LAKELAND - The Florida Southern 10th-ranked men's lacrosse team will kick off its seventh season when it hosts Pfeiffer University on Saturday, Feb. 7 at 1 p.m. at Bryant Stadium.
The Moccasins, under the direction of fifth-year head coach Marty Ward, enter 2015 coming off the best season in program history a year ago. The Mocs set records for wins in a season with 11 and finished 4-1 inside the Sunshine State Conference in the league's first-ever season of men's lacrosse.
In addition, FSC earned its first ranking from the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) in the organization's Division II Top 15 poll while setting team records with 218 goals, 119 assists and 337 total points as a team. The Mocs finished fourth in the country in goals per game with 14.53 and individually, attackman Dane Sorensen led Division II with 63 goals and 4.2 goals per game. Sorensen, an All-SSC First Team honoree, was third in the nation in points per game 5.07.
Sorensen, named a preseason Third-Team All-American by Inside Lacrosse, headlines an offense that returns all three starters at the attack position. The senior from Victoria, British Columbia, is joined by sophomores Grant VanOverbeke (Rosemount, Minn.) and Cody Dyer (Slingerlands, N.Y.).
VanOverbeke finished second to Sorensen's 73 points with 69 of his own and a team single-season record 34 assists en route to winning the SSC's Co-Newcomer of the Year award. Dyer racked up 46 points, good for fifth place all-time in a single season. Both were named to the All-SSC Second Team.
"You look at the points they put up as two freshmen and a junior, and now they've played together for a full year," Ward said. "I think with the offense (assistant coach Rob Williams) implemented, a little different look, the attack is going to be even more potent than it was last year."
"Good goal scorers, great goal scorers, always find a way to put the ball in the back of the net no matter what," he added.
Senior Tyler Tripoli (East Moriches, N.Y.) is another player Ward said will provide some depth on the offensive end.
"He's been playing a fourth attackman position for us for a while now," said the Moccasin coach. "He can come in and play a little midfield for us as well and help us on the offensive end. He's been playing well."
While the attack position is returning its three all-conference players around the horn, the Mocs are moving forward without the services of two starters at both midfield and defense.
Long-stick midfielder David Beaumont started all 15 games during his senior campagn was named to the All-SSC First Team in 2014. Faceoff specialist Dan Krispinsky graduated as the team's all-time leader with 576 draw victories and was a Second-Team All-SSC pick. At defense, the shoes of DJ Lubs and Brad Gysin will need to be filled. Lubs is the only player in program history to earn postseason All-American honors. He was a two-time USILA All-American honorable mention in his junior and senior years.
"We kind of have a motto here at Southern where we don't replace, we just find the next guy to get the job done," Ward said. "That's kind of been our whole mentality with the Mocs since I've taken over. We don't have them anymore, why worry about if we're going to replace them? Why not find the next guy who is going to step up and be in that role?"
According to Ward, sophomore Blake Weil will handle the team's faceoff duties. The 6-1, 200-pound native of Jacksonville, Fla., won 17 of his 22 attempts during his rookie season. Flanking Weil will be returning starter Tyler Novak (Holbrook, N.Y.), who led the Mocs with 80 ground balls a year ago.
Ward pointed out the preseason play of senior Brendan Mykle-Winkler (Langley, British Columbia) and junior Kyle McLaughlin (Woolwich Township, N.J.) as well. Mykle-Winkler scored four goals with five assists in 2014. McLaughlin has seven goals, three assists, 32 ground balls and 14 caused turnovers in 30 career games.
Junior Jonny Riley (Murrysville, Pa.) and sophomore Andrew Fisher (Monkton, Md.), who both saw action in all 15 games last season off the bench, and well as junior Del Donnelly (Cochrane, Alberta), who played in 11 games, are also competing for minutes in a midfield which, according to Ward, has no clear-cut favorites heading into Week 1.
"When you look at our roster this year at the midfield, there's no guy that's going to jump out at you and make you go, 'Wow, he's a dominate middie,' he said. "We just have a lot of guys that do a lot of things well, and I think that is a dangerous combination."
