BRIDGEWATER, Va. – Unknowns and question marks surround the start of a new season for any team, but when you are starting a program and playing in real time for the first time in program history it's a completely different ball game.
That's how things will be for head coach Mic Grant and the Bridgewater Eagles men's lacrosse program as they enter the first season of competition with a team that is effectively all freshmen.
"I think there's a lot of excitement generating for our program. We've been working for a few weeks now and things are starting to fall into place," said Grant.
The Eagles welcome six newcomers to the mix in the attack at a position where a variety of players will see significant playing time.
"The attack is one of our positions where almost everyone will get playing time. I wish we had three standout guys, but everyone in that group is unique and brings a different intangible to the forefront," said Grant.
According to Grant, Ashcraft has made significant strides during preseason and has potential to be the go-to option in Bridgewater's attack.
Bridgewater's midfield is loaded with players at a position that Grant feels is exceptionally important.
In the offseason, the rules committee instituted the use of a shot clock for the first time in the history of the sport.
"This year, the rule changes during the offseason will dictate that the midfield will be a paramount position," commented Grant. "We have a number of hard-working guys at this position and they will all have to be more of the old school kind of player who can play both ways."
"Muckle has emerged for us and Daniels has shown a solid early season work ethic. (Tylden) Mosby and (Thomas) Maher have shown a lot of the same," said Grant. "Sam Cheplick and AJ Chivington have also worked extensively to earn significant playing time."
The Eagles will turn to a more by-committee feel with their long stick position and Mike Shaup and Zach Anderson will battle for the top spot.
Bridgewater will also use a trio of players at the faceoff position, led by sophomore Joey Van Goidtsnoven.
A group of ten newcomers join the fray in Bridgewater's defensive unit.
"We'll need to have a good defense this season as we expect to face a lot of shots during the course of each game," said Grant. "We're still trying to figure this position out but have a lot of viable options. Paul Miniaci, Jason Gerst and Isaac Ortiz could help us a lot with their speed on the defensive midfield transition."
Aside from Miniaci, Gerst and Ortiz, the Eagles also have a number of players who have stepped up during preseason and could provide a physical element to the defense.
"Lucas Clark and Sean LeBlanc have been solid throughout preseason," commented Grant. "Logan Whitaker brings a great physical element to the field after spending the fall with the football team, while Curtis Hughes has emerged as one of our top defensemen as well."
"Currently we have a real 1A and 1B option in the net," said Grant. "At the moment, Andrew is slightly ahead and just has all of the elements that we are looking for in a good goalkeeper, but Austen has been stellar as well. We also recently added Trost to the mix and with three guys it gives us solid depth. Any of the guys will give us a chance to win on any given day."
With a new season on the horizon, the Eagles will battle a number of programs that are new to lacrosse in an effort to get the team acclimated to the college game before tangling with some of the nation's top teams when play shifts to the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) slate.
"Our schedule was laid out so that our non-conference schedule would give our guys a chance to get acclimated to college game and incorporate the new rules," said Grant. "The ODAC slate will provide us with a game-in, game out battle. It is one of the best conferences in the country, and competing in it is what our guys signed up for when they chose to play at Bridgewater. To be the best you have to play the best, and that comes with conference play."
Bridgewater takes to the field on February 23 when it opens the season at home against fellow first-year program Transylvania. The Eagles open the conference schedule on March 16 at Hampden-Sydney.
"Overall, we expect our guys to work hard and push themselves every day. We're taking a one game at a time mentality," said Grant. "We have a great nucleus in place and we are not putting a number on wins and losses, that doesn't always define success. We need to do well every day on the field and in the classroom. We are working hard and headed in the right direction. We expect that every time they step on the field that they will give 100%."