BRIDGEWATER, Va. – The Bridgewater College men's lacrosse team enters 2018 coming off a new high mark for conference victories in the nationally-prominent Old Dominion Athletic Conference.
Bridgewater (7-9 overall record in 2017) won three ODAC games for the first time last season, ending the year with a 10-7 victory over playoff-bound Shenandoah. That postseason spot would have gone the Eagles' way if Shenandoah had not rallied with three late goals to upset Randolph-Macon 9-8 in the penultimate week of the season.
"Last year we continued to evolve in the conference," said head coach Mic Grant. "We felt that really set the table for the 2018 season."
After losing several key seniors on both the attack and defense, the Eagles are looking to integrate a freshman group of 19 players.
"We have a lot of new guys so we've been incorporating them into their positions and they've been getting comfortable and really pushing each other," said Grant. "The practices have been really up-tempo and fast-paced, and we've been pleased so far with how the team is progressing- especially with a lot of young guys."
2017 brought the program its first-ever All-ODAC, All-State and Academic All-State selections. Blake Mann, an Academic All-State honoree, will lead the attack in his senior season. He is the program's leading goalscorer with 111, and will likely grab the school points record early in the year.
Joining Mann on the attack is junior Sean MacLeish, a starter since day one who has tallied 60 points in two seasons, and rookies Eric Husselbaugh and Joey Tabak.
The entire first line midfield of Ryan McHugh, Justin Calabrese and Daniel Brown returns. Brown is four assists shy of the school career mark. Second line options include Vincent Foti, Taylor Phipps and freshman Jake Pangle. Tyler Nieto has won 102-of-187 faceoffs (54.5%) over two seasons.
Last year's senior defenseman group of Sean Nevin, Nick Sherman and Aaron Kiser combined for 112 starts over four years, leaving a major void on that side of the field.
Leading the next generation is junior Jake Truman (26 caused turnovers, 59 ground balls), a second team All-ODAC selection and Bridgewater's first All-State choice. He is joined by seniors Scott Tucker and Benjamin Vayer and newcomers Brandon Schick and Jared Barley. A deep defensive midfield group includes seniors Edward Martin III and James Georgoff.
Senior goalie Kevin Metzger took over the starting role last season, going 6-6 with a GAA of 9.98, a save percentage of 55.2, and 139 stops.
The Eagles open the season on Saturday at home vs. Averett, kicking off a non-conference slate that will be highlighted by a visit from Washington College on March 14. The ODAC includes four teams nationally-ranked in the preseason polls; Bridgewater will open league play at one of those teams, Lynchburg, on March 10.
"The team really just needs to continue to work hard and finish games," said Grant. "They've worked hard, they've pushed each other, the dynamic has really been positive, and there's a real sense of accountability."
Only a pair of one-goal losses (vs. Randolph-Macon and Randolph in 2016, vs. Randolph-Macon and Guilford last spring) have kept the Eagles from their first ODAC playoff spot in each of the past two years.
"We just need to find a way to finish the game and be a little bit more proficient near the end," said Grant. "We have the talent and the depth, and we're well on our way to continuing to evolve."