Senior Trenell Boggans (Syracuse, N.Y.), an All-SSC First-Teamer in 2014 with 34 ground balls and 20 caused turnovers, will pace the group on the backend.
"Trenell's a guy who has been a leader since he stepped on campus," Ward said. "He's started a lot of games for us. A genuinely great person off the field, and on the field, he is a tough, tough competitor."
However, like the midfield positions, there are a number of names looking to earn the remaining spots on defense.
"It is a lot like our middies," he said. "There are a lot of guys right there that are just solid guys. I don't think there are guys on our roster who I am not comfortable putting in the game tomorrow.
"The other guys that are in the mix right now are Dominic Scarfo, (Arnold, Md.) who sat out last year, redshirted, with a knee injury. Ky Reinhardt (Frederick, Md.), a transfer from Stevenson University, is a kid that's going to see some time down low. Clinton Sorrel (Marietta, Ga.), a senior captain, is going to see some time."
While FSC's offense received all of the attention for its record-setting performance last season, Ward believes the defensive unit is highly underrated. As he pointed out, the Mocs haven't allowed double-digit goals per game since the team's first two seasons of existence in 2009 and 2010.
"It's really funny because we've always been defense-heavy," he said. "It just so happens we bring in a good offensive coordinator in Coach Williams and he puts a good system in for us, and we're No. 4 in the country in offense without batting an eye. I think we're going to be a solid group defensively and surprise some people on defense."
Returning between the pipes is sophomore All-SSC Tournament Team goaltender Matt Lalli (New Milford, Conn.). He started all 15 games as a freshman, logging over 800 minutes. He made 125 saves and averaged 9.83 goals against.
"Being an all-tournament type of guy, being a guy who gets excited for game day, being focused, he's one of the more underrated goalies in our conference," Ward said. "I think we're really good in the net this year. Matt's got a lot to prove, but obviously he proved something playing over 800 minutes last year. Matt Lalli is a name people are going to know about at the end of the season."
For the second straight season, the Moccasins open with the Falcons of Pfeiffer. However, they are 0-5 all-time against the group from Misenheimer, N.C. Last season, the Falcons beat the Mocs on their home turf, 15-9.
"This team is different than last year's team," Ward said. "Last year at this point, we really had an identity crisis. We thought we were somebody we weren't, and that's a fact. We thought we were some group that was going to come on the field and just bully you all over, then we went up to Misenheimer and got punched in the face.
"We're looking to go out there tomorrow and give it all we got, every single minute. At the end of the day, we'll see who is standing up."
"That's our whole mentality right now," Ward added. "We don't care who we play, as long as we're out there and they have a different color jersey, we're going to give them all we got for 60-plus minutes, as long as it takes. At the end of the day, who is left standing? That's where we're at right now. We don't circle games; the next guy on our schedule is the most important game."
Pfeiffer returns last year's leading goal scorer Tucker Hammock. Hammock, a redshirt senior, led the team with 33 goals and 45 points. The 6-foot-7 Mike Triolo, a two-time all-conference selection, is also back as a redshirt senior at long-stick midfield. Robert Hope, who was second on the Falcons with 36 points, was drafted in the first round by the Colorado Mammoth with the seventh overall pick in September's National Lacrosse League Draft.
The Falcons finished 9-5 in 2014, bowing out in the Conference Carolinas semifinals against Mount Olive. They were picked to finish third in the conference's preseason coaches' poll behind Limestone and Mount Olive.
Following Saturday's season opener, the Mocs hit the road for four straight contests in the Carolinas, beginning with a trip to Belmont Abbey on Friday, Feb. 13 at 3:30 p.m. After a 2 p.m. matchup against Wingate on Sunday, Feb. 15, FSC visits the defending Division II national champions at Limestone, ranked No. 1 in the preseason USILA poll. Following game at Lenoir-Rhyne on Monday, March 2 at 1 p.m., FSC returns home to host the fourth-ranked Tampa Spartans in their first conference contest of the season.