Monmouth's 22 Seniors Provide Winning Foundation


Monmouth, a fourth-year program that has retained most of its original recruiting class, can clinch the MAAC regular season title and conference tournament hosting rights with a win Friday over Canisius.

Much will be made in the coming weeks of the experiences of lacrosse’s senior classes.

Few have experienced as much as Monmouth’s — and fewer still have a chance to savor how far they’ve truly come in their careers.

Of the 30 freshmen in coach Brian Fisher’s first full recruiting class at Monmouth, 22 are still with the program. And the Hawks have gone from a startup navigating its first season without a victory to playing for an outright conference championship Friday against Canisius at home.

The Hawks (10-3, 4-0 Metro Atlantic) can clinch hosting rights for the conference tournament with a victory. Regardless of Friday’s outcome, they’re in the mix for the first NCAA tournament appearance in the program’s four-year history.

“There’s a lot of ownership and trust that exists with those seniors because they’ve been with us a long time,” Fisher said. “We’re as close to being on the same page as a coach and group of guys could be, because we’ve been through a lot together.”

Tempting though it might be to suggest this was a logical breakout season because of the Hawks’ veteran presence, Fisher didn’t point to a particular year to turn the corner when he was hired in 2012 after a stint as an assistant at Notre Dame.

There are parallels to Monmouth’s strengths and those of Notre Dame as it was cementing itself as a perennial postseason team a decade ago. The Hawks are sixth nationally in scoring defense and ninth in clearing percentage. The formula of sound defense and minimizing errors reflects Fisher’s background and the work of defensive coordinator Andrew Geison, a former head coach at Division III Elmhurst.

It’s also a tested bunch, with each of the Hawks’ first seven games decided by two goals or less. The Hawks earned a victory over Villanova that aged well over the course of the season, as well as a competitive showing at Hofstra.

“You want to have an understanding of who you are, and having a large senior class that has been through the ropes, they understand that and get it more than most,” Fisher said. “We’re never going to beat teams by 10. That’s who we are, and it allows us to play a good brand of lacrosse and gives us chances to win games. With that said, it’s great we learned some of the right lessons in those wins and a couple close losses. I’m proud of the poise we displayed.”

Those early challenges will invariably help in the conference tournament and perhaps beyond for a team with seven senior starters, including leading scorer Tyler Keen (22 goals) and goalie Nick Hreshko (58.0 save percentage).

That doesn’t mean there’s a brief window for relevance. Three of the Hawks’ top four in points are underclassmen, and Fisher is excited about what recruiting will bring to the Jersey shore in the coming years.

“This isn’t the pinnacle of the mountain here,” Fisher said. “This is another step for us.”

Kern saves Navy’s season

Coming off an NCAA quarterfinal appearance, Navy struggled in the first half of the season and sunk to 2-6 with an ugly 18-7 loss at Loyola on March 18.

It was still possible for the Midshipmen to see their season end in mid-April when Patriot League leader Army arrived in Annapolis on Saturday. But with freshman goalie Ryan Kern making 10 of his 17 stops in the fourth quarter, Navy (6-7, 4-4) secured a place in the Patriot League tournament with a 10-7 victory.

“I was just locked in,” Kern said. “[Defensive midfielder] D.J. Plumer, before the fourth quarter, came up to me and said ‘No more goals. I don’t care what you have to do.’”

The Midshipmen are an intriguing possibility for next week’s conference tournament. They’ll be rested after a bye weekend and will play at home in the first round so long as either Army or Boston University wins on Friday.

The rest should help Kern, who has dealt with a foot injury since getting hurt in the season opener against Johns Hopkins. That, though, didn’t stop him from posting the most saves for a Navy goalie against Army since Mickey Jarboe stopped 19 shots in his final college game in 2000.

“You guys haven’t seen the best of him,” Navy coach Rick Sowell said. “He’s just getting going.”

Army far from finished

The loss at Navy left Army with its first conference loss of the season. But the deep Black Knights (10-2, 6-1 Patriot), who dealt Syracuse its lone setback of the year in February, still have as ideal a setup as they could ask for as they attempt to secure their first NCAA tournament berth since 2010.

Army plays host to Loyola (7-5, 5-2) on Friday in a de facto Patriot League regular season title game. The winner will host the conference tournament in a year when the automatic bid is especially valuable. The only Patriot League team with a plausible path to an at-large bid is Army.

“One of our goals to be a conference champion, and to be a conference champion in an eight-game season? That would speak very well of our guys,” Army coach Joe Alberici said.

As an added bonus, an Army victory would lock Navy into the No. 4 seed, with the Midshipmen needing a Patriot quarterfinal victory to set up a rematch. In both of the last two years, Navy won the regular-season meeting but lost to the Black Knights less than two weeks later in the Patriot tournament.

New England’s NCAA haul

While it’s tempting to look at what region didn’t land any NCAA quarterfinals and championship weekends when the latest cycle of event hosts was revealed this week (namely, Maryland), what is much more interesting is the heavy presence in New England in the coming years.

There are two quarterfinals (2019 to East Hartford, Conn., and 2020 to Providence, R.I.) and a pair of championship weekends (2021 and 2022 in East Hartford) headed to the northeastern corner of the country. Toss in Memorial Day weekends in Foxborough, Mass., in 2017 and 2018, and there will be at least 16 Division I tournament games in New England over the next six years.

It’s a sharp turn for an area with only occasional glimpses of postseason lacrosse this century until five games were played there last year. Between 2000 and 2015, there were just 15 NCAA tournament games in New England, with Foxborough’s three championship weekends (2008-09 and 2012) accounting for more than half of them. 

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