Men’s lacrosse jumps out to best start since 2011

by Emily Wechsler | 3/29/15 6:01pm

Unlike previous years, when the men’s lacrosse team travelled during the spring interim period, first-year head coach Brendan Callahan continued to work with the team in Hanover this past week. With this new approach, Callahan led the men to two home wins — a 12-11 double-overtime battle in the Ivy opener against Harvard University and a 16-15 tug-of-war against out-of-conference rival University of Vermont — before the Big Green ended a three-game win streak with an 8-2 loss on the road at Cornell University this past Saturday.

“It was great for us, where we’re at right now, to spend a bunch of time working [and] practicing without having to worry about the travel,” Callahan said. “The guys got to work hard, spend a lot of time together… I think that was probably the biggest thing about having success over the break.”

After the Harvard contest, two Big Green athletes earned recognition for their play, including captain Philip Hession ’15, who was named Ivy League Co-Player of the Week and Epoch/Lacrosse Magazine Player of the Week. Jack Korzelius ’18 also earned Ivy League Rookie of the Week, Corvias ECAC Player of the Week and Northeast Credit Union Athlete of the Week honors for slotting the game-winner in overtime.

Halfway through its season, the Big Green (3-4, 1-1 Ivy) has already built on its 2013-2014 season in which it claimed only two victories, with none in its conference. If the program wants to turn around last year’s record, it is important that the team atmosphere is positive and conducive to growth. Hession and other team leaders have been working to create this culture, and the results suggest success.

“[The players] have started to believe in themselves and this group, that they can, if they play hard and play together, do some good things,” Callahan said.

This newfound confidence, Callahan said, may be the team’s most important take-away from the interim period.

The team, particularly its offense, is young with underclassmen taking three of the top four spots on the team for points. The program graduated its play-caller at the X last year and has dipped into its younger talent to find the new quarterback. The new faces, guided by a new coaching staff, need to — and seem to — take every game as an opportunity to learn in order to stay competitive.

“We’re very process oriented, just trying to get better every week,” Hession said. “But we find out sort of where we’re at in that process each game.”

Wiley Osborne ’17, who leads the team with 17 points, began his collegiate career last year as a scoring threat, marking 10 goals and tying for second on the team. This season, Osborne has been asked to change his identity and step into the X position.

In his new role, Osborne serves primarily as a playmaker and has tallied 10 assists, seven more than any other player on the team. When Osborne is not setting up Adam Fishman ’15 or Korzelius, he’s putting the ball in the net himself and is on pace to score double-digit goals this season with seven so far.

“The coaches have done a great job preparing me for what I need to do and helping me learn as we go,” Osborne said. “I like handling the ball and I feel comfortable with it in my stick, so I feel good about the new role I’ve taken on this year.”

Osborne said upperclassmen have also been able to give him advice, and even more importantly they’ve demonstrated their confidence in him, trusting him with the ball and the reins on offense. This confidence — in each other and in themselves — is making a difference for the Big Green. The effect of this belief is visible in Korzelius, who netted game-winners against both Harvard and Vermont.

“In the Harvard game, he comes down in overtime and takes a shot that was an easy save for the goalie,” Callahan pointed out. “To turn around the next possession or two possessions later and have the guts to take a shot again in that situation and score is unbelievable for a freshman.”

Korzelius is certainly an early standout, but despite being the team leader in goals scored, Callahan said that so far he has remained a “hard-working, humble kid --— the type of guy you want to coach.”

“I think he’s got a chance to be very good over his career if he keeps working and has the same attitude that he has right now,” Callahan said.

The results from the first half of the season demonstrate that the team is clicking. The men had four one-goal games in a row, losing the first at the buzzer 9-10 to Sacred Heart University on March 4.

After that loss the players worked hard to improve their lacrosse and their mentalities, following Callahan’s advice to always “keep swingin’.” It’s become a catchphrase for the team, and it appears to be working, leading the team to scrape out wins in the following three matches.

“There were a couple little things, plays that were in our control that we didn’t make,” Callahan said of the Sacred Heart loss. “We kind of focused on those and started to figure those out for the Wagner [College] game, and then as the competition got better [we focused on] how to overcome each of those things that was holding us back.”

Callahan said that the team’s ability to identify, attack and overcome a problem is “really special for me as a coach to see.” It will certainly serve them well moving forward in the season.

In addition to improving on last year’s record, it’s clear that the team has made progress since the beginning of the season, when it lost its first match to Ohio State University by a score of 15-5. Cornell — currently seventh-ranked nationally and likely a stronger team than Ohio State — topped the Big Green by only six points. Were it not for a few breakdowns, Hession said, the final score could have been even closer.

Yet, the team has areas in which it can still improve. Its clear percentage of .769 is lower than the .833 clear average of its opponents and botched clears have hurt the Big Green in several recent games. Ball security has been another issue for the team, as the men have turned the ball over 123 times, compared to the 107 turnovers they have forced.

“What we found today in the Cornell game is we haven’t gotten good enough, basically,” Hession said. “We want to get where we can go out there and just play a good game and still have a chance to win.”

Other statistics for the team are more balanced. Crucial numbers such as ground balls — 199 for the Big Green and 206 for opponents — and faceoff percentage — .512 opposed to .488 for opponents — have carried the team thus far.

The team can thank Hession and Robert Osgood ’15 for the faceoff and ground ball numbers, as Callahan said both have been giving outstanding performances in these areas respectively.

The program didn’t have a lot of success last year, bringing the team’s confidence down, but Callahan hopes that with a few wins under their belts the program can start making “strides forward.” He said the main goal this season is to make the Ivy League tournament, in which the top four teams in the Ivy League compete.

“We can keep it close with a top team, we can do it with just about anyone,” Osborne said. “I expect us to get more than a few more wins.”

The team will be looking at film of the Cornell game before they move on to prepare for another crucial Ivy game at Yale University on Saturday at 3 p.m.