Five Patriot League men's lacrosse student-athletes journal about a big game from the 2008 season.
For the Patriot League the sport of men's lacrosse presents many special game matchups throughout the season from the different rivalries inside the League and rivalries formed with non-conference foes to several contests each year against nationally-ranked opponents. Many of those nationally-ranked games take place within Patriot League play. So how do the student-athletes in the Patriot League prepare for the big time games, what are the emotions during the contest and what does it mean to play in situations where the pressure is on full force. The story of the "big game" feel Patriot League lacrosse holds is told by five League players who have singled out one game from the 2008 campaign to express what it is like to play at the highest level of collegiate competition.
Saturday, April 12: Navy at Army by Army senior midfielder Justin Bokmeyer (Army 9, Navy 6)
When I committed to West Point, I dreamed of playing in one game. Army versus Navy.
It is a feeling that is deeply rooted throughout our years here. We want to beat Navy. This rivalry is something so pure and special. The guys from both teams have the same values and goals and all play for something bigger than themselves. We understood the commitment we made to our countries by entering an academy. Though we are on the same side after graduation, and will no doubt meet up sometime during our military careers, we are devoted to beating the other in the "Star" game.
Beating Navy is always a goal for not only our team, but for the school. This year's game featured two top-10 nationally-ranked teams on a beautiful day at our home turf of Michie Stadium. It was Senior Day, making it that much more emotional.
The locker room before the game is always very emotional, and this day was no different. Loud music, guys concentrating, praying, and some laughing with each other. Everyone has their own way of getting prepared. The seniors wanted to graduate with an everlasting victory over Navy added to their resume.
The game was as close as everyone expected. We went up by a few goals and then suddenly, we were tied. The crowd was amazing. Fans were mixed in with Midshipmen and Cadets, including a bunch of Army swim team members that had painted their bodies to spell out, "Go Army - Sink Navy." It was exciting to see the support we received.
We were able to make a run and get a few goal lead. And in the end, as the clock ticked down to all zeros, we had won our first game versus Navy in 11 years.
I can not say enough about the 47 other guys on our team and the work they did in preparing for the game and then playing in it. Every person on the squad is important to this game, whether they are a scout team player or a starter. It is critical when everyone puts forth the same effort and understands their role and performs it to their very best. That made the win that much more memorable for everyone on the team - not just the seniors. It is a feeling that everyone will be able to take with them for the rest of their careers in the Army.
The win was the most memorable I have ever been a part of. I cannot explain the joy it was to win in front of my fiancée, parents, friends, and former Army alumni. We place such an importance on singing our alma maters at these games and the winning team always sings last. It made me and the rest of our team very proud to stand in front of 5,000 fans and sing the West Point alma mater last.
We always remember that we represent West Point and the Army when we play. And this game was especially meaningful for that reason. Members of the Army around the world can have different bragging rights because of this game and we loved hearing those stories after it was all over.
After 11 years, we had finally beaten Navy. I am proud to say that I am a member of the 2008 Army Lacrosse Team.
Saturday, March 1: Ohio State at Bucknell by Bucknell junior midfielder Billy Haire (Bucknell 8, Ohio State 7 (3OT))
Ohio State is one team that we look forward to playing each year. Our assistant coach's brother is an offensive coordinator there, which adds an interesting element to the game. In addition, year in and year out they are a contender for the Sears Cup, awarded to the school with the best athletics program. They are consistently ranked as one of the top twenty teams in the country. Although we play in a competitive league, our strength of schedule is not as high as many other schools. This means that when we do play a quality opponent like Ohio State it is very important for us to win in order to get consideration for an NCAA at-large bid.
We were all very nervous because the first game of the season against Duke had shaken up the team's confidence. A win against a tough Hobart team had given us some momentum, but we knew we were going to have to play a complete game in order to beat Ohio State. Our game versus Ohio State last year was decided in the final minutes with us pulling out the win, and we knew this year's game would be another close one. It was a blistering cold day in March, and we were happy to see a strong showing from our student body. Coming into the game our team was very excited because we thought we had a strong game plan on how to beat the Buckeyes. We got off to a good start but Ohio State made a strong run, ultimately leading 5-2 at halftime. In our halftime discussions, we talked about how important it would be to come out strong in the beginning of the second half, but the Buckeyes drew first blood. Our offense answered quickly giving us some much needed momentum carrying us through to the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter scoring went back and forth and as time ticked down, each possession became more and more crucial.
