The men's lacrosse program at W&L has a long and storied tradition of success and Head Coach Gene McCabe believes that his 2011 squad has all the tools necessary to add another chapter to that tradition.
"We know what we have internally, but a lot has yet to be proven on the field," said McCabe recently. "We have the ability to win the ODAC, go to the NCAAs and fulfill our dreams of playing in M&T Bank Stadium for the National Championship."
For McCabe's squad to make any of those goals a reality, he believes there are a few measurables that need to improve.
"Over time we have proven to be a strong defense, but against the best teams in the country we need to prove that we can hold them to less than 10 goals," McCabe asserted. "Our clearing percentage was also not where we would like it to be and we are focusing on cleaning that up." McCabe also added that the team graduated a good deal of scoring and that the younger players need to step up and prove that they can score at a "higher rate" than they have in prior seasons.
McCabe lists several immeasurables among his team's strengths, noting his squad's depth, toughness and determination as factors involved in his team achieving its ultimate goals.
"As a coaching staff we know what we have and I don't think we have any glaring weaknesses, but we need to prove that on the field," said the fifth-year mentor. "Depth at all positions is something that we can rely on and I think the X factor will be our heart, toughness and determination."
Among the main questions that outsiders would ask is how the Generals replace the four-year production of Will Keigler, who graduated as the program's sixth all-time leading scorer (212 pts.). Keigler's numbers may not be replicated by any one player, but McCabe believes he has the talent and depth to absorb his scoring across the entire attack unit.
"This is a hard-working and talented group of attackmen," noted McCabe. "They have the ability to put a lot of points on the board and I think we will see the benefits of having a lot of young players who gained valuable experience last season."
Though mostly youth prevails for the attack unit, senior Spence Daw will be the likely candidate to pick up some of Keigler's production. Daw was the third-leading scorer (20 G, 22 A) on the Generals' 2009 ODAC Champion squad, but injuries forced a dip in his numbers a season ago (13 G, 7 A). He's healthy again and ready for a big senior campaign.
"I expect Spence to be the leader of the attack unit," said McCabe. "He is coming off an injury-riddled junior season and I think he is ready to have an excellent season for us."
Beyond Daw, McCabe cited junior Scott Meehan and sophomores Mac Means and Jack Switala as players that should see plenty of time on attack. Meehan has played in 26 games over his first two seasons, totaling 23 points on six goals and 17 assists.
"Scott had a great fall season and he was named the MVP of the Lee-Jackson game," said McCabe. "He is in the best shape of his life and he is poised to have a good season."
Means started 15 games as a rookie and finished third on the team in scoring with 28 points (24 G, 4 A). McCabe noted that he believes Means will have an "impact year" for W&L and that he is a "difficult player to defend in any situation."
Switala also gained valuable experience during his first season with the Generals, playing in 14 contests and notching four goals, including two against Randolph-Macon in the ODAC Tournament Quarterfinals.
"Jack is among the hardest-working players on the team and I expect him to compete for the starting position as an X attackman," quipped McCabe.
Junior Sam Mott and sophomore Will Garrett are also expected to see time at the position. Mott has played in 16 games over the past two seasons, while Garrett had two goals and one assist in six games during his rookie campaign.
The offensive midfield is a position group that features plenty of competition for playing time. The Generals have several established players returning who will be pushed by a talented corps of youngsters hungry for playing time.
"There is a lot of competition for the first 6-8 spots on the midfield," noted McCabe. "We have a host of players who are capable of playing in all areas of the field."
A team captain, Koeneman has seen action in 50 contests over the course of his career, totaling 43 goals and 25 assists. He missed a pair of games last season and battled a back injury for much of the year while registering 12 goals and nine assists.
"Drew is a returning starter and the leading returning scorer from the midfield," said McCabe. "He is back healthy this year and is in the best shape of his life. He will draw the long-stick midfielder this year and will hopefully continue to produce points on a consistent basis."
Wachtmeister has played in 40 games over his three seasons and has 25 goals and eight assists for his career. A knee injury suffered late in his sophomore year impacted his 2010 season as he totaled just six points in 17 games.
"Mark is fully recovered from his ACL surgery and he had a phenomenal fall season," said McCabe. "He is shooting the ball well and he is ready to have an impact year."
Senior captain Gerard Savarese moves from d-middie where he played in 47 games over his first three seasons. Among the fastest players on the team, McCabe believes that Savarese will have a solid impact on offense as a senior.
"Gerard provides us with tremendous athleticism and play-making ability," McCabe exclaimed. "He excels at defense but he has worked very hard to be a complete midfielder and we are going to take advantage of that."
Junior Luke Walter (5 G in 2010) and sophomores Cooper Brown (4 G, 5 A) and Luke Heinsohn (2 G, 2 A), a First Team All-ODAC running back for the football team last fall, are also expected to compete for a spot on the first two midfield lines, with seniors Justin Donati (49 career games played) and Drew Mancini (33 career games played on attack) making significant cases for time as well. Sophomores Dylan Chou and John Rehberger could also factor into the mix.
