CLEMSON LACROSSE BUCKLES UP FOR THE HOME STRETCH
Tigers are 11-2 and ranked #11 nationally
Clemson, SC: Clemson Men’s Lacrosse resumed practice on Monday, March 26th after a much needed spring break. The Tigers are in the midst of a challenging 22 game spring schedule and overall have fared well, taking a 11-2 record into the final weeks of the season and find themselves ranked 11th nationally in the MCLA (Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association) Poll.
“We’ve had two season-ending goals for this season”, said head coach Buff Grubb, “One is to win our first SELC conference championship since 1990 (the Tigers lost in the championship game last year to Florida State), and the second is to qualify for the MCLA National Championships which will be played in our backyard in Greenville May 14 – 19th. I’m happy to say both of those goals are still very much in play.”
To date, Clemson has negotiated a schedule that featured 5 teams ranked in the MCLA Top 25 preseason poll as well as scrimmages with two NCAA programs (Limestone and High Point University). The Tigers’ losses have come at the hands of then #5 Boston College and then #11 University of Buffalo. Top 25 wins included a landmark 10-3 win over then #12 Florida State in Greenville in front of 500 fans at the Kroc Center Turf Field as well as victories over Central Florida and Colorado, the latter in Boulder, CO.
“We intentionally developed as strong a schedule as possible for 2012, feeling that we needed to be ‘battle-tested’ to be ready for the quality of the competition we will face at the end of the season, in the conference and hopefully the national championships,” said Grubb. “Overall, we’ve come through it okay. I’d love to have another shot at BC (an 11-5 loss) as we got them early on before we had developed the confidence in ourselves we needed; our other loss to Buffalo was a 1 goal game which obviously could have gone either direction. To win decisively over Florida State was a big victory for this program; they’ve been the guys everyone in the SELC has been chasing the past couple of years.”
Clemson marked another first for the program this year by traveling west to Boulder, Colorado at the start of spring break to take on the home-standing Buffaloes as well as New Hampshire and Nebraska. The Tigers swept the 3 game series, starting off with a 6-5 overtime win over Colorado followed by a 5-2 win over UNH and an 18-3 victory over the Cornhuskers.
“The success of that trip is a testament to the leadership of our team officers, President Andrew Paradise, Vice President Kyle Matusek, Treasurer Kyle Stinchcomb, and Secretary Ryan Conlon. One of our policies as a “club” team is to rely on our student leadership to manage this program and these guys did it right, from arranging the games to handling the travel logistics, from air/ground transport to lodging,” stated Grubb. “That’s a lot to ask of a bunch of college students, but we feel these are great life lessons to learn.”
“The way the team handled all of the Colorado trip’s challenges (3 am departure from Clemson to Atlanta, change in time zones, and even more critically, change in altitude, playing at more than a mile high against a home–standing Colorado team) speaks volumes about the effort and dedication of the student-athletes on this team. Our guys stayed focused on why they were in Boulder and delivered 3 wins that are critical to our season’s goals. “When an eastern MCLA team goes into the home field of a historic western power and grabs a win, it garners a lot of attention nationally. Only one team from east of the Mississippi has won the national championship In the 16 year history of the MCLA; that was Michigan which has now transitioned to a NCAA Division I program for 2012.”
The Tigers have several players prominent in the national rankings. Senior attackman Chris Buechele is 22nd nationally and leads the SELC in total points with 52 on the season, averaging 4.3 points per game. Sophomore goalie Alex Branton is #3 in the country with save percentage at 70.0%; however, he is actually second on the team to fellow sophomore Demetrius Murray who is saving the ball at 74.6% but hasn’t seen enough shots to qualify for the national rankings. Significant contributions have also been made by senior attackman co-captain Will Patch, who has contributed 33 points on 17 goals and 16 assists, and freshman attackman JP Brennan, who has scored 20 goals and added 3 assists. Senior co-captain Jon Kilbourn leads the midfield scoring with 19 points on 13 goals and 6 assists. Freshman middie Charlie Pontiakos has been a dominant figure at the face-off, gaining possession for the Tigers on 76% of his attempts, winning 161 of 210 face-offs this season.
Grubb adds, “We knew coming into this season we would be potent on offense with players like Patch, Buechele, Kilbourn, and Conlon returning, but the truly amazing story has been the development of our defensive unit. We had no starters returning at close defense and also graduated two goalies who made last year’s All-Conference team. Coach French has done a wonderful job developing a new defensive unit which has allowed double digit goals in only 2 games thus far, against BC and in our season opener vs NC State. Their achievements in stepping up in a big way are all the more impressive when you realize that we’ve lost 4 key defensive contributors to season-ending injuries. Sophomore transfer Matt Hogue from Riverside High School in Greenville has been a huge addition, and we’ve seen sophomores Harry Luttrell (also a Riverside alum), Kyle Stinchcomb, and Mike DiRocco (a converted attackman) all play extremely well. Probably our deepest team position consists of 4 goalkeepers, with sophomores Branton and Murray, junior Andrew Speer, and freshman Zach Upton all seeing time in the net and contributing significantly. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of our Colorado trip is that our defense allowed only 10 goals in 3 games.”
The going doesn’t get any easier for the Tigers as the season turns to April. Clemson hosts Missouri, the pre-season favorite in the Great Rivers Conference on Thursday night at 7 pm, followed by the annual grudge match against South Carolina in Columbia on Friday at 7 pm.
“Clemson/South Carolina lacrosse games have become classics. This is one of those match-ups where you throw the records out the window, they just don’t matter,” said Grubb. “Last season we were fortunate to win an 8-7 double overtime thriller at home, and we know that’s what they will be thinking about as well. We’re not expecting to be greeted with open arms at their place this year.”
Next week, Clemson will host #23 Georgia on Wednesday at 8 pm followed by #8 Virginia Tech on Saturday at 1 pm on the varsity football practice fields. “Georgia, who has always played us tough and was the only team to beat us in fall ball this year, is now ranked nationally,” states Grubb. “Virginia Tech/Clemson has evolved into a heated rivalry as well. We knocked them out of the play-offs last season in the semi-finals in Atlanta, and, as a result, we expect them to be fully armed when they arrive next week. VT’s been one of the dominant teams in the SELC for years, and the fact that we’ve had recent success against them only adds fuel to the fire.”
Clemson will conclude its regular season the weekend of April 14th – 15th with a road trip to play Alabama and Auburn. The SELC Championships will be contested the weekend of April 27th in Johns Creek, GA and if all stays on course, the Tigers hope to be competing for the MCLA National Championship at “home” in Greenville the 3rd week of May.
For more information on Clemson men’s lacrosse, visit the team website at www.laxteams.net/clemson/ or contact head coach Buff Grubb at [email protected] or team President Andrew Paradise at [email protected]