Peter Caty/The Mirror

The Fairfield University men’s lacrosse team entered the 2011 campaign with high expectations.  And why shouldn’t they?

Just a season ago, the team was ranked in the top 20 lacrosse teams of the nation after beating the eventual national runners-up Notre Dame. They were adding the twentieth best recruiting class in the country and still had a core group to build around, including preseason All-American player Sean Bannon.

But the Stags started off this promising year in less than stellar fashion.  They were 2-2 through their first four games, losing a tough game to Villanova.  But just as slow as the year started, Fairfield might now be speeding in the right direction.  The squad is riding a two game winning streak, including coming out on top in their first ECAC game of the year.

“I think that we’ve improved over the course of the last couple of months and at the end of the day that’s all we can really look for,” Coach Andrew Copeland said.  After the tough loss to Villanova, the team saw their upcoming schedule as a way to get back on track.  The most important stretch of the season was already starting, as they were ready to begin their conference slate against Air Force.

“[We] came in ready to work on Tuesday [and] probably had the hardest practice that any of us has ever had,” John Snellman ’12 said.  The attacker tallied four goals over the current win streak.

The win against Air Force was good for more reasons than just giving the team a starting record of 1-0 in their conference. It showed them that they could make a comeback in the fourth quarter and play a full game.

“I think to date we haven’t played a 60 minute game, and [on Friday] we pulled it together and finished it like we should,” Snellman said.

But in order to keep improving, every team must focus on their strengths and weaknesses, and they might not be what a fan might think of as applicable for the current Stags.  Despite returning nearly 90 percent of its offense from last year, including their active points leader Brent Adams ’12 and 2010’s leading scorer Sam Snow ’13, touching the net might be the hardest thing for the Stags.

“I think our offense needs to find a way to get north of 10 goals – It’s kind of hard to put a lot on our defense if we only score five,” Snellman said.  The Stags scored a season high nine goals on Monday against Vermont.

The eighth best defensive unit from the 2010 season only returns five players this season.  But probably the most valuable of those returnees only played in 3 games last year.  Junior goalie Charlie Cipriano lost the starting job to Joseph Marra last year.  Marra would lead the Stags to a top 20 ranking and was drafted 37th overall by the Chicago Machine in the MLL.

But this year, head coach Andrew Copeland has seen a new player who has something to prove,

“I think Charlie getting beat out his sophomore year was the best thing to happen to Charlie,” he said.  “I think Charlie came back a new man, a new person, a new player this year.  He was really motivated and kind of went into came the preseason really hungry.”

Snellman, who has touched net more than any other Stag over the past two years, also knows the impact of stopping goals.

“I would say that our biggest strength would probably be Charlie in the cage,” he said.  “I tell Charlie before every single game he’s the best goalie in the country and I believe that 100 percent.”

With the increasing offensive attack, combined with a defense that now features a motivated Cipriano, this Fairfield Stags team could even improve on what they did last year.  This season has the chance to be a national special surprise.

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