Men's lacrosse set to take field for two-a-day practices

2017 leading scorer LeRoy Halftown is among the top returnees for the Bears.
2017 leading scorer LeRoy Halftown is among the top returnees for the Bears.

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. — The NYIT men's lacrosse team's 2017 season ended with Tom Hughes' sudden-death overtime goal against Mercy earning the Bears the East Coast Conference championship.

Preparations to defend that title begin in earnest on Wednesday, when NYIT opens two-a-day practices at 8:30 a.m. at President's Stadium as the Bears ready for their Feb. 10 regular-season opener at home against Mercyhurst.

The Bears finished last season 14-3 overall and 8-0 in the ECC, and were ranked sixth in the nation in the final poll. However, NYIT was left out of the NCAA Tournament, which should provide motivation for the current group.

"Nothing has really changed," coach Bill Dunn said Tuesday. "Year in and year out, our first goal is to win the ECC championship and, then, to make the NCAA Tournament."

MEET THE 2018 TEAM AT THE ANNUAL LACROSSE LUNCHEON ON JAN. 28. DETAILS.

Leading scorer LeRoy Halftown, who tallied 42 goals in 2017, returns for his senior season. And Dunn is confident the Bears can overcome the graduation of Will Kistinger (41 goals), George Schultz (32) and Hughes (26). That trio accounted for 47.4 percent of NYIT's goals a year ago.

"To lose guys that have played in more than 50 games for us is always tough," Dunn said. "Now it's these other guys' turn to play. Andrew Zito probably has the most experience at the midfield who is coming back. We're going to have Austin Fitzpatrick — who was an all-conference player last year while playing more of a defensive midfield — to play a little bit more offense with us. We've got two transfers in the midfield in Michael Trainor and Matt Arnone. They're going to help us out as well. And having Matt Chanenchuk and LeRoy Halftown back on attack, that's going to really solidify the attack, with Matt Murphy and Jason Sullivan as well."

The Bears also must find a successor to Alex Seltzer in goal. Seltzer's 7.86 career goals against average ranks third in program history.

That remains an open competition.

"Brian Jockers has looked good. Jake Mellen, who transferred in from Adelphi, and Brian are going to battle it out at the beginning, along with DJ Soriano," Dunn said.

One positive for whichever goalie emerges as the starter: The defense remains anchored by Ian Prate, a first-team All-American last season.

"Ian is the best player on the field game in and game out, against any team we play," Dunn said. "He could be the best player in Division II — defensive player at least. He'll lead the defense along with Frank Callan, Nick Deluca and Tom Brennan."

As the student-athletes head outdoors on Wednesday for the season's first official lacrosse practices of the regular season, they will get somewhat of a reprieve with the weather. After the thermometer hovered in the single digits for the last week, the forecast for Wednesday calls for a high of 37 degrees.

"Every year we go through the same thing with the weather," Dunn said. "Practicing at 30 degrees compared to zero makes it feel like it's a balmy 70 degrees. We're going to be playing in weather like this. So we have to practice in weather outdoors like this."

As for failing to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament in 2017, the path this year may be even more challenging. Mercyhurst, Seton Hill, Lake Erie and Wheeling Jesuit have all shifted from the South to the North Region for this season, providing more competition for the limited berths.

The good news: Come 2019, the Division II tournament field expands from eight to 12 teams.

"It will be tougher this year with a whole group of Southern schools coming to the North Region," Dunn said. "It makes the region even more competitive. But we want to try to take care of business in the conference first and then worry about the NCAAs after that."