The men’s lacrosse team has developed quite the knack for winning since the program’s inception in 2011. Under the leadership of head coach Rory Whipple, the team has won three straight Sunshine State Conference crowns and owns a dazzling 38-14 record over the past three seasons. The team also earned a semi-finals appearance in the NCAA Division II tournament last year. That being said, the team isn’t lingering on past accomplishments or letting the hype get to their heads.
“I think what we need to do is build on last year’s success,” Whipple said. “We’ve worked real hard over the off-season and brought in some new transfers that are going to help out the program quite a bit.”
This new crop of transfers brings an abundance of Division I caliber talent, namely junior Chris Vetter (Towson), junior Dan Soviero (St. John’s), junior AJ Leary (Vermont), sophomore Steve Reall (St. John’s) and junior Ryan Vella (OCC.) Having this new wave of players fortifies an already established squad and puts them in prime position to contend for a national title this season.
If the team wants to hoist the coveted Division II championship trophy come May, however, they’ll have to overcome some daunting roadblocks on their schedule, including No.1 ranked Limestone College. Over the past few years, a win against Limestone has been hard to come by for the Spartans.
In fact, they’ve never beaten the South Carolina powerhouse; the closest matchup a devastating 14-10 semi-final loss in last year’s tournament.
Fortunately, the fourth-ranked Spartans will have a chance to buck that trend. In a week from this upcoming Saturday, the team hosts Limestone at the Naimoli Athletic Complex in what could very well be the game of the year.
“We’re fortunate to have them here,” Whipple said. “That’s one game we’re really focusing on. After they beat us last year they went on to win the National Championship.”
Despite the anticipation for the Limestone game, the team knows full and well that equal challenges lie further down the road. Tough road games against conference rival Florida Southern and the always difficult Lake Erie College will prove to be formidable fights for this battle-tested squad as well.
“Our goal is a national championship. Although often times when you say that you slip up by looking past teams. We are trying to focus on one game at a time and staying level headed,” said sophomore attacker Conor Whipple.
Nonetheless, the Spartans should have every reason to believe they can win any one of those games.
Defensively, they’re anchored by an All-American and first team SSC defender Marty Heyn, a junior who has been a model of consistency in his three year tenure with the team. One of his standout skills is his ability to produce turnovers (he lead the team last year with 22 forced turnovers).
“Marty is one of the best defensmen I’ve ever played with,” said junior midfielder Dylan Kane. “He isn’t a flashy player; he plays hard-nosed, gritty defense but also has a great stick and lands some pretty crazy checks.”
Of course, Heyn doesn’t do it all alone. To his left is promising freshman Nick Balzano and to his right veteran defender Ryan Vella. Should anything happen to slip by them, goalkeeper Andrew Failla will be there for the save. Failla, a junior from Baldwin, N.Y., posted an impressive 7.7 goals allowed average last year–good for sixth in all of Division II.
As far as the attack goes, Coach Whipple is fortunate enough to have his son Conor leading the charge. Like his teammate Heyn, the younger Whipple racked up a bevy of accomplishments last season, including first team all-SSC, second-team All-American, and most impressively, SSC Player of the Year–all as a freshman. This season, Whipple is excited to lead an attack that he believes to be more dynamic than ever.
“We have a strong offense and like to score goals,” he said. “Chris Vetter, a transfer from Towson, looks really good on attack this season.”
As far as predictions go, it’s realistic to assume that this team is a championship contender, especially given that each season the Spartans have climbed higher and higher in terms of level of success. Perhaps this is the year they reach the top.
Griffin Guinta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org