Since the start of the State University of New York Athletic Conference lacrosse playoffs 14 years ago, the SUNY Potsdam men's lacrosse team has qualified for the tournament 11 times. Returning to postseason is the always the top priority for the Bears.
Potsdam features 12 seniors and a solid corps of freshman and transfers on a roster of 38 student-athletes. The squad is more than ready for the season to begin and aims to pick up where it left off two years ago, the SUNYAC Championship Game. The 2012 Bears got off to strong start, but a rash of injuries plagued them down the stretch and they fell just short of conference playoffs.
“Our first goal remains the same: qualify for the SUNYACs,” said two-time SUNYAC Coach of the Year Rick Berkman, who enters his 19th season at Potsdam. “Our second goal is to get the number two seed in the SUNYAC playoffs. It's a realistic goal and our players are working hard to host a playoff game for the second time in three years.”
Berkman is encouraged by the play of the team in the early part of the season and is once again looking to his veterans to get the their teammates going once the season begins.
“Heading into the opener, we'll be relying heavily on our experienced players who know the system and know my expectations,” Berkman said. “We also expect contributions from our newcomers, who should have a big impact throughout the season.”
Potsdam will travel to Ithaca College on Saturday, March 2, for its season opener against a very strong Bombers team.
“Ithaca is a very established program and this game will allow us to gauge where we stand as a team and what we need to do to prepare for the difficult season ahead.”
The Bears open SUNYAC play at home on Saturday, April 6, against the Brockport Golden Eagles. The team will also have conference home games with Oswego State and SUNY Geneseo and travel to Oneonta State, Plattsburgh State and SUNY Cortland.
“I've always been big on playing the best non-conference teams we can schedule,” Berkman said. “I think our three games right out of the gate are going to be a good test for us. Ithaca is a new team for us to play. Morrisville is a program on the rise and the local game with Clarkson is always a battle. These are games that will expose some of our weaknesses and let us see what we have to do better heading into SUNYAC play with Brockport.”
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2013 Potsdam men's lacrosse team:
“From what I've seen in preseason, we're moving the ball real well and have a lot of guys who can shoot and dodge,” Berkman said. “ As we get going into the season, I'm expecting us to reach double digits in goals-per-game no matter who we're playing, which is going to give us a better chance to win.”
Junior captain Rob Kunz, who was second team All-SUNYAC in 2012, returns for the Bears after leading the team in scoring a year ago with 22 goals and 19 assists.
“Rob is the complete package as an attackman. He is very good at dodging and creating his own shot and also getting the players around him involved in the offense.”
Joining Kunz on the starting attack will be junior Jeff Seager. Seager missed the entire 2012 season after transferring to Potsdam from Herkimer Community College.
”Jeff is a very well rounded athlete, who has fit right into a starting spot on attack and should ease some of the load on Kunz and help run our offense”.
The third spot on the starting attack will come down to an early season battle between returning starter and senior Kyle Nicholas and freshman Ed Doherty.
“Overall the attack unit should continue to be a strength of the team, with many very capable players who will be ready to step in if they are called upon.”
Other attackmen: Freshman Dylan Collins and Alex Pavone
Heading into the season, the midfield looks to be deeper and faster than ever.
“Overall, this unit is strong on both ends of the field. The healthy return of three juniors, 2012 pre-season All-American and captain Robbie Ashlaw, Pat Mahar and Derek Frost will add proven experience and depth to the midfield position.”
Ashlaw and Mahar missed all of last season to injuries and Frost was limited to four games. Ashlaw, Frost and senior Pat Morrill are expected to be the starting midfield line for the Bears in 2013.
“Our top three middies play well together and have a good feel for each other,” Berkman said. “They form a very formidable first midfield line.
They're athletic and can play at both ends of the field. We've got a lot of confidence in them.”
Ashlaw will lead the first unit and look to pick up where he left off in 2011, when he scored 15 goals and had 30 assists to help lead the Bears to the conference championship game.
“Robbie is a key to our offense. He is able to make everyone around him play at a higher level. He is a highly motivated athlete who is looking forward to proving to both himself and his team that he can lead the Bears offense again in 2013.”
Frost will be running on the first line and will look to regain his 2011 form of 20 goals and six assists, while playing alongside Ashlaw. Morrill will round out the first unit, giving the Bears another excellent dodger and shooter. The senior expects to improve upon his 2012 totals of 14 goals and nine assists and give the team a very balanced first midfield.
The second unit will be led by 2012 second team ALL-SUNYAC selection Jared Flath. The junior's size and athleticism make him capable of dominating a game and causing huge mismatches on defense for Potsdam's opponents.
“Jared (11g 20a) is vital for this team in 2013. He is not only our top face-off guy, but he is a player who is capable of scoring 20-30 goals. We will need him to finish his opportunities if we are going to have the kind of success that we had in two years ago.”
The second member of this unit will be Pat Bonafede. The rookie had a really strong fall season and proved to the coaches that he deserves the opportunity to run on this group as a freshman.
“Pat has worked very hard to earn his spot on this team. He is a very athletic, strong midfielder who is equally adept at playing on both ends of the field.”
The third member of this group comes down to another battle between several capable players. Mahar, junior Kevin Logan, freshman Matt Kennedy, sophomore Jon Woodworth and senior Mike Faltisco will each vie for the final spot.
Four returnees who all have worked hard in the off-season to improve upon their strength and overall athletic ability will lead the short stick unit. Senior captains Brady Fremont and Ryan McConnell, senior Bobby Morris and junior Matt Donovan will anchor the group. Sophomore Ryan Minsker is also back.
“This unit will be a definite strength of this team. All of these guys are returning starters and will battle all year for minutes. They should provide the team with excellent depth and experience at a position that is more important for us than any other.”
Senior Nick Peryea, junior Joe Tristan and sophomore Billy Temple will provide leadership for the long-stick defenders.
“Our top three poles are very solid players and give us tremendous depth at the position. Each guy has his own strength, which will help keep our opponents top middies under control”.
Other long-stick defenders: Junior Jake Armstrong and sophomore Nick Waseleski
The Bears defense returns several veterans along with 2011 starter Jeff Love who missed most of the season a year ago due to illness. The junior will be the leader of the defense and will be expected to pick up where he left off two years ago and cover opponents' top attackmen.
“Jeff is a very athletic defender who is very excited about his role on this team. He is looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.”
Joining him on the first unit will be seniors Jake Gyder and Pat Nealon. Gyder does most of his work in and around the crease, while Nealon is an excellent cover guy capable of taking opponents' number two attackmen and shutting them down.
“Our starting defensive unit is very imposing in terms of size and toughness. I look for them to set the tone this year with physical play from that end of the field.”
Highly recruited freshman Andrew Swords will look to push the starting unit and work his way into the rotation.
Other defensemen: Junior Joe Fitzgerald, Sophomore Ryan Mousaw and freshman Brandon Kemp
Leading the competition in goal for the Bears is senior captain Stefan Sloma, who has waited patiently for his opportunity to lead the Bears as the starting goalie.
“The battle in goal has been very competitive, but at this point Sloma is starting to prove he deserves a shot to lead the team through his work ethic and commitment. We feel he is ready for the opportunity.”
Other goalies: Senior Ryan Doyle, junior Ryan Duffy, freshman Peter Gropp and Jack Corcoran
The Bears open the season in five days at Ithaca's Higgins Stadium.