Releases

For Immediate Release: February 15, 2004
Contact: David Berman (berman@binghamton.edu)
Phone: 607-777-2956

Bearcats look to make quick strides in 2004

For the second season in a row, head coach Ed Stephenson will lead a roster made up almost exclusively of underclassmen through a rigorous schedule that features five nationally-ranked teams and a six-game conference slate against opponents that in Stephenson’s mind, collectively make the America East the premier, up-and-coming conference in Division I lacrosse.

The 2004 squad features 15 returning sophomores—including nine starters—that last season helped Binghamton win four games in just its second season of varsity competition. Joining them are 13 incoming freshmen who figure to play significant roles early on. Completing the roster is senior midfielder Chris Healy, one of the team’s four captains and the lone upperclassman on the squad.

“There aren’t many teams in the country with a roster of 95 percent freshmen and sophomores,” Stephenson said. “It is fun and challenging to work with such a young group, and the rewards are greater when a young team achieves success. We are counting on our freshmen to mature quickly, as many will be expected to immediately step into positions of responsibility.”

Although there is a chance the Bearcats could be a younger team than any that they face this season, Stephenson feels that the experience gained last year by the 16 returning letterwinners will pay dividends.

“Last season we were very patient as a coaching staff,” Stephenson said. “Without the experience of upperclassmen, we couldn’t be as demanding in all aspects of the game. This season will bring a little different twist, because we do have some guys who have a year of experience under their belts. The expectations on them will be greater this season, but we will still have many new players in starting positions that we will be patient with. It makes for a unique coaching experience.”

Returning defensive unit to play key role

When the team visits Lafayette for its season opener on March 6, it will return its entire starting defensive unit from a year ago. The group includes all-conference selection Mike Baudouin, Kevin Kaylor and Sean Meluney. The trio made up one of the strongest defensive units in the conference last season, limiting the opposition to just 8.75 goals per game.

“We were fortunate to have a young defensive group play so well last year,” Stephenson said. “Our entire defensive effort, from the close defenders to the midfielders, kept us in every game. Having a year of experience under their belt will help them this year, as we face a more challenging schedule."

Depth was a concern for the squad last season, but a pair of freshmen who had strong performances in the fall will push for a spot in the starting lineup. Tom Wilmot brings the experience gained from winning a gold medal with the Long Island team at the 2002 Empire State Games, and local product Matt Luhrs possesses the athleticism that Stephenson says will help him to make quick improvements during the spring season.

McKeown directs defensive effort from net

Sophomore Kevin McKeown ranked among the best keepers in the nation as a freshman, sporting a save percentage of .607 and goals against average of 8.21. McKeown played all but one game last season and tallied 111 saves. He will return in goal this season and add a greater range of skills to his repertoire.

“We expect Kevin to create offense for us, and hopefully get some fastbreak possessions and unsettled situations at the other end,” Stephenson said.

Backing up McKeown will be freshman Dan Krasner, who was a four-year starter for Scarsdale HS.

Competition for playing time at defensive midfield

Freshman Matt Osborne appears to have the necessary skills to make a quick impact.

“Matt is a strong player at the long stick defensive position,” Stephenson said.

A group of returnees and newcomers will look to join Osborne. Sophomores Charlie Cook, Brian Thomas and Joe Vavala will be joined by freshman Chris Bernard.

“Bernard showed leadership qualities and an intense work ethic during the fall,” Stephenson said.

Cook was the team’s faceoff specialist a year ago and produced 44 faceoff wins and added four goals.
Vavala and Thomas are both versatile players who will move between the offensive and defensive midfield positions.

“All of these players showed great improvement and played well defensively during the fall season,” Stephenson said.

Improved offensive prowess will increase team’s balance

Stephenson realizes that in order to for the team to reach its goal of qualifying for the four-team America East Championship, it will have to narrow the gap in offensive production between itself and the other conference teams. While the 105 goals the team allowed were fewer than all but one other America East team, the team’s offense managed just 70 goals, fewest in the conference. The coming season should bring dramatic improvement offensively, which will in turn make the defensive unit even stronger. Both the returning players and the newcomers made significant strides during the fall season, a sign that Stephenson says bodes well for the spring.

“Offensively, we are night and day from where we were last year,” Stephenson said. “That is where we saw the greatest improvements in the fall. The combination of our returning sophomores and the addition of some very talented freshmen make us very optimistic about our offensive prospects for the spring.”