The fans really came into play in the fourth quarter, which gave us extra energy and emotion on the field. During the first overtime, what had been on-and-off snowfall turned into an absolute blizzard, at which time the large crowd, led by George Buckley (a charismatic fan and father), erupted into a powerful "DEFENSE" chant. The defensive stands that ensued were those of true warriors. Our defense continued to gain more and more confidence and knew it was a matter of time until our offense netted the game winner. About a minute into the third overtime, John Togneri made a fantastic split dodge, veering to his left, and rocketed a shot past the Buckeye's goalie; our team immediately stormed the field, celebrating in ecstasy.
This game was extremely important to our team for a number of reasons; besides giving us a win against a top-twenty (now top-ten) opponent, it showed our team's character by responding to a number of the adversities we faced throughout the game.
Saturday, April 19: Colgate at Bucknell by Colgate senior attack Matt Lalli (Colgate 11, Bucknell 9)
It is a rare privilege for the select few Americans who can say that they have played in a "big game". Myself, I am fortunate enough to have played in my share of big games. The most recent that comes to mind is one that took place in Lewisburg, Pa. on April 19, 2008. The setting was Colgate vs. Bucknell and the stakes were high. A Bucknell win would have locked up hosting privileges for the Bison and the overall No. 1 seed in the Patriot League. For us, a victory would mean a better tournament seed and the satisfaction of walking out of the stadium with a top-10 win under our belts.
There are plenty of factors that go into the setting of a potential "big game". Factors leading up to the game includes: the meeting of two archrivals, a great deal on the line for both teams and a solid crowd. During the course of the game it is always nice to have plenty of goals for both sides, big plays, and a late goal for the ultimate victor. I can happily say that this game had plenty of those. Though a blowout victory would be much less stressful on parents, coaches and players, close games show what you're made of.
One of the first games that I have marked on my calendar every year is the Colgate-Bucknell game. In nearly four full seasons of Colgate-Bucknell lacrosse, each game has been decided by no more than 2 goals. Fortunately, I have been on the winning end 4 of the last 5 times, including the previous 4. The Colgate-Bucknell meeting is, without question, always a heated one.
As for the game, this one was nothing short of a battle. With the great deal of emotion was present coming into the game, there proved to be no shortage of action. The stands were littered with rowdy Bison fans as well as an entourage of loyal Colgate parents and friends. It was only fitting to give a great show for those who had come out. Not surprisingly, no team led by more than two goals and the final was a two-goal margin at 11-9 in favor of Colgate. Oh, and by the way, the game-winning goal was scored with 4:46 left in the fourth quarter. The back-and-forth nature of the game was stressful on everyone. I was 100% confident that we had the ability and focus to win the game, even when we were trailing at one point in the 4th quarter. However, winning a big game is reliant on plenty of things in addition to one players' confidence.
As always, one team must walk away on the losing end. However, this was only a regular season game. Had Bucknell won, there would have been Colgate-Bucknell round 2, a mere 6 days later. As for now, a potential rematch could be set for a much bigger stage, the Patriot League Championship game. Until then, we have a different big game to prepare for - Navy.
