ARLINGTON, Va. – Head Coach Jon Reynolds and the Marymount (Va.) University men's lacrosse team are about to kneel down for the first faceoff of 2017, opening up on the road at Methodist University at 12 p.m.
Coming off a season that wasn't quite as what the Saints had hoped, the upside of it is they return a lot of familiar faces from a young team in 2016. The largest recruiting class of Reynolds' career at Marymount last season returns most this year and then some, giving the Saints a great look heading into a tough campaign.
"The mentality (this year) is completely different," Reynolds said of this year's team. "This year it seems extremely different on all sides of things, that the guys went home and did the right things in the summer and came back with the right approach mentally of what we were going to ask of them. It's definitely going the direction that we want it."
Last season was not just new for a majority of the young players, but the young coaching staff as well, having young coaches alongside Reynolds in Vinny Lodato, Jake Beneke and Wes Lincoln. Lodato, who played for Reynolds at Marymount at faceoff, Beneke, a York graduate, and Lincoln, a Gettysburg graduate, all were in their first year of coaching last year for the Saints.
"All new coaches at that point, at times I felt like I was coaching the players with a ton of new guys, and also teaching new coaches," Reynolds said. "Going into year two with the same exact coaching staff, our preparation was better; we slimmed down the playbook where we needed to, we fattened it up in other parts because that's where we felt that we could with the talent and group of guys that we had coming back."
"I'm excited about our coaching staff and having that year together. It's a close group of young guys, who brings a lot of energy, and it helps me tap a little bit of that.
The Saints opened their preseason with high expectations, traveling up the road to Division I Mount St. Mary's for a scrimmage, and it paid off.
"With it being out first contest with our group of guys against anybody all year, it could have blown up in our face," Reynolds explained about opening the season at a Division I program. "In pregame, the attitude of the guys and for myself, you always get a little bit nervous, I just knew the day was going to go as it should have."
The scrimmage saw the Saints control the field, groundballs, out played them in faceoffs. In the second half, they only gave up one goal before subbing the bench and they still had their opportunities.
"It was tied after one (quarter)," Reynolds said. "And that was against their ones and twos; we were leading for most of the first quarter. It definitely felt really good."
Bothwell, in his second year as captain, makes his presence known throughout the field as a six-foot tall long-stick midfielder. Last season, he came in with 37 groundballs for the season, second most on the team, while racking up four points on three goals and an assist in the transition to the offensive third.
Beard, in his first year as a captain for the Saints, has had a decorated offensive career through just two seasons, totaling 54 points on 22 goals and 32 assists. In his first two seasons, he has been the team's second-leading point scorer and is the top returner coming into his junior year.
"They earned it," Reynolds said about the two junior returners being named captain. "They are two big returners for us, and they'll be on your scouting report no matter what. They kill it every day in practice, are probably the two hardest-working players we have, and are two great examples of players we are looking for with leadership."
Joining Beard in the offensive third are several returners including senior Kellen McCarthy, junior Brent Sulhoff, and freshman Josh McIvor, who has put in a lot of work in the offseason to earn a starting role in the offense this season.
"(Josh) scored our first goal last year as a freshman and that was on a man-up play, as he was more of a specialty guy for us," Reynolds said. "He's earned a starting spot after having a productive fall for us and I think he scored our first goal against Mount St. Mary's."
In the midfield, the Saints look for another productive season out of sophomore Matthew Ebert, who finished his first year with the team's third-highest point total of 24 off 16 goals and eight assists. He is joined by several other sophomores including Sean Friedman and Daniel Stroup, and upperclassmen that have been a big piece of the transition into the productive offense such as senior Shoshone Smith.
"I'm expecting a bunch of contributions from all of the classes that are helping us out," Reynolds said about the variety of experience and hard work at the different areas of the field. "We have been fortunate with our recruiting and how well we've done that, and the transfers we got in and freshmen that we feel are going to make an impact."
"On the defensive end, we ended up starting at the tale-end of the season a freshman in goal which has paid benefits for us going into this year," Reynolds said about the role in the cage.
Sophomore Grey Clarkson took the starting nod in net for the final two road trips of the season last year, while playing in six total games. Vying for time with Clarkson is sophomore Patrick Ruleman, who has been seeing his reps in practice every day with Clarkson.
"He hasn't let Grey take any plays off," Reynolds said about his other sophomore keeper working for time. "It's the first time in my career that I've been fortunate enough to have two guys that I feel are both worthy of time."
In front of the cage is a line that hasn't skipped a beat since last season.
"We're returning our entire defense from last year except for one defensive midfielder," Reynolds said. "I think the group that is now sophomores has really set the tone and helped us gain a competitive edge with what you need in practice in order to hold up against our tough conference opponents."
Kyle Granville is the lone senior on the backline with young experience all around him. Sophomores Hunter McGeeney and John Kailunas III are joined by others including junior Brendan Wickline to bring together a strong front for Clarkson in the circle. Heading the front of the defense is Bothwell and a pair of senior defensive midfielders, Andrew Lee and Nathaniel Valenti.
"Having Andrew and Nathan up front as seniors and Daniel as well, you're putting a lot of experience on the front end of your defense which is what you want," Reynolds said. "And they work great together; they are on the same page."
With the season starting up on the road, the Saints will return quickly home for three-straight games against Capital Athletic Conference opponent Southern Virginia University, Bridgewater College, and Catholic University. This year is night-and-day to last season, bolstering 10 contests out at Long Bridge Park.
"We were unfortunate last year," Reynolds mentioned about only having four home games last season. "Having the flipside of that this year with one season under the belt for the young guys, I'm excited about being at home that much. New look, new squad, and I love the look of the home slate and how it's lining up."
Marymount will host four other non-conference matchups throughout the season, while also taking on several CAC contests against Frostburg State University, St. Mary's College of Maryland and Wesley College.
But, one game at a time, and that starts up on Saturday, February 11 on the road at Methodist University.
"I'm excited to get out there with my coaching staff and this team," Reynolds said. "We have a good thing going and I'm ready to see it in action."
First faceoff is set for 12 p.m.