by, Pete Janny, Sports Editor
There’s a different type of buzz surrounding the Manhattan men’s lacrosse program that has been missing over the last decade if not longer. The rapid growth of the program has made for the best story out of Manhattan athletics this school year and perhaps even in recent memory.
Far from an urban pastime, the Jaspers are making lacrosse cool in New York City amidst the concoction of background noises from the One Train line and Broadway.
Viewed by many as an underrated team coming into the spring season, the Jaspers rallied for a 4-4 record, including a 4-3 mark in MAAC play. The fruit of their labor was a share of the MAAC regular season title with Monmouth for the second ever in program history and the first since 2002 when they won their first MAAC Tournament as well. The triumph carries plenty of significance for Manhattan athletics as a whole marking the first regular season title for any of the school’s teams since baseball finished first in 2013. That year Manhattan baseball went on to beat Canisius in the MAAC Championship before losing a pair of games in the Columbia Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
The fate for men’s lacrosse in 2021 remains to be seen as their attention turns to the MAAC Tournament. After receiving a first-round bye, the Jaspers are only two wins away from reaching the elusive feat that has not been achieved since 2002.
The playoff run begins tonight when they host Canisius in the semifinals at Gaelic Park. Back on March 13, Manhattan beat Canisius 10-7 in Buffalo in their lone match-up during the regular season. The win was Manhattan’s first of the season and featured hat tricks from Liam Walshe and Sean MacKinney as well as 14 saves from MAAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Brendan Krebs.
“We won the game but I think they are a much improved team since we last played them,” Krebs told the Quadrangle. “I don’t think anyone is overlooking them. Everyone is working on just playing their best game, and if we worry about ourselves then the game will come to us. “
In the process of making history, Manhattan lacrosse has mastered the tricky balance of having fun while also competing at a high level. Their focus is on getting better everyday while letting all the other narratives fall into place. The combination of veterans and youth on the roster has been a recipe for success.
“We know we have a really good team and were excited coming into the year with what we had,” head coach Drew Kelleher told the Quadrangle. “But sometimes results affirm what you believe. Our players got some confidence from it.”
Manhattan set the tone for their turnaround by rattling off three wins to open the season with wins over Detroit Mercy, Monmouth and the aforementioned Canisius. Getting those few first wins under their belt early took some pressure off in later games that did not always go their way. Manhattan played in a staggering three double-overtime games and each were decided by one goal. Two of those three games ended by a score of 13-12 with the Jaspers winning and losing one. Manhattan had to overcome the adversity of another close loss when they fell 9-8 in regulation to St. Bonaventure on the road. That narrow defeat against the Bonnies was a tough pill to swallow because it snapped a three-game winning streak for the Jaspers and likely held them back from running away with the top seed in the conference.
“I’ve never seen so much overtime in my life,” Kelleher said. “It’s never been easy here. “
The battle-tested Jaspers are not taking anything for granted at this stage of the season. The name of the opposing team means very little for their preparation. Instead, the focus is on dictating the game with their own strengths that have brought them this far. The rest of the noise, including the way that Canisius comes out to play on Wednesday night, is not something they will overanalyze.
I think everyone is working on just playing their best game, and if we worry about ourselves then the game will come to us,” Krebs said.
The individual talent has been well on display for the Jaspers this season and it was reflected in the All-MAAC selections.
Manhattan saw great representation on the teams, led by Krebbs in goal, MacKinney on the attack and Luke Pacher on defense who all earned spots on the first squad. Backing the trio up on the second squad were attackers Kyle Gucwa and Jake Nicolisi who helped spearhead a Jaspers attack that totaled 71 goals in eight games. Rounding the honors was freshman Spencer Moore who was named to the All-MAAC Rookie Team.
“I tried facetiming every guy when they were handed out the awards… they announced the awards at 10:30 [am] and we practiced at 5 pm at night, but when i facetimed all of them they had already been at the field to get their extra work in for the day,” Kelleher said. “The drive and determination of them has been absolutely incredible and speaks to every player on our roster pulling the rope the same way so I’m really proud of them for that.”
MacKinney led the team with 15 goals, while Mackinney, Gucwa and Nicolosi combined to score 39 goals. None of them were more clutch than Nicolosi’s three game winners, two of which sealed double-overtime wins over Monmouth and Siena.
Integral to the Jaspers’ success is Krebs and the leadership he brings to the table. Before this season, he was well on his way to becoming one of the great players in program history. Krebs’ success this season—9.78 goals allowed per game and eight double-digit save performances —has been the icing on the cake, as he’s now four saves away from reaching 400 for his career. Additionally, Krebs is the only Manhattan goalie ever to be twice named to the All-MAAC First Team, and will look to build on his records next season when he returns for a fifth season.
“Brendan is as good as there is,” Kelleher said of his senior goalkeeper. What makes Brendan different is that he’s just the ultimate competitor. He’s been awesome and I think he’d be the first to say that we do this thing as a team. He’s got a really solid defense in front of him.”
The success starts and ends with Kelleher, who in 2015 inherited a program that was coming off one win and a bottom-five ranking in the RPI. His commitment to individual development and the growth of the program has paid dividends in a big way this season.
“Coach Kellehr’s been building that culture since I got here and it’s getting stronger every day,” Krebs said.
There’s a noticeable sense of pride in Kelleher about having the opportunity to coach Manhattan lacrosse. The school and coach have been an impeccable fit for one another so far. Not to mention the Jasper blood runs deep in Kelleher’s family too, as both his parents graduated from the school and his grandfather played basketball for Manhattan from 1930-1932, according to Go Jaspers. The Manhattan cheering section just got a bit larger too after Kelleher and wife, Morgan, welcomed their second son into the world yesterday.
Kelleher and his players have a chance to finish what they started this season, and it all starts with the culture according to Kelleher.
“That’s a cultural thing.. I think all these guys are pretty self made guys. They didn’t come in with stars next to their names as recruits. They earned these honors.”