COLUMBUS, Ohio – Every season brings new faces and a few changes into the fray, but Capital University Men's Lacrosse still has its eye set on the ultimate prize, an Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament championship. Under new head coach, Dom Marzano, the Purple and White will pick up the pace but still have the final destination set for a date in the title tilt.
In year four of the program's existence, Capital is looking to return back to 2015 form, which landed the team a place in the conference championship match against rival Otterbein. The 2016 season featured what many would call a successful season, but ended in the OAC Semifinals. Marzano and the senior class, which is the first complete class to come through the program, say that is not good enough.
Capital was picked to finish fourth in the OAC in their preseason coaches' poll, but it really comes down to the play on the field, which will have a slightly differently look from the past under Marzano.
"We will play quite a bit quicker. I am more of a high-risk, high-reward kind of guy," said Marzano. "It's about early offense and picks and slips. We're going to sit out there with 10 lacrosse players and anybody can clear it. Anybody can shoot it. Anybody can score. We're going to push the pace a little bit, but also go into the game with the idea of controlling the tempo."
Marzano says that wherever he has coached, he typically tailors the strategy around the personnel. He acknowledges that there were some exceptional players already on the team, and the incoming freshmen that joined the team are going to make the Crusaders that much more dangerous.
There is no question that the league will have its sights reset on 2015 OAC Co-Offensive and Newcomer of the Year, Brennan O'Callaghan (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West). After another successful season that landed the junior on the IMLCA All-Region Team, O'Callaghan looks to equal of better his 2016 numbers that included 57 goals and a career-high 24 assists.
All three top goal scorers from a season ago return, including senior Brent Walton (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington Central) and senior Ted Crites (Waukee, Iowa/Waukee), who combined for 66 goals and 38 helpers. Add in sophomore Ryan Rampi (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Darby) who had a successful rookie season behind 21 goals and 11 assists, and the returning firepower for this offense is well intact.
C.J. Hughes (Cincinnati, Ohio/Walnut Hills) may serve to be the offensive prize out of the 2017 class of freshmen. The fast, lefty shooter received high praise from Marzano and one game in, he has not disappointed.
"I've been in college lacrosse for five years now and I don't know if I've seen a freshman take some shots like he has," said Marzano.
The key to the team's success this year may lie in the midfield, which Marzano says is not only one of his most skills position groups, but youngest and deepest.
"The biggest improvement that I have seen from the fall to the spring is the depth of our midfield. We have a lot of guys stepping up right now that are going to be huge for us. If you can run out nine midfielders, it's a really tough scout. It's really tough game and I plan on using a lot of that depth."
Seniors Jeff Simmons (Lewis Center, Ohio/Olentangy) and Danny Davide (Massillon, Ohio/Canton Catholic) will lead that pool of midfielders, along with juniors Carson Paull, Danny Needham, Jonathan Mundell, and Crites. The freshman class also looks to add to that depth and even earn significant playing time. Be on the lookout for freshmen midfielders Adam Rieger (Lewis Center, Ohio/Olentangy Orange) and Tyler Faig (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington North) to come out of the group and play immediately. Junior Nick Bonsignore (Auburn Township, Ohio/Walsh Jesuit) has the inside track to return as the team's long stickman, though the name Christopher Yeager (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Darby) is one that Stover highlights as a favorite to play somewhere among the front line defense.
The Capital defense has long been heralded as being one of the best in the OAC, and Stover has no doubt that those in front, alongside, and behind him will answer the call once again when tested. Stover, the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year and an all-region selection last year, cites junior Ryan Maloney (Columbus, Ohio/Worthington Kilbourne) and senior Luke Scott (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West) as upperclassmen that set a strong example for the younger defensive contributors. Freshman Connor Ryan (Lewis Center, Ohio/Olentangy Orange) is the newest addition that is likely to garner a lot of playing time, and junior Sawyer Mack (Dublin, Ohio/Dublin Coffman) adds to that upperclassman depth.
"We all play together every day at practice and I think the important thing is that we unit cohesion, overall," said Stover.
Davide serves as the team's lead returner in the ground ball category (54), closely followed by Bonsingore (48) and Maloney (44). Stover finished the year with a team-leading 24 caused turnovers and added 35 ground balls.
Behind Stover is a battle-tested goaltender in the form of junior Cole Palmby (Delaware, Ohio/Olentangy). Palmby assumed a starting role in his first season with Cap and hasn't relinquished it follow two strong seasons manning the pipes. Last year, he allowed just 8.21 goals per game and made 140 saves to mark up a .532 save percentage in 18 games.
"Having an experienced goaltender is such a big thing to have in college lacrosse. You can't fake that experience," said Coach Marzano of Palmby.
Stover added, "that is one of the biggest confidence boosters you can have as a defenseman is knowing that the guy behind is really there for you and he's going to do his job."
The Crusaders may not like to relive the past, but it certainly can and will be used as a catalyst for the energetic and aggressive style of play that will keep this team at the top of the conference.
"They remember what happened, but we don't talk about it because we look at the next day … so I do have a group of men that have a chip on their shoulder. They are angry, and they are practicing like that."
"It's all about the postseason play," said Stover. "You get to that postseason championship and get that win … and you get that NCAA bid. That is a huge goal for the whole team is to get there and make the first NCAA appearance for the program."