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The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

Full speed: Men’s lacrosse gears up for Empire 8 conference play

Utica to face Hartwick College on April 3
Photo courtesy of YSM Media.
Photo courtesy of YSM Media.

After finishing the 2022-2023 campaign 7-10 overall with a 3-4 mark in Empire 8 play, the Pioneers have begun their journey to compete for a spot in this year’s Empire 8 tournament.

Utica’s outstanding defense in the first half wasn’t enough on Friday night as Utica fell 17-9 to the Nazareth University Golden flyers in their first conference play to start the 2023-2024 campaign. 

Utica University vs. Nazareth University dates back to 2001. Friday’s fixture marked its 23rd encounter as it ended in a win for Nazareth. 

Defensively the team had a solid start but found themselves overextended at times, allowing Nazareth prime scoring opportunities. After a strong first half the Pioneers moved away from trying to outplay the Golden Flyers with physicality and pulled away in the second half giving them the win. 

The Pioneers are now 4-5 and 0-1 in league play. After a little bit of a rough start to the season after back to back losses to SUNY Oneonta and SUNY Potsdam, they were out for blood. 

“The focus is that a new season is starting,” Sam Serrano said. “Conference wins and losses do not mean anything this time of year. We have to take it one game at a time and that is what we will do.”

In their final non-conference game before beginning conference play the team had a great game as they topped the SUNY Morrisville Mustangs 15–10. 

With his first goal of the game against the Mustangs, Serrano became the 12th player in program history to reach 100 career points.

“It took a lot of hard work but I try to focus on team goals and being the best possible team we can be, rather than individual success,” Serrano said. “I would not be able to achieve anything simply on my own.”

With the passing of Coach Mike Parnell in 2021, the founding member of the lacrosse program at Utica, as well as having to adapt to four different coaches in the past four years, this team has faced a great deal of adversity. 

“With the passing of Coach Parnell, and coaches leaving, we have been able to grow together through many different obstacles,” Serrano said. “Leaning on each other through hardships and tough points of the season is a very crucial aspect that we are good at.” 

Despite the scoreboard, the team is still experiencing a great deal of success, and there is much to be optimistic about for the remainder of the campaign. 

With a save percentage and goals against average among the top four in league play, goalkeeper Patrick Oswald has been out for blood. Michael Mecca and Andrew Sacco have been dominating the restraining box on faceoffs. They rank among the top five players on Utica in turnovers created and ground balls received.

In conference play, Jack Hogan ranks fourth and has won .512 percent of his faceoffs. With 28 ground balls, Hogan leads the team and ranks in the top seven in the Empire 8.

With seven ground balls, Aaron Bergquist has now recorded the most in his career. In one game this season, he matched Hogan for the most points collected by a single player on the team. 

Throughout his time at Utica, Ethan Brown has not hesitated. This season, he has produced a turnover in six of the seven games and collected a ground ball in five of them. His 13 forced turnovers, which rank second in the league and average nearly two per game, are among the top 50 in the NCAA Division I nation. 

“I always go 100% anytime I’m on the field, every rep counts and any chance you have a stick in your hand is a chance to improve your game,” Brown said.

The team is “incredibly close” and that has helped keep them together during tight games, Brown said. 

It has been more than a decade since Utica men’s lacrosse had made it to the Empire 8 tournament. There is no doubt that some factors need to be resolved. However this team has potential to succeed down the road in the national tournament.

“We have a motto we say here frequently, ‘Play in May.’ I believe this group is capable of playing in May this season,” Chase Rorick said. “We just have to take it one game at a time.”

Sean Behan, who leads the team as head coach for his first season, said the team is excited to keep raising the bar and competing for a spot in the Empire 8 tournament this year. 

“We have improved with every week that we have been together as a team, and we are still working towards playing our best brand of Pioneer lacrosse,” Behan said. “With the conference schedule kicking off this week, we are looking forward to rising to the occasion against a strong slate of Empire 8 Conference opponents.” 

Utica is set to travel to Oneonta to continue their journey and face Hartwick College on Wednesday, April 3. 

“Everytime we step on the field as a team we have the opportunity,” Serrano said. “Conference play is always a gauntlet but we are going to come out firing and take it to every team we play.”

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