"Walter has a ton of ability and his really come into his own," said McCabe. "Cooper is an exciting, dynamic and explosive playmaker all over the field and Luke is a strong and explosive player with the ability to take a game over."
The faceoff X has always been a strength for the Generals' midfield unit and this spring should be no different. Junior Rob Look returns as one of the team's top options and he will be spelled by senior Jeff Roberts, Rehberger and first-year Jared Mitchell.
Look played in all 17 games a year ago, winning just better than 63 percent (84-133) of his draws. Like Heinsohn, Look is a starter on the ODAC Championship football team.
Roberts won 12-of-23 faceoffs last season, while Rehberger won 16 of his 22 faceoffs (.727). Mitchell is a talented rookie, who won 8-of-16 draws in the Lee-Jackson game against one of the better faceoff men in the country.
"The success we have as a team will in large part be determined by the success we have in the middle of the field," said McCabe. "We have a strong tradition of excellence at the faceoff position and I firmly believe this group is capable of great things."
McCabe has made some adjustments to the defensive midfield for 2011 in an attempt to "improve our effectiveness in the clearing and transition game."
In addition to facing off, Roberts is expected to receive a good deal of playing time as the short-stick, while senior Thomas Jenkins is the front-runner for the lion's share of time at the long pole.
Both players have seen action in 23 contests over their first three seasons and McCabe is confident in their abilities to improve the Generals' defense and transition game this spring.
"Jeff brings a lot of intensity and leadership to the team and he has prepared himself to have a great senior season," McCabe noted. He added of Jenkins "Thomas is one of the most tenacious and hard-working guys that I have ever coached. He is quick, agile and relentless and he has the ability to make plays in transition."
On close defense, the Generals return plenty of talent though overall depth is a concern for the unit.
"We don't have as much depth here, but we have a lot of experience returning," said McCabe. "We expect this group to have a better year than they did last year even though we led the conference in goals allowed."
The leader of the group is senior J.D. Englehart, who has seen action in 19 contests over his first three seasons. He joins his father (Sam '73) and brother (Will '08) as team captains for the Generals.
"J.D. started the Lee-Jackson game for us during the fall and he is a tremendous leader and a tireless worker," said McCabe.
Senior Austin Wernecke is the most experienced member of the defense, having played in 47 games as a three-year starter and two-time Honorable Mention All-ODAC selection.
"I refer to Austin as being vastly underrated and overshadowed by some other guys," said McCabe of Wernecke. "He had a phenomenal Lee-Jackson game this fall and I have no doubt that 2011 will be his best season yet."
Sophomore Joe LaSala is a gifted player who gained tremendous experience during his rookie season. LaSala led the team with 40 caused turnovers en route to receiving Second Team All-ODAC laurels. He also enters the 2011 campaign as a preseason All-American.
"Joe is a talented defenseman with great range and good feet," said McCabe. "He also brings a physical presence to our defense."
Junior Jack Hurley will also be in the mix after seeing action in 31 games over his first two years. He spent the fall studying abroad in Denmark, but is ready to contribute this spring.
"Jack has seen a lot of playing time over his first two seasons," said McCabe. "He is difficult to beat on the ball and he has strong instincts."
The biggest unknown heading into the season is who will start in goal. McCabe has four players competing for the starting nod and he feels confident that whoever wins the job will have an outstanding season.
"It's going to be an exciting competition throughout the preseason," he said. "We have a pair of seniors in Ned Lundvall and Jason Lumpkin and they are the front-runners, but don't count out first-years Dylan Florig or Patrick Jennings."
Though fairly inexperienced from the standpoint of game action, both Lundvall and Lumpkin have been battling for the opportunity to start over the course of their careers and both are hungry to contribute in net.
Lundvall started the Lee-Jackson game in the fall and has seen action in 17 contests over his three seasons. He claims a .692 save percentage and 3.61 goals-against average for his career. Lumpkin also saw plenty of time in the L-J game and likewise boasts solid career numbers. He has played in 15 career games, notching a .579 save percentage and 4.47 goals-against average.
The Generals typically play a stiff schedule, but the 2011 season will feature the most competitive schedule in recent memory. In addition to the always rigorous ODAC slate that includes three ranked opponents (No. 5 Roanoke, No. 11 Lynchburg, No. 20 Hampden-Sydney), the Generals will play a non-conference schedule that includes dates with four NCAA Tournament teams (Wittenberg, No. 3 Salisbury, No. 8 Middlebury, No. 14 Denison).
"Certainly we will face some major challenges with three of our first four games against teams that were in the NCAA Tournament last year," offered McCabe. "This schedule will be a big test for our guys and they are excited for it. I think it will bring out the best in them and there is no question that playing this type of out of conference schedule will help prepare us for the rigors of the ODAC schedule."
McCabe's group begins their journey on February 15 as it hosts Ferrum College (5:00 pm) for the first game in the history of the Panthers' lacrosse program.