Last year, a single overtime goal stood between the men’s lacrosse team and a spot in the NCAA Championship game. Bruno advanced to the Final Four for just the second time in program history and notched a 16-win regular season in the process — another Brown record. A few days later, Dylan Molloy ’17 won the Tewaaraton Award, given annually to the most outstanding college lacrosse player in the nation. In more ways than one, 2016 was a historic year for Brown lacrosse.
This weekend, the Bears will begin their 2017 campaign against Quinnipiac University, and the team taking the field Sunday carries many similarities to last year’s team — including high expectations for the coming season.
“We are looking to continue on the success we had last year,” said starting defenseman and co-captain Alec Tulett ’17. “We’re coming off two back-to-back Ivy League Championships. The bar is set very high, but we have a team mentality not to rest on our laurels.”
Bruno will return Molloy, as well as Tulett and long-stick midfielder Larken Kemp ’17, after they received All-American honors last season. Along with veteran midfielder Jimmy Coughlan ’17, the four will serve as team captains for this season.
Much of the focus, especially from opposing teams, will be on Molloy, who will be a mainstay in Bruno’s offense after his 62-goal, 54-assist season. His 6.44 points-per-game average was the highest in the nation last year.
“Dylan Molloy continues to be our hardest worker and toughest competitor,” new Head Coach Mike Daly wrote in an email to The Herald. “He sets the tone for our team at practice and in the weight room.”
But other key pieces of the Bears’ lineup will be expected to contribute early on. Brown returns every starting member of last year’s three-man defensive front in Tulett, JJ Nysykalo ’18 and Alex Santangelo ’19. Kemp will also be a critical element of Bruno’s high-pace transition offense. He not only was ranked 12th nationally last year in turnovers caused, but also added 12 assists and netted six goals — including a particularly memorable goal in Brown’s matchup against Maryland in the semi-finals of the NCAA Tournament.
“The entire senior class has been amazing, stepping up in leadership positions and doing a great job managing all the transitions,” Daly wrote. “I feel very grateful and humbled by their effort to sustain the success of last year.”
In many ways, the team has changed since its near-title run last spring. Bruno graduated a particularly strong core of team leaders in All-Americans Jack Kelly ’16 and Will Gural ’16, as well as All-American Honorable Mentions John Yozzo-Scaperrotta ’16, Kylor Bellistri ’16, Henry Blynn ’16 and Brendan Caputo ’16.
“There are always losses to graduation and every team dynamic is different, regardless of who or how many guys graduate,” Daly wrote. “This year’s team has been an absolute joy to be around, coach, and it’s a privilege to do what I do.”
Daly added that, despite the loss of its two-time captain Kelly — who now plays professionally for the Denver Outlaws — the goalie position had previously been the teams “most consistent phase.” All four goalies on the Brown roster — including first-year Phil Goss ’20 — are in “tight competition” for the starting spot come Sunday.
“I have been most impressed with that position since day one, and it was certainly a strength of our team in our scrimmage,” Daly wrote.
According to Tulett, other first-years have also been stepping up, especially to fill the void left on the offensive end. Tulett added that Luke McCaleb ’20 and Jack Kniffin ’20 “have been standouts on offense so far in the freshman class.”
But possibly the most significant change for Bruno was the departure of head coach Lars Tiffany ’90, who left for the University of Virginia, which led to the hiring of Daly from Tufts University — where he had led the Jumbos to three Division III national titles.
“The team has been simply amazing with their preparation and their acceptance of a new staff,” Daly wrote. “They have taken everything we have thrown at them, and they respond with great work ethic and toughness. It has been great to be here and Brown has been everything we hoped for and more.”
Strategically, the Bears will still employ the quick-fire offense that helped propel them to success last year. Bruno’s former offensive coordinator, Sean Kirwan — who spearheaded the philosophy behind last year’s attack — came from Tufts after working under Daly for multiple seasons.
But from a team culture standpoint, the fresh coaching staff has implemented a number of new approaches as well. “We’ve really focused on team culture and basic fundamentals a lot more than we did before,” Tulett said. He added that the team has been reading a book by John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach, and players have been “discussing what it means to be a great team, what it takes to be a great teammate.”
“It has really helped us focus on what we want to accomplish this year,” Tullet said.
Last Sunday, despite the blizzard-like conditions, the Bears faced off in a scrimmage against the Boston Cannons, a professional Major League Lacrosse team. The matchup ended in a 9-9 tie, and Daly was impressed by the teams’ competitiveness, as well as its “great job on ground balls” and “toughness versus a very physical team.”
“It was snowing a ton, and our team really adapted well to the conditions,” Tulett said. He added that Brown will benefit from its depth, “especially in terms of underclassmen and freshman coming in. We have a lot of talent down there, and a lot of players that will make a key impact this year.”
But the real first test for the Bears will be the team’s season opener this Sunday.
“Our team and I are focused on Quinnipiac right now,” Daly wrote. “They are well coached, have some very talented players all over the field, and they were an NCAA tournament team last year. We will need all phases to be at their best to win.”