Bucknell Enters 2019 with Renewed Confidence, Even Without Sands


Bucknell returns senior midfielder Reed Malas after he scored 34 points in 2018, earning him All-Patriot League honors.

As the NCAA tournament selection show neared last year, Bucknell had been practicing for two weeks. The Bison had shockingly been bounced by Boston University from the Patriot League Tournament, 12-11, but coach Frank Fedorjaka liked his team’s chances.

Fedorjaka held practice that Sunday night, then the team gathered at Matty’s Sporthouse Grill, a sports bar near their Lewisburg, Pa., campus. The mood was upbeat and cautious, senior midfielder Reed Malas recalled.

But as the names were rattled off, Bucknell’s never came. An 11-3 regular season and top-10 ranking weren’t enough to sneak in.

“You couldn’t eat the food in front of you,” Malas said. “You had this uneasy feeling. There were so many different articles and predictions, and in our minds we thought it was a toss-up. It was really tough, honestly.”

So, what was the difference? Fedorjka points to Cornell upsetting Yale in the Ivy League tournament and Georgetown beating Denver for the Big East title. At-large bids went to those defeated sides, and Bucknell was edged out.

That set the stage for what was an “emotional night,” Fedorjka said.

“If we had a different name in the box, maybe it would happen,” he said.

Rather than wallowing in its sorrows, Bucknell has spent the fall motivated by what it accomplished in 2018. It beat eventual national champions Yale, 9-8, and would have won the Patriot League were it not for an early-season loss to conference foe Navy.

The club’s offense was powerful, led by Connor O'Hara (45 points), Sean O’Brien (47 points) and, of course, All-American Will Sands (75 points). The likes of Matt Gilray and Benny Borgognone were also stellar on defense, though there’s an elephant in the room. How, if at all, can you replace Sands?

Malas said you simply can’t, while his coach wagered the same.

“I’ll be the first to tell you there isn’t a way to,” Fedorjka said.

Instead, Bucknell ushers in new senior leadership and turns to its midfield for strength. Malas was a second-team All-Patriot League honoree in 2018 after notching 34 points; Tom Smith is back; and Ryan Durkin is poised for a major impact after hurting his knee against Richmond last year. Goalie should be another strong suit, with three-year starter Christian Klipstein back.

At attack, Tommy Sopko is their top returner (24 goals, six assists), while junior Will Yorke could be poised for a breakout season and freshman Alston Tarry is likely to assume a starting role. The defense, meanwhile, is still sorting itself out and the faceoff unit, led by Jarett Witzal, returns as well.

“We traditionally don’t use a lot of guys,” Fedorjka said. “We have to stay healthy.”

Bucknell also traditionally employs a 10-man ride and slides early on defense, so the schemes are there for continued success. The key, Malas said, is leaning upon 2018 to forge a new path. That arrives at, he added, an identity of hard work.

“Replacing some of the talent from last year is almost impossible,” Malas said. “But where we lose talent we make up for it in hard work. So far, the work ethic is unlike anything I’ve seen in my four years at Bucknell. And then talent-wise, I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

As for Fedorjka, he pointed to Bucknell’s 11 returning seniors, then layering in freshmen or some breakout players who have been waiting in the wings. That’s a formula, he said, for success in college lacrosse.

“We don’t have any margin for error,” Fedorjka said. “I think we’re going to be very good, but we have to work harder and play smarter. We’ve got to play together. If we do that, I think well have a really good season.”

However, it’s not all going to be smooth sailing for Bucknell. Replacing a program-defining player like Sands — even by committee — is a tall task and wins in 2018 over the likes of Yale, Loyola and Lehigh mean little when matters get underway in February.

But Fedorjka and Malas agreed last spring showed Bucknell what it can become if everyone is firing on all cylinders. And if all comes together, Fedorjka said, the Bison could make their third NCAA Tournament since 2001.

“I think if all goes right, we’re a team that can compete for a national championship,” Fedorjka said. “It would have been great to find out last year, but that’s the past.”

Fall Ball Focus
Patriot League

Loyola (Md.)
7-1 Patriot League, 13-4 Overall

The Greyhounds were on fire down the stretch, beating Lehigh for their fifth Patriot League Tournament title in four years. They rode that momentum into an NCAA Tournament win over Virginia, then fell to Yale, the eventual national champions. The good news? Pat Spencer returns for his senior season with a Lt. Col. J.I. (Jack) Turnbull Award in tow as the nation's top attackman. Jacob Stover, the conference’s reigning goalkeeper of the year, is also back. The Greyhounds also boast one of the nation’s top recruits in midfielder Chase Scanlan, a former standout at IMG Academy. Loyola’s biggest loss is Foster Huggins, an All-American and Patriot League Defender of the Year in 2018.

