The 2012 Fairfield men’s lacrosse season was one for the record books. Their 12 wins on the season was a program record since moving to Division I in 1993. They finished the season ranked 17th in the national poll, the highest the team has ever finished in the polls.
Before the season started, there were two players selected in the Major League Lacrosse draft – midfielder Brent Adams and goalkeeper Charlie Cipriano – marking the first time in history that two Fairfield players were drafted in the same year.
However, there is one accolade that they did not want to earn last season: biggest snub from the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
After finishing third in the ECAC and reaching the conference championship game for the second consecutive year, Fairfield fell just short of making the NCAA Tournament when they lost to eventual national champion Loyola. Head Coach Andy Copelan said in an interview that he hopes the team will use that experience and that feeling of rejection this season.
“You’d like to think that it is a chip on the shoulder for the guys who were there and experienced getting that close but falling short,” said Copelan, “But on the other side of it is every team is a little bit different. You want to take the positives from last year and build off of those things, then you want to make sure, with your current team, you do everything in your power to reach their potential.”
Thus far this season, the Stags have played up to their potential, defeating Bryant 8-4 last Saturday and winning a thriller against Navy on Tuesday, with the score of 10-9. Senior Sam Snow’s fourth goal of the game proved to be the game winner in the back-and-forth affair, as his shot found the back of the net with four seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Copelan said there will be a few changes with how this year’s team plays, some of which will be a result of the recent rule changes in collegiate lacrosse. Some of the rule changes include the way the stick is strung, pre-whistle violations on faceoffs, a more fast-paced method of substituting players similar to hockey, and perhaps the most dramatic change, an implementation of a shot clock.
“I think we need to find some easier ways to score goals, and I think we’re committing to the transition game a little bit,” said Copelan. “ … I think it’s a good time for us to have the rules go into effect just because we feel like we’re deeper than we have been.”
Snow, who along with fellow senior captain Marshall Johnson was drafted in this year’s MLL draft, sees this year as the year that the team could finally make the jump into the NCAA Tournament, despite their recent struggles in the conference tournament.
“I think if you think back on my freshman, sophomore and junior year, if you break it down … we were three or four or five goals away from making the tournament every single year,” said Snow, “That’s gotten me hungry this season.”
Along with relying on the senior captains Snow and Johnson for leadership on the field, Copelan pointed out a few players in particular who the Stags will be relying on this season.
“Two guys in our attack right now, Jordan Greenfield and Nick Guida, a junior and a sophomore respectively, I’d put them up with Sam in just being a field general,” said Copelan. “So those three guys, offensively, I think we’re going to ask an awful lot out of.”
On defense, Copelan noted that they will be counting on Toby Armour ‘14, a Connecticut native who transferred from Johns Hopkins, as well as returning players Greg Parraut ’14 and Tom Lukacovic ’15 to be the defensive stalwarts.
Both Snow and Copelan agreed that all conference games were important, as evidenced by last year’s regular season loss to Ohio State arguably being the reason they were left out of the Tournament, however there were a few key games that they wanted to win in particular.
“Between Loyola, Denver, and North Carolina, we’re going to have three opportunities at getting a top-five win, and those top-five wins go really, really, really far when it comes to the NCAA Selection Committee’s criteria,” said Copelan. “Right now, we start the season with five non-conference games in the first two weeks, so that’s a daunting murderer’s row right there in itself.”
Copelan says that the preseason ranking means “absolutely nothing” to him, but does admit that this year does have a different feel to it.
“I’m taking this year awfully personally just because of the whole building process … Now you’re at the point where you feel like you’ve built something, on the cusp, on the verge of being sustained,” said Copelan. “Everybody talks about going from average to good is a pretty easy step, going from good to great is a very challenging step, and that’s the step right now we’re trying to take. It’s a challenging one, but I feel like we’re doing things the right way.”
For Copelan, the mission for this season is very simple: “I want us to compete in every single game. I want us to win the close game. I want us to be a lot better at the end of the season than we are now,” said Copelan.
Snow, on the other hand, is putting a lot of pressure on himself and his fellow seniors to lead this team to the promised land of the NCAA Tournament.
“I think that this year is going to be defined by leadership. I think that where the seniors and upperclassmen go, the rest of the team is going to follow,” said Snow. “If we just go through the season and not look at wins or loses, and make sure that I do a good job, and make sure that Marshall and the rest of the seniors do a good job of leading this team in the right direction, then I think I’ll be very happy.”
The Stags have started out the season 2-0, and look to pick up an important win over North Carolina this Saturday in Chapel Hill.