Sunday, Feb. 24: Holy Cross at Yale by Holy Cross freshman midfielder Eamon Troy (Holy Cross 7, Yale 6)
On February 24th the Holy Cross lacrosse team traveled to Connecticut to take on Yale. At the time we were 1-0 and coming off a good opening game win over St. John's. It was a good feeling to start off the season with a win because we had been working hard in practice and were heading into the season with high expectations. After our win over St. John's the team seemed to gain a bit of needed confidence and the way we practiced heading into that game against Yale felt a little different. Everyone seemed to play with a chip on their shoulders, and the players and coaches seemed to carry a confidence that has been lacking from the program for a while. On the day of the game I noticed that the feel in the locker room was different from any of the scrimmages or the season opener. There was a focus and determination on each of the upper-classmen's faces that really instilled in the younger players the importance of the game. As Coach Pascal brought us in before we went out to the game he talked to us about the opportunity that we had that day. No Holy Cross team had ever beaten Yale, or any other Ivy for that matter, but Coach looked at all of us and said, with complete certainty, that we were going to win that game. That was what we needed. Not to here that we were underdogs or that we had a chance to beat them, he told us that this group was going to be great on that day, and we all believed it.
The game went back and forth for the first half with both defenses playing well. Yale outshot us in that first half and our goalie, Jimmy Harrison, was really keeping us in it. Time after time they were getting shots right on the doorstep but Jimmy made saves that left the players on the sideline looking at each other in disbelief. We went into halftime with the score 3-3, and Coach's speech was pretty similar to his one just before the game. He brought us in, looked us in the eyes, and said, "This is what we wanted. This is our game". The second half was a little more fast-paced than the first, as both teams picked up their transition game. They scored to go up 4-3 and then we tied it up in the fourth at 4-4. We have only four seniors on the team this year, but the fact that these four have been here for four years speaks to how much each of them brings to the team. Senior Toby Banta tied it up at four and senior Tim Redmond did the same at five. Coach called a timeout and I looked at Tim's eyes after he scored that goal and I knew he believed that we were going to pull this out. That look made me believe that he and the rest of the seniors were not leaving that field without a win. Those four seniors put our team on their backs and they won us that game, 7-6. I can't really describe the emotions that go through a team when it does something the program has never done before, but walking around the locker room after the game I noticed no one was taking off their equipment. Some people were hugging, some staring at the ground, and some with their faces in their hands, and I thought that spoke for itself.
Sunday, April 20: No. 10 Notre Dame at Lehigh by Lehigh senior midfielder Stuart Baxter (Notre Dame 14, Lehigh 7)
We had already been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, so from the outside, it would seem that playing a nationally ranked Notre Dame team on the final home game of my career would be not that important. Sure, the game had significance to me and my fellow seniors as we would never again be putting on our jerseys to compete in a college lacrosse game. But I assumed that my underclassman teammates would not take such a final game so seriously. However, all week leading up to the game, our team practiced with the same intensity we would have if we were preparing for the Patriot League championship game. Because even though a win against Notre Dame would not extend our season any more, it was the next game on our schedule and thus the most important game of the season. All year our coach has preached about how the next game on our schedule is the biggest one of the year. Things were no different this week.
When I walked into the locker room before the game I could see the passion and dedication in the eyes of my teammates. Even though most of them would be returning in the fall to compete for another season, I knew at that moment that we had a group of 42 guys committed to finishing this season the right way. To me and my classmates, finishing our careers with the conviction and toughness that we had shown all year would be the only way to go out. I knew that our senior class had the opportunity to set the tone for next year and the years to come by the way we finished our final game. We were prepared to do whatever was required of us to ensure that we left the program better than we found it.
By halftime of the game, we were down after 6 unanswered goals by Notre Dame. We only had 30 minutes of lacrosse left in our careers. During halftime our seniors reassured the team that things were not over. No matter the score at the end of the game, we were going to leave everything we had on the field. Letting it all hang out for the final half of our careers was the only real way we could make the rest of the team know how committed we were to this program. By the end of the game, the final score didn't show up the way we would have liked, but deep down we knew that played our last game and the last week the right way.
It's an incredible time to be a Lehigh Lacrosse player. The program and the coaching staff have increased the intensity and commitment they bring everyday. There is no doubt in my mind that this team is going to make big waves in the lacrosse community, and I am honored to have spent the last four years being a part of it.
Our thanks to Jessica Siegel for compiling and editing this report.