7-1 Patriot League, 9-5 Overall

Save for a 13-12 win over Syracuse in late April, the Midshipmen struggled in non-conference play, going 2-3. Still, they took care of business in Patriot League matchups, only for their season to abruptly end against Lehigh in the conference semifinals. Navy now turns the page, and priority No. 1 is likely finding a replacement for FOGO Joe Varello, the 2018 Patriot League Faceoff Specialist of the Year. Senior midfielders Greyson Torain (19 goals, 14 assists) and Ryan Wade (nine goals, 24 assists), plus junior goalie Ryan Kern (8.82 GAA) provide a nice foundation to build upon.

5-3 Patriot League, 10-7 Overall

The Mountain Hawks made the Patriot League title game last year, where they ultimately fell to Loyola. Head coach Kevin Cassese has to be feeling good, though, with the return of six all-conference players from 2018’s squad. Andrew Pettit and Lucas Spence are back for their senior season at attack, as are classmates Craig Chick and Eddie Bouhall on defense, sophomore Teddy Leggett at long-stick middie and junior faceoff specialist Conor Gaffney. That first duo, combined with Tristan Rai, ensures Lehigh returns 58 percent of its points from 2018 down on attack. Experience and leadership like that can be gold in college lacrosse.

3-5 Patriot League, 7-8 Overall

Next year marks the beginning of the Matt Karweck era as head coach, following an eight-year assistant stint throughout Division 1 college lacrosse, most recently with Notre Dame. Karweck takes over the reigns from Mike Murphy, who had a winning record (57-51) across seven seasons in charge of the Raiders. To ease the transition, Colgate returns a trio of All-Patriot League members in sophomore attack Mike Hawkins and junior midfielders Sam Cleveland and Griffin Brown. They combined for 115 points last year, just over 40 percent of the club’s offense. In 2018, five of their six regular-season losses all came by four goals or less, so the margin for improvement isn’t too, too high.

Boston University
3-5 Patriot League, 8-8 Overall

All eyes will be on sophomore attack Chris Gray, the reigning conference Rookie of the Year whose 71 points only trailed All-Americans Pat Spencer (Loyola) and Will Sands (Bucknell). Another key returner will be senior attack James Burr, whose 45 goals were second last year behind Lehigh’s Andrew Pettitt. Consistency must be the name of the game for BU, especially after never winning more than two consecutive games in 2018. Their 12-11 come-from-behind win over Bucknell in the Patriot League Tournament quarterfinals shows how good the Terriers can be, but the conference’s second-highest turnover total (232) cost them. In this year’s recruiting class, perhaps goalie Matt Garber and attack Timmy Ley can serve as building blocks.

2-6 Patriot League, 5-8 Overall

After a 5-2 start, the bottom fell out of Army’s 2018 season, as it lost its final six games and failed to make the Patriot League Tournament. Scoring was their biggest issue, as only three players — Conor Glancy, David Symmes and Nate Jones — hit double-digit goals. Jones, however, returns for his senior season and was West Point’s leading scorer (23 goals, 10 assists) in 2018. It’s certainly not a rebuilding year for coach Joe Alberici, but Army’s in need of a bounceback after lodging its first losing record since 2012.

Holy Cross
2-6 Patriot League, 4-9 Overall

A coaching change sets the Crusaders’ tone this fall, as Peter Burke has taken over on an interim basis with Judd Lattimore departing and taking a volunteer assistant role at Boston University. The only all-conference player Holy Cross returns is senior defender Matt Farrell, who finished in the top 10 for caused turnovers (1.58) and ground balls (4.17) per game. There’s optimism with nine of 10 top scorers from last season returning, but Holy Cross has a long way to go before it catches the Patriot League’s elite.

0-8 Patriot League, 3-12 Overall

After serving as an associate head coach at Penn for four years, Pat Myers takes over as the Leopards’ head coach. Myers becomes the third leader of Lafayette lacrosse in as many years, taking over from interim head coach Ed Williams, who was preceded by Jim Rogalski. The program has historically struggled, not winning more than four games since 2010 and recording two winning seasons since 1984. A bright mark could be the return of leading scorer Connor Walters, who had 28 goals and 21 assists a year ago.

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