NORTHFIELD, Vt. - The Norwich University men's lacrosse team embarks on their 50th season of varsity competition this weekend, as three-time Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Coach of the Year Neal Anderson looks to pilot Norwich to another conference championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Last season saw Norwich put together a nearly perfect season that was only derailed by an underdog contingent from Johnson & Wales, who ran through the top three seeds in the conference tournament on their way to knocking off the top-seeded Norwich squad in the championship game for their first title. The season featured countless bright spots despite the heartbreak at the end, most notably eight Cadets being named All-Conference, both the Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards coming to Northfield via seniors Josh Jenkins and Zach Adler, and 13 Cadets appearing on the GNAC All-Academic rolls.
After putting up a 13-6 overall record and a dominant 8-1 record within the conference, the focus for Coach Anderson and the Norwich staff is getting this young and talented group into a cohesive unit that can pursue the conference title with a renewed hunger. "We have to get addicted to making each other better," Coach Anderson said, "we have a lot of young guys competing for open spots, which is great...but can we integrate that into a team approach and can you do everything you can to make the next guy look great?"
After graduating five All-Conference athletes from last year's squad and 14 seniors overall, the mantle of leadership falls onto the next generation of Cadets and senior team captains Cody Moore (Canton, N.Y.) and Jake Giannelli (Norwich, Conn.).
Giannelli appeared in 18 games a year ago, starting nine. He scooped up 16 ground balls and caused six turnovers as a part of a Norwich defensive unit that finished first in the GNAC in goals-against average (9.1) and third in caused turnovers (167). Moore ranked fifth in the conference and second on the team in goals (41) and points (58) on his way to a First-Team All-GNAC selection last year and already sits in the top-ten in program history for career goals heading into his senior season with 71.
Outside of Moore and Giannelli, players to watch for the Cadets according to Coach Anderson include Aidan Moulton (Danvers, Mass.) on the attack, Joseph Santangelo (Fallston, Md.) taking over faceoff responsibilities after being named Second Team All-GNAC last year, and the dynamic duo of Ian Kriger (Burlington, Mass.) and Brandon Milburn (Bridgewater, N.J.) in goal for the second straight year.
Typically a program that favors a veteran-heavy starting rotation, Norwich's depth in the junior and sophomore classes will be challenged by a crop of promising freshmen. "Those older guys aren't looking to give up their spots," Coach Anderson said, "but the young guys are going to get time to develop and win spots if they can." He added that the team may need experience some growing pains early in the season as the squad finds their way, but "after some seasoning I expect us to hit our stride by midseason."
With the exception of the thorn in Norwich's side of the Wildcats from Johnson and Wales, Norwich went 10-0 against conference opponents in last year's regular and postseason, outscoring GNAC teams 139-69 overall. Subsequently, Norwich was picked first overall in the Preseason Coaches Poll released by the GNAC. "I think that's based on last year, so it's not something we're going to publicize or focus on," Coach Anderson said.
The nine-team league looks to be wide open, as the top four teams are separated by ten points or less in the Preseason Poll. Defending champion Johnson & Wales slotted into the third place spot with two first-place votes, while perennial powerhouse Lasell got three first-place votes and finished just two points behind Norwich with 69 total points. Budding contender Saint Joseph's of Maine came in at fourth place, just ten points outside of the first place Cadets' 71 total points.
Norwich's 15 game slate will begin on Saturday, February 23rd at Curry, with the home and conference opener taking place on March 2nd against Rivier. Other key dates this year include a March 30th date with Albertus Magnus at home, where the first Norwich Lacrosse One Love Game will take place, and the April 17th Connor Roberts Memorial Game against Castleton at Sabine Field.