BONUS: 2008 Patriot League Men's Lacrosse Major Award Winners
Center Valley, Pa. - Army was the winner of two of the five Patriot League Men's Lacrosse Major Awards and Colgate, Lafayette and Navy each had one student-athlete honored. Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year honors went to Colgate's Brandon Corp, while Navy's Jordan DiNola was named the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year. Army's Adam Fullerton was tabbed the Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year and Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors went to Lafayette's Tom Perini. The 2008 Patriot League Coach of the Year award was given to Army's Joe Alberici.
The Patriot League preseason voters were right as Corp and DiNola were predicated as the Patriot League Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively, in the beginning of the season by head coach and sports information directors.
Corp repeats as the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year after scoring a League-high 30 goals in all games and 14 in Patriot League contests. For the year he came up with 41 overall points to tie for second in the Patriot League. The three-time All-Patriot League selection is currently riding a 29-game scoring streak, having put up 62 goals and 29 assists over that span which encompasses every game over the last two years. The junior attack had 11 multiple-point outings this year, including a season-high six points on March 2 against Canisius. Colgate has captured the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year three times with Corp's honors in both 2007 and 2008 and Derek Laub's in 1993. Corp joins two other Patriot Leaguer's that have won this award more than once - Army's Tim Pearson (1999, 2001, 2002) and Bucknell's Chris Cara (2004 and 2005).
DiNola is the first Mid to be named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year since Navy joined the League in 2004. The senior defender is the anchor to the number one defense in the nation as the Mids have given up just 5.71 goals per contest. The Mids were even better in Patriot League competition, allowing a mere 4.30 goals per game. DiNola and the Navy defense only allowed double-digit goals to an opponent twice this season - both were ranked in the top 10 nationally. DiNola was honored on the First-Team All-Patriot for the third time in his career this year and is a 2008 Tewaaraton Award nominee.
This year saw Fullerton earn the Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year honor for the second season in a row, become a two-time First-Team All-Patriot League honoree and a Tewaaraton and USILA Lt. Raymond J. Enners award nominee. Fullerton was first in the Patriot League in both save percentage (.638) and goals against average (6.77) and ranks fourth and fifth in the nation in those two statistical areas, respectively. The senior netminder was also first in the Patriot League in saves with 148. He had nine double-digit save games and ended the regular season with a career-high 24 stops against No. 2 Duke. In all but two games this season he held opponents to under 10 goals. His goals against average was even better in Patriot League play at 5.79, where he allowed just 34 scores over six games.
Perini brought home Lafayette's first-ever Patriot League Rookie of the Year award in a season that saw him start all 13 of the Leopards' games. Perini paced all Patriot League freshmen in goals (27) and tied for first in points (30). His 27 goals were a tie for second among all Patriot League players. The two-time Patriot League Rookie of the Week had at least one point in all but one game this season and tallied a career-high six points on February 27 against Wagner on five goals and one assist.
Alberici led Army to a 9-5 overall and 5-1 mark in Patriot League competition to give the Black Knights the No. 1 seed in the Patriot League Tournament for the first time. Alberici also guided the Black Knights to their first win over rival Navy in 11 years, snapping a 13-game losing streak, in a 9-6 victory at West Point on senior day. Alberici's squad was ranked as high as eighth in the USILA National Coaches Poll on April 14. Aside from the preseason rankings, the Black Knights have been ranked in the top 20 all season long by the USILA. Alberici joins former Black Knight Head Coach Jack Emmer (1992 and 1998) as Patriot League Coach of the Year honorees for Army.
The 2008 Patriot League Tournament will take place Friday, April 25 with two semifinal contests and Sunday, April 27 with the championship game. Army will host the event as the top seed and face No. 4 Bucknell at 4 p.m. on Friday, while No. 2 Navy and No.3 Colgate will play at 7 p.m. The winners of Friday's semifinal matches will advance to the championship tilt on Sunday, which will be aired on CBS College Sports at 2 p.m.
2008 Patriot League Men's Lacrosse Major Awards
Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year Brandon Corp, Colgate
Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Jordan DiNola, Navy
Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year Adam Fullerton, Army
Patriot League Rookie of the Year Tom Perini, Lafayette
Patriot League Coach of the Year Joe Alberici, Army
April 24, 2008
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