Lacrosse preview: Teams look to build off last season's success

The Geneseo men's and women's lacrosse teams head into this season eager to improve upon the success of last Spring's campaign.

The men enter the 2007 schedule on the heels of a historic season after compiling a 13-3 record last year, a feat which allowed them to secure a #5 national ranking. Despite the graduation of leading scorer Jack Ryerson, the team looks to come back strong this season. The Knights return five 2006 first team All-SUNYAC performers, including seniors Owahn Bazydlo and Phil Gardner and juniors Tim McDermott, Mike Pizzuto and Kevin Hennigan. They also feature two returning second team All-SUNYAC selections in senior goalie Tim Garback and classmate Rick Bova.

Head coach Jim Lyons said he realizes there is no shortage of talent, but he was quick to point out that there is more to the winning equation than raw skill. "We're more talented than in the past, but team chemistry is always a huge factor for success," Lyons stated. "Developing morale and camaraderie is important."

Last season's team had its dreams of a SUNYAC title dashed in the conference championship game by eventual national champion Cortland, and Lyons acknowledged that the Red Dragons will be a tough foe again this year. "I think they're the top dog, as they've been in the past years, until someone can knock them off," Lyons said. "We're fortunate to have the game [against Cortland] at home in the regular season."

While playing a key game on their own field helps, Lyons believes his Knights would benefit from increased crowd attendance at home games.

Citing the tremendous student backing that the Geneseo men's hockey team receives, he hopes to draw on that same support for lacrosse in the future. "We would love to see that kind of crowd," he said. "We appreciate the support for hockey, and we hope that they support another winner in the spring and come out to see us."

The men's team begins its season March 7 in Elmira. Its first home game is March 31 against Clarkson.

The Lady Knights are also a hungry bunch, following a 12-3 season that, similar to their male counterparts, was halted in the SUNYAC championship by Cortland. Head coach and Cortland graduate Carly Peters-Ritchlin desperately wants revenge on her alma mater, stating that defeating Cortland is the team's "number one goal." Beyond the mere revenge factor, Ritchlin said she understands that much more rides on her squad's ability to slay the Red Dragons. "To get an NCAA bid," she said, "we need to beat Cortland and win SUNYAC's."

To that end, Ritchlin is blessed with a talented roster with which to compete. Despite leading scorer Melody Kuzniar's graduation, the Lady Knights return a bounty of gifted players for 2007. Senior Maggie Benham will look to parlay her 33 goals and 18 assists from last season into an even stronger campaign this year. Complementing her will be junior Shauna Leonard (34 points last season), senior Emily Ward (33), and senior Megan Hilts (31).

With the return of so many key performers, Ritchlin expects this season's attack to be much more unpredictable. "Across the board, we're going to be a lot stronger, rather than relying on one or two players," she said. "This is the best year we've had since I've been here in terms of team chemistry."

Only time will tell if the newfound cohesion be enough to topple rival Cortland, win SUNYACs, and advance to the NCAA Tournament. Ritchlin likes their team's chances. "We're definitely excited," said the coach. "This is by far the most talented team I've had."

The Lady Knights begin their season on March 13, when they travel to Florida to take on Stevens Tech.