybe didn’t have the confidence to direct a guy to slide or play a certain type of defense. He has that now and his development and experience of going through last season will prove to be very beneficial for him this year.
“To win, you have to have good goaltending. If Alex plays with poise and composure and does a good job directing traffic in front of him, it just makes the whole defensive unit that much better. We have a lot of confidence in him and are excited to see what he can do as a junior.”
Sophomore Jeff Wilson will push Govenettio for playing time this season after redshirting during his rookie campaign.
“It’s a great goaltending tandem that we have,” Mearns said. “They continue to push each other and challenge each other. That is a good problem to have as a coach.”
The one position where the Griffs were really hit in graduation is at the faceoff X. Mike Moran was named the 2013 MAAC Faceoff Specialist of the Year after ranking sixth nationally and first in the conference with a .614 winning percentage.
To replace the graduating Moran, the Griffs expect to use a committee of players in Brandon Bull, Tim Edwards, Jeff Edwards, Brad Thomas and Mike Vavonese.
“Mike Moran was our guy for the last two years and was one of the best at the country in getting his team the ball,” Mearns said. “How do you replace that? We are probably going to go more by committee. We have five guys that we can point to who each bring something different to the table. We have a variety of different matchups that we can utilize depending on who we are facing off against.
“Tim Edwards was phenomenal at faceoffs in high school but we chose not run him out there with Mike Moran to save him from some that of grinding. Brandon Bull is another faceoff player in his own right and had a lot of success in British Columbia. Add in Jeff Edwards and you have three of our better offensive players and we’ll have to figure out how to manage that. Mike Vavonese and Brad Thomas have also shown that they are more options that we can count on.”