By Maddie Mulkigian, Contributor
May 8, 2021, is a day that is ingrained in every mind of the members of the Manhattan College men’s lacrosse team. The devastating loss to Monmouth University in the MAAC Championship has built a chip on each team member’s shoulder as they prepare for the 2022 season.
After eight months of rebuilding and overcoming the loss from last year, the team is ready to make their return to the MAAC Championship. Whether it’s adapting to six a.m. practices or traveling around the east coast to play in competitive games, the Jaspers have put in the work and are feeling readily prepared for their season opener against Duke University on Friday, February 11.
With the 2022 MAAC Championship in mind, each decision made from the coaches to the players was deliberate. This intense preparation included the upcoming schedule that Coach Drew Kelleher planned with the MAAC playoffs in mind.
“We scheduled 12 games intentionally this year. We got the last by-week in the MAAC, so our opportunity was to either go play an ACC opponent very late in the season or take that week to get healthy and prepare for the playoffs,” Kelleher said. “So we chose to do that while also wanting to have the experience of going down and bringing the entire team down to Duke for our season opener.”
Despite the challenge that the Jaspers are going to face in playing at Duke in their opening game, the team is excited to test themselves as the 2022 season starts. Not only will the season opener determine the talent, grit and perseverance within the team, but the game against Duke will also provide the team with the opportunity to travel farther than they have since 2019 due to COVID.
“COVID was a really interesting scenario for our group. I think it exposed cracks in some people’s foundations but I think it exposed the strengths in other people’s,” Kelleher said. “Our guys have done a really good job of embracing making great decisions off the field and they succeeded in that environment together. I think that as a coach to have our best season in that climate just put an exclamation point on it for all of us.”
Additionally, the COVID seasons provided an opportunity for each senior from the 2021 team to return for their fifth season with the extra year of eligibility that the NCAA granted college athletes. This new rule provided the Jaspers with the opportunity to maintain their team’s foundation while continuing to train their younger players and add transfers that have the potential to make all the difference in the upcoming season.
“The goal of every new guy coming in is to bring that energy. I think the freshman class has definitely done that, especially the past couple of weeks starting with training camp. That’s definitely helped out the older guys,” said fifth-year senior captain Brendan Krebbs.
Junior transfer from the University of Hartford, James McCoy, and graduate student from York College, Brendan O’Sullivan, along with eight other freshmen have stepped onto this team to make an immediate impact. Each new player has diligently worked to embrace their role in order to bring the team back to the conference championship.
“Bringing that energy every day spreads throughout the team which definitely helps,” Krebbs said. “And I think that all of the new guys that have come in have bonded well and that’s the goal of everybody. Everybody is just coming together right now and that’s the key before the first actual couple of games.”
While the team has faced numerous challenges trying to compete at the Division I level in the midst of COVID, the players have exhibited their true desire to win the MAAC Championship.
“We’re thankful and happy for every opportunity that we get to play,” said junior Kyle Gucwa.
While the players understand that the prior year’s championship game is in the past, they are using it as fuel and motivation to return and win the MAAC Championship this year. As the team nears its season opener in less than one week, they are ready to step on the field and show the entire MAAC what they’re made of.
“It’s a revenge season,” Krebbs simply put.
With the fuel of the 14-9 loss that ended the Jaspers’ season in 2021 and the intense preparation that the team has endured in its offseason, the rest of the MAAC is going to have its hands full with the Jaspers in 2022.