The biggest difference in the offense will be the team’s versatility and ability to present different looks. The incoming class also adds depth at every position, making competition for playing time even stronger than in the past.

“We are very diverse offensively,” Stephenson said. “We have increased our athleticism and have players that bring to the table some of the things we missed last year. At midfield, we are bigger, stronger and faster. On the attack we are quicker and more talented overall.”

MIDFIELD

Stephenson was pleased with the improvement that the returning unit made during the fall season, and is excited about the prospects of adding a talented group of freshmen to the lineup.

“We have a mixture of dodgers and feeders that see the field well,” Stephenson said. We also have finishers that can put the ball away. Those are the ingredients you need to have a balanced and diverse offense.”

The team’s lone upperclassmen, Chris Healy, will lead the group of midfielders. As a long-stick midfielder last season, he grabbed 21 ground balls and produced a goal and two assists, while playing almost exclusively at the defensive end of the field.

“Chris will again be asked to make a critical move to help the team out,” Stephenson said. His leadership qualities make it possible to play him at any spot on the field. This year he moves back to his original position on the first midfield.”

Sophomore David Burpoe, who broke into the starting lineup midway through last season, solidified his spot in the lineup during a successful fall campaign. Burpoe will be a mainstay on the first line this season, where he will be joined by fellow returnee Matt DeCirce.

“David significantly improved his game throughout the fall,” Stephenson said. “Matt has also improved 100 percent since last year, and we are looking to him to be a go-to player on the field.”

Sophomore Brian Chaapel also returns to the midfield, and adds the role of being a captain this season. Chaapel’s leadership skills and superior knowledge of the game will be valuable assets to the young Bearcats squad.

“Brian is one of the leaders on our team,” Stephenson said. “He will be asked to play many roles in addition to being a starting midfielder. No matter where he plays, he will use his leadership to help those units gel.”

Freshman Jeff Santucci also figures into the starting mix.

“Jeff played very well on a starting unit during the fall,” Stephenson said. “He brings quickness and shot-making ability to the midfield.”

Sophomore J.R. Gaudet, who played at both the midfield and attack last season, will once again compete for time at the midfield in 2004. Classmates Joe Conner and Scott Mitchell will also work their way into the lineup, along with freshmen Jeff Kaylor and Ryan Schmonsees. Sophomore Aaron LaFlair will be cleared to play this spring after rehabbing from a knee injury during the fall.

FACEOFF

Freshmen David Streeten will be the primary faceoff person in the spring, and Stephenson expects him to draw on the experience he gained playing for a strong Corning East program in order to bring stability to the Bearcats offense.

“David took at least 90 percent of our faceoffs during the fall and did a great job,” Stephenson said. “It takes great strength to compete for so many faceoffs in a game, and David will see the majority of opportunities during the spring as well. We will also try to find one or two other players that can give him a breather during games.”

ATTACK

The attack position has proved to be the most competitive on the team. Sophomore Phil Cavallo will be joined by a trio of freshmen in Matt McNamara, Rob Williams and Nate Kerstein.

“Phil was the leading scorer last season and is our most experienced player on the attack,” Stephenson said. “He played great in the fall and we are once again counting on him to be one of the leaders on the attack.”

Cavallo ranked 20th in the nation with 2.25 goals per game as a freshman, and will try to improve on those numbers in 2004.

“Rob is a dynamic finisher,” Stephenson said. “He gained a lot of experience during the fall season and we expect to see good things from him this season. He plays with a combination of finesse and power.”

McNamara was a standout high school player who made a strong impression during the fall.

“Matt was one of our leading point-getters in the fall and had a nice balance between assists and goals,” Stephenson said.”

Kerstein worked his way into the starting mix after a good fall campaign.

“Nate can score with either a strong perimeter shot or from the trenches on the inside.”

America East schedule gets even tougher with addition of UMBC

Conference newcomer and nationally ranked UMBC will highlight the Bearcats’ six-game conference schedule. The Retrievers, who were ranked 15th in the preseason USILA poll, visit Binghamton on April 7. Binghamton will also host conference foes Stony Brook and Quinnipiac, and play road games against Hartford, Vermont and defending champion Albany.

“Our league has tremendous parity,” Stephenson said. “Last season we were just two goals away from making the conference tournament, and have now made vast improvements offensively. Our improvement should put us in the mix for a spot in the conference tournament.”

The non-conference schedule will again rank among the toughest played by any conference team. Binghamton will face four nationally ranked opponents, including its first-ever meeting against Cornell as well as games against Hofstra and Villanova.

Releases

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