While Wednesday's snow flurries were a reminder that this mild winter is not going anywhere quite yet, the men's lacrosse team has already kicked off the spring with a 12-7 win last Sunday over Quinnipiac. The season-opening victory is a small step in the right direction for a team with high expectations as it looks to break through in one of collegiate lacrosse's toughest conferences in 2012. Last year, the team had an up-and-down season, dropping a number of tight games on its way to a 6-8 record and fifth-place finish in the Ivy League.
Against Quinnipiac (0-1), the Bears (1-0) fell behind early, only to gain command of the game thanks to a dominating 6-1 advantage in the second quarter. With a four-goal cushion at halftime, the Bears kept up the pressure in the second half to see out the 12-7 win. Eight different Bears found the back of the net, which co-captain Parker Brown '12 said has never happened in his four years with the team.
"It was a really positive first game," said Head Coach Lars Tiffany '90. "A team effort describes what happened at Quinnipiac. Eight different men scored goals, and we really passed the ball well and did a great job of sharing the ball and playing unselfish lacrosse."
Among those scorers, Nick Piroli '15 had a college debut to remember. The first-year attackman registered a hat trick in his first game as a Bear, earning him Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Week honors.
"Going to the college level is a lot different from high school," Piroli said. "Not only is the pace a lot faster, but it's a lot more intense. … I'm glad my first game went well, but that game's over with now."
Other Bears to score multiple goals were Sam Hurster '14 and Dan O'Brien '12, who also added three assists.
But perhaps the most encouraging individual performance was in net. In the first game without last season's goalie Matt Chriss '11, Will Round '14 played a strong game in his first career start, making 12 saves. Last season, Chriss ranked in the top 10 nationally in save percentage and saves per game, leaving a void at the goalie position that Round hopes to fill this year.
"It's new for him, but it's his time now," Tiffany said. "In practice, his confidence has improved daily, and he proved it yesterday. He had 10 saves in the first half and was strong as our last line of defense."
In addition to Chriss, two other members of the class of 2011 whose presence will be missed are All-Ivy players and former captains Peter Fallon '11 and Andrew Feinberg '11. Fallon was the anchor of the defense for the past two seasons and earned All-American honors in 2009, while Feinberg graduated ranked fourth in Brown history with 124 career goals.
Tiffany acknowledged that the skill and production of these players will not be easy to replace, but pointed to his two captains, Parker Brown and Rob Schlesinger '12, as leading the charge in a team effort to make up for the lost talent.
"We are fortunate this year to have two men who have really established themselves as leaders for this program," Tiffany said. "We haven't had two captains at the same time who are as strong in leadership, devoted to the rest of the team and committed to the ideals and principles of a united program."
Even without Fallon, the defense may be Bruno's most experienced and consistent unit, welcoming back a veteran starting line including Roger Ferguson '13, Sam Ford '13 and Clay Del Prince '13.
"It's more of a core group of guys," Parker Brown said. "No one really steps out like a Peter Fallon, but at the same time I think it's more even across the board."
Parker Brown said the same mantra could go for the offense, as evidenced by the distribution of wealth in the scoring output against Quinnipiac. With Parker Brown, Piroli and O'Brien leading the way, the offense looks to feature an attack built on speed and efficiency around the net.
The midfield is led by Schlesinger, who was recently named to the Tewaaraton Award watch list, college lacrosse's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Returning players George Sherman '13 and Stephen Chmil '14 will join Schlesinger in the starting lineup, while Alex Jones '13 will look to use his coast-to-coast speed to provide a spark in the defensive midfield.
The Bears' schedule is identical to last season's, and none of the matchups can afford to be overlooked. Five of the seven Ivy League teams in the schedule ranked in the top 20 in the most recent rankings, with the only exception being Dartmouth. Defending Ivy champion No. 7 Cornell, who dismantled Brown 18-5 last season and is led by two-time Ivy player of the year Rob Pannell, enters this season yet again as the team to beat.
"They're all tough," Tiffany said. "If the first week scores are any indicators, the league looks stronger than ever."
"Rankings don't really matter, and anyone can beat anyone, especially in the Ivy League," Piroli said.
The non-conference schedule does not present any breaks. Over spring vacation, the team will travel to Durham, N.C., to take on perennial powerhouse No. 10 Duke in a rematch of last year's close 12-7 loss. Tomorrow, the team will renew its rivalry in its 51st all-time meeting with No. 6 Massachusetts in New England's oldest college lacrosse matchup. In only a 14-game schedule, every game matters if the Bears hope to make a run in the Ivy League and NCAA tournaments, and the team knows this well.
"We try not to focus on the Ivy League championship now because it's in May," Parker Brown said. "For now, I'm just thinking about (UMass)."