Men's lacrosse preview: Optimistic Bobcats open against No. 3 RIT at UMass

Andrew Small and the Bates men's lacrosse team open the 2019 season against No. 3 RIT at UMass-Amherst on Feb. 23, 2019. (File photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

LEWISTON, Maine -- Following its NCAA Elite Eight season in 2017, complete with a 16-2 overall record and a perfect 10-0 conference schedule, the Bates men's lacrosse team had a target on its back in 2018. It was a campaign with its ups and downs for the Bobcats, ultimately ending with an 8-8 record and a loss to Wesleyan in the quarterfinals of the NESCAC playoffs.

Those who paid close attention noticed that Bates played Wesleyan -- the eventual national champion -- quite tough in its two meetings last year, both of them road games: a 13-11 regular-season loss and a 16-11 decision in the conference playoffs. That's one of many indications that there wasn't as much of a dropoff in Bates' quality of play as the difference in records may suggest.

"We were already motivated to come back this year, but to see Wesleyan in Gillette Stadium and hold the trophy up last year is an added motivational factor that we were sitting with the best of the best in the top class," said senior Stephen Bull (Baltimore, Md.), one of four captains of the 2019 edition of the Bobcats, on this week's episode of the Bates Bobcast podcast

Bates' preseason No. 7 ranking by Division III New England coaches indicates the level of respect that 19th-year head coach Peter Lasagna and his team inspire.

For the second year in a row, Bates will open the season on a neutral field at UMass-Amherst, against a true heavyweight in Division III men's lacrosse, the Rochester Institute of Technology. RIT went 21-1 last year, their only loss a 19-18 decision in the national semifinals against Wesleyan. Their closest game prior to that was their 9-7 win over Bates in the season opener. The Tigers are currently ranked No. 3 in the country, following a season-opening 19-9 victory at No. 14 Ohio Wesleyan. The game starts at 1pm on Garber Field (Live Stats).

The Bobcats return two All-Americans to the team, and both are captains, in senior defender Rocco Fantoni (Hauppage, N.Y.) and junior two-time All-America attackman Matt Chlastawa (Westfield, Mass.). Both Fantoni and Chlastawa were named preseason All-New England, as was a fourth captain, junior midfielder Curtis Knapton (Westbrook, Maine). Fantoni was named First Team, while Chlastawa and Knapton are both on the Second Team.

And the talent rising up from the younger classes on Bates' roster also has the program on a positive trajectory, says Bull. "We put young guys in a lot of important positions last year. And now, those young guys has experience and are ready to take on the NESCAC."

At goalkeeper, Bates has the luxury of two experienced goalkeepers in junior Rob Strain (Montclair, N.J.), the starter for the past season and a half, and senior Mitchell Drake (Annapolis, Md.), who has 20 career starts on his resume. Bull and Fantoni anchor the close defense along with veterans like junior Frank Spitz (Gladwyne, Pa.), sophomore Will Haskell (Norwalk, Conn.) and junior William Holland (Ridgewood, N.J.). The midfield looks deep with the likes of Knapton, senior Andrew Small (Deerfield, Ill.), senior Dahnique Brown-Jones (New Britain, Conn.), junior Sean Clark (Mill Valley, Calif.), junior Walker Cooney (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), first-year Jack Golden (Northport, N.Y.), first-year long-stick middle Dylan Williams (Sharon, Mass.), and junior Otis Klingbeil (Powell, Ohio), who missed his sophomore season with injury. The team's faceoff specialists are senior Eli Cooper (Glastonbury, Conn.), sophomore Chris Costello (Ridgefield, Conn.) and junior Jack Walsh (Huntington, N.Y.).

Chlastawa is the clear leader on Bates' attack, entering the second half of his collegiate career with astounding career numbers already to his credit: 101 goals and 81 assists. He'll be joined by the likes of junior Brendan Mullally (Baltimore, Md.), who broke out in 2018 with 22 goals and 16 assists, sophomore Jack Scribner (Falmouth, Maine), who tallied 11 goals as a rookie, and senior Matt Kelleher (Newburyport, Mass.), who scored 10 times last season.

"We're definitely deep in areas that we need to be and in areas that we haven't been before," said Bull. "We're looking forward to a great year just defending our turf, and going to other people's and spoiling their party."