For 11 of the past 13 years, the SUNY Potsdam men’s lacrosse team has finished in the top four of the State University of New York Athletic Conference to earn a berth in the conference tournament. Consistency has been the trademark of Bears men’s lacrosse under 18th-year head coach Rick Berkman and expectations are no lower this season.
Potsdam features seven seniors, a bevy of freshman and transfers on a roster of over 40 student-athletes. The Bears are looking to get back to where they left off a year ago and return to the SUNYAC Championship game. In 2011, Potsdam finished the season with an 8-9 overall record, including a 4-2 mark in the SUNYAC. The second place Bears knocked off Geneseo at home in the first round of the playoffs, before falling to SUNYAC power Cortland in the final.
“Our first goal is to qualify for the SUNYACs,” said Berkman, the 2011 SUNYAC Coach of the Year. “Our second goal is to earn the second seed in the SUNYAC playoffs like we did a year ago. Our players are working hard to repeat and host a playoff game for the second year in a row.”
Berkman is encouraged by the play of the team in the preseason and is once again looking to the experienced players to get the team going once the season begins.
“Leading up to our first game, we’re going to be leaning heavily on our returning players who have the experience, who know the system and know the things that I expect from them,” Berkman said. “At the same time, there are going to be some newcomers who are going to have a big impact throughout the season.”
The team will travel to Orlando, Fla. on March 10, to prepare for its season opener on Tuesday, March 13, against Mt. St. Joseph. Potsdam returns home on March 15, and hosts Hartwick College at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 17.
The Bears commence SUNYAC play on April 7 with a road contest at Brockport. Potsdam will also face conference foes Oswego and Geneseo on the road and host Oneonta, Plattsburgh and Cortland.
“I’ve always been big on playing the best teams we can play (in non-conference),” Berkman said. “I think our three games right out of the gate are going to be a good test for us. They’re games we can win, but they will be a challenge. These teams can expose some of our weaknesses and help us see what we have to do better heading into SUNYAC play.”
Here is a position-by-position look at the 2012 Potsdam men’s lacrosse team:
Despite losing seniors Kevin Green and Sean McAuliffe, two of the team’s top scorers from a year ago, Berkman believes a great strength for his attack unit in 2012 will be its athleticism.
“From what I’ve seen in practice, we’re moving the ball real well,” said Berkman. “We have a lot of guys who can shoot the ball and a lot of guys who can dodge. As we get further into the season, I’m expecting us to score 10-12 goals per game no matter who we’re playing, which is going to give us a better chance to win.”
Senior Pete Pike, who was a second team All-SUNYAC in 2011, led the team in scoring a year ago with 24 goals and 22 assists.
“Pete is a big part of the offense and a big game player. We need him to be at his best for each and every game this season.”
Joining Pike on the starting attack will be junior Kyle Nicholas who had 13 goals and 10 assists a year ago.
“Kyle is a very well rounded player. He is equally adept at shooting the ball and making plays from his ability to dodge and feed. We are looking for Kyle to have a breakout year in 2012.”
The third member of the starting attack will be Le Moyne transfer Rob Kunz.
“Rob has the complete package as an attackman. He possesses great speed and dodging ability and although he is the new member of the unit, I feel he is ready to prove he can be the guy to lead the attack.”
Berkman is not concerned with his attack unit’s ability to produce.
“Overall, the attack unit should be a strength for the team. We have many very capable players who will be ready to step in when they are called upon.”
Other attackmen: Senior Chris Mazzeo, junior Mike Faltisco, freshman John Hawk, freshman Zack Basso
Heading into the season, Potsdam’s midfield looks deeper and faster than in years past, but will have to overcome injuries to key players.
“This unit is strong on both ends of the field,” said Berkman. “But early season-ending injuries to preseason All-American Robbie Ashlaw and Pat Mahar have forced us to do some juggling with the offensive lines.”
Senior Ryan Paparella, junior Derek Frost and junior Pat Morrill are projected to be the starting midfield line for the Bears this season.
“Our top three middies play well together and have a good feel for each other,” added Berkman. “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.”
Frost will be running on the first line for the third straight year. Last year he posted 20 goals and 6 assists and is expected to improve upon those numbers for the 2012 season.
Paparella, a two-time team captain, and Morrill are both athletic midfielders who make a good combination with Frost to form a solid first unit for the Bears.
“Obviously with the loss of Ashlaw and Mahar we need guys to expand their roles and I feel the first unit is capable of providing us with the offense that we need to succeed.”
The second unit is made up of two transfers from defending National Junior College Champion Onondaga Community College. Former Lazers Ryan McConnell and Jared Flath will join returning sophomore Kevin Logan.
Berkman is very confident with his second midfield unit.
“I honestly feel we have two first lines on this team,” said Berkman. “The second group is made up of two newcomers to Potsdam, but they are not freshmen. They are seasoned players with the ability to put up points and combined with Kevin Logan they give us the depth we need to continue to be successful in the SUNYAC.”
Other offensive midfielders: Senior Steve Tupper, freshman Dave Kunz, freshman Garrett Janes
The short stick unit is led by three returnees who put in a lot of off-season effort to improve their strength and overall athletic ability. Returning are juniors Brady Fremont and Bobby Morris as well as sophomore Matt Donovan.
“Our returning short stick defenders have all worked extremely hard in the weight-room and are stronger and faster than a year ago, which we are hoping will translate into a more up tempo brand of lacrosse this year.”
Other short-stick defenders: Freshman Dylan DiFante, freshman Cody Henry and junior Jeff Seager
The long-stick defenders will be led by juniors Nick Peryea and Pat Nealon. Both were starters last season and are poised to have a big year for the Bears in 2012.
“Peryea and Nealon are both coming into the season in great shape and will give the team a great tandem at this position. They combine speed and size to help control opponents’ top offensive midfielders,” said Berkman.
Other long-stick defenders: Sophomore Jake Armstrong, freshman Nick Waseleski, freshman Pete Guerriero
Senior captain Rashaun Durden, a 2011 Honorable Mention All-American and the SUNYAC Player of the Year, heads into his final season as a preseason All-American selection.
“Rashaun has done everything he can in the off-season to improve his game,” Berkman said. “He is bigger, faster and stronger than last year and he is very deserving of the attention he has received.”
Joining Durden on the starting defensive unit are junior Jacob Gyder and sophomore Jeff Love. Both were also part of the starting defense in 2011.
“Defense should be a strength this year as all three starters from a year ago are back. Love is an excellent cover guy with the ability to take the ball away and start the transition game. Gyder usually does his work on the crease in stopping the opponents’ attackmen who mainly play on the inside.”
Other defensemen: Senior Jason Falk, senior Tyler Flath, sophomore Joe Fitzgerald, freshman Ryan Mousaw, sophomore Joe Tristan, Cody Barber
With the loss of 2011 All-SUNYAC Second Team selection Pat Corbine, the Bears will be looking for his replacement among a trio of players who are battling for the starting job. Senior Mike Quinlan, junior Stefan Sloma and junior Ryan Doyle will compete for the top spot between the pipes.
“I am confident in all of our goalies,” said Berkman. “It has been a very competitive battle to this point in preseason. Whoever gets the opportunity to lead this team will be very deserving.”
The Bears open the season in one week at the Disney Sports Complex.