LEWISTON, Maine -- With a 23-10 record over the past two years, including two wins against juggernaut Tufts, Bates men's lacrosse earned every bit of its No. 16 preseason national ranking for the 2017 season.
The Bobcats graduated an excellent Class of 2016, including All-America attackman Jack Allard and two-year starting goalie Joe Faria, but the cupboard remains full enough to expect another run at the NCAA Tournament. The season officially begins Saturday at 1pm on Garcelon Field, with the Bobcats hosting Roger Williams University.
With two All-Americans returning -- Charlie Fay (Falmouth, Maine) and Fred Ulbrick (Fairfield, Conn.) -- and "the most depth we've ever had since I've been here, at every position," in the words of 17th-year head coach Peter Lasagna, Bates is clearly in position to take aim at fulfilling its team goals of hosting a NESCAC tournament game and making the NCAAs.
Add in the sting of not being selected for NCAAs in 2016, despite earning a better record in and out of conference than the 2015 team that was picked, and the Bobcats are sure to be stoked by a little extra edge, too.
"We've gotten to the point in our program where we won the most games we have ever won in the NESCAC in the history of this program, and that wasn't good enough to get a first-round [NESCAC] playoff game, and that was a disappointment," Lasagna said on this week's Bates Bobcast. Our expectations are to be in the top four in the league, and to win our way into the NCAA tournaemnt, and we didn't do that last year. So there are a lot of very motivated returners."
Bates' rise to prominence coincided with Fay's emergence midway through the 2015 campaign. After missing nearly the first season and a half of his career with injury, his prolific scoring from the midfield position immediately elevated the team and created more space and opportunities for his teammates. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder scored five times in Bates' landmark victory at previously invincible Tufts on April 7, and he has gone on to win two Second Team All-America honors.
This year, although he is Inside Lacrosse's Division III Preseason Midfielder of the Year, Fay will spend most of his time on attack, while retaining the ability to slide back into the midfield and keep opposing defenses on their toes.
"When you have a player that is that special, and can make that many things happen in so many different ways, don't overthink it. Put him on the field as much as you can," said Lasagna.
Fay captains the team along with two fellow preseason First Team All-New England selections in Ulbrick and senior midfielder Kyle Weber (Chagrin Falls, Ohio). Ulbrick, a two-time First Team All-New England pick, is "as good as the best defenders in the NESCAC, which means he's as good as the best defenders in the country," said Lasagna. Better yet, "He's brought a senior's edge and he is 100 percent healthy, which he really has never been in his first three years. He's just looked fantastic." Weber, known for cannon-like shots unleashed from either hand, has tallied 57 goals and 28 assists in his career.
Many other established veterans are equally motivated and ready to go, including senior attackman Andrew Melvin (Medfield, Mass.), senior midfielder Jake Walsh (Baltimore, Md.), senior midfielder and faceoff man Sam Francis (Newburyport, Mass.), junior attackman Clarke Jones (Pepper Pike, Ohio), junior midfielder Max Breschi (Carlisle, Pa.), junior defensive midfielder Burke Smith (Wilton, Conn.) and sophomore faceoff man Eli Cooper (Glastonbury, Conn.).
In goal, sophomore Mitchell Drake (Annapolis, Md.), who was pressed into action last season after Faria sustained an injury, has "right of first refusal" as the team's most experienced netminder. He will be both supported and challenged by returning goalies Jared Baumann (Portland, Ore.) and Ben Berger (Highland Park, Ill.), as well as recruited freshman Rob Strain (Montclair, N.J.), brother of former Bates captain Jack Strain -- himself a key part of Bates' rise to prominence two years ago.
Midfielder R.J. Sarka (Cape Elizabeth, Maine) and defender Frank Spitz (Gladwyne, Pa.) have been two impressive freshmen in preseason practices; meanwhile Bates fans can expect the emergence of to-be-determined returning players who will elevate their status into regulars in the rotation.
"Every day [the other coaches and I] get togther after practice and go, 'Wow.' Some sophomore has had an incredible two days and has now sort of moved his way into the second midfield group," said Lasagna. "There's a lot of that going on every day. It's really fun."
March 29, 2017 Men's lacrosse home game vs. Hamilton moved to Sunday
March 18, 2017 No. 8 men's lacrosse runs past Trinity 14-7
March 13, 2017 Weber named NESCAC Men's Lacrosse Co-Player of the Week
February 25, 2017 Men's lacrosse rolls 23-5 over Roger Williams in season opener
February 24, 2017 Men's lacrosse preview: Ready to run, Bates opens at home on Saturday
February 10, 2017 Three Bobcats named preseason First Team All-New England