The two-time Little East Conference Champion Keene State Men’s Lacrosse team look to solidify themselves as a force in the region and beyond with hopes of a third consecutive championship.
Coming off of a 12-5 season, going undefeated in conference play and establishing a dominant home record of 7-1, the Owls face high expectations along with a difficult schedule.
In preparation for these challenges ahead, six-time LEC Coach of the year and Keene State Men’s Head Lacrosse Coach Mark Theriault said his team is doing a good job getting ready and taking advantage of time to practice.
“With the weather being mostly cooperative,” Theriault said, “We’ve been able to go out and get a lot of things done in preseason.”
Although the snow hasn’t kept the Owls off the practice field, they have been forced to endure the below zero temperatures that have cast a frigid shroud over the town of Keene, battle testing the team for the elements.
With two-time National Champion Tufts among the group of nationally ranked teams on the Owls’ schedule, Theriault listed having a returning and experienced group of offensive players as one of the team’s greatest strengths to combat the stiff competition.
“Offensively we have a solid core with the same group mostly from last year and they’ve been playing together for three years,” Theriault said.
Theriault said having played together for some time, his offensive group has greater chemistry and have learned to play with more consistency. Senior attackman and captain Tyler McKelvie will lead the charge offensively for the Owls, along with a productive cast of goal scorers including junior attackman Rob Hart, junior attackman Brian Rotatori and sophomore attackman Hunter Arnold.
McKelvie said the team as a whole has “worked on getting stronger and getting in better shape along with getting our stick skills better and playing as much as we can,” in preseason preparation.
Senior leadership will be important for the Owls, both offensively and defensively, as senior goalie and captain Alex Sharp is likely to step back in net. After a productive first-year season, Sharp has had split playing time during his sophomore and junior campaigns, and looks to leave no doubt to start his senior year.
“I definitely, as a senior, want to be a good leader and lead by example,” Sharp said, “I think all of the seniors want to do that and have a definite role in that. “
Sharp also said he looks to “solidify” himself as the starting goalie after having competed in the past for playing time with former division one transfer Dylan Florian.
Sharp said the team has always had “good competition in practice, and we like to feed off each other and make each other better.”
The competitive nature Sharp mentioned has originated from Coach Theriault’s mentality of strictly playing the best players possible “regardless of class,” Theriault said.
Sharp said his coach will start the best player, “Whether it’s a freshman walk-on or a senior who’s put his heart and soul in the program for four years. He’ll start whoever it is.”
Along with the competitive nature of his team, Theriault said team building opportunities, such as the Florida trip the team takes every off season, has been a big part of their success, and described himself as a “players coach.”
“We need to work hard,” Theriault said, “But at the same time we need to make sure we’re having a good time.”
Theriault also said that the balance of both working hard and enjoying the experience will inspire players more.
“If the players want to play for you and they want to work hard for you then I feel that the results will be a lot better,” Theriault said.
Although players of all classes are likely to play a role and are important, Theriault also discussed the importance of experience in leadership, which the Owls should have in spades with 19 returning upper classmen and nine of them being seniors.
“I always put the onus on them [captains] and the other seniors because it is their last year and their last opportunity to have a great experience,” Theriault said, “Since we’re shooting to win the LEC for the third time, we have expectations and they [seniors] take the reigns on that.”
When asked what a third LEC title would mean to the team, Theriault said, “It’s where we want to go as a program.”
But even beyond winning in conference, both captains McKelvie and Sharp said they’re team has aspirations of becoming more successful out of conference as well.
McKelvie described the nature of their out of conference games when they play nationally ranked opponents, and said, “When we play out of conference, we are the ones trying to make a statement because we are usually considered the underdogs.”
Sharp added, “We always strive to win the LEC Championship, but I think it’s time we do something past that.”
The KSC men’s team will look to avenge their loss to the Western New England University from just a year ago, as the Owls will open up their season against the Golden Bears next week on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at home.
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