HIGH POINT, N.C. – The High Point University men’s lacrosse team enters the 2015 season, its third year of competition, looking to take the next step as a program.
Last season, the Panthers went 9-7 overall and 4-1 in conference play to earn a share of the regular season Atlantic Sun title. The team just missed a trip to the NCAA Tournament with an 8-7 loss to Richmond in the A-Sun Tournament Championship Game.
“Last year gave us a great opportunity to look at what our strengths and weaknesses were and we have used it as an opportunity to learn and get better,” head coach Jon Torpey said about the program’s momentum. “Our university president Nido Qubein often says, ‘The past is a great place to visit, but an awful place to live.’ Consequently, we have focused the majority of our efforts on moving forward and really living our mission statement, which is to get better every day.”
HPU is considered one of the favorites to win the Southern Conference this season, but that won’t change the underdog mentality of the young program.
“I don’t think [being a favorite] will affect the team at all,” Torpey believes. “We try to avoid the noise and distractions that can be placed on the program. We won’t look at ourselves as the hunted, although some people may look at it that way. Inside the program we always try to have a hunters mentality and try to go out and prove something.”
This season’s senior class is the program’s first four-year class. The group has been influential to HPU’s quick ascent in the Division I lacrosse ranks.
“I can’t even put into words what those guys have meant to us,” Torpey said. “Just having a group that has stayed with us through the good and the bad has been incredible. We brought in a really special group of guys to build the foundation for this program that we hope can be sustainable over time.”
After two seasons in which underclassmen were the primary contributors, the Panthers will be one of the most experienced teams in the conference in2015. Torpey hopes that will allow them to find even more success this season.
“It follows the goal that we are trying to achieve this year, which is to be a player-led team,” Torpey said. “The older guys have taken on the role of being mentors and being great leaders for our younger guys. It is amazing to see how our guys interact on a daily basis in regards to helping one another improve.”
The Purple & White have talent and depth at goalkeeper, featuring the 2014 A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year in Austin Geisler, a seventh-round pick in the 2015 MLL Draft.
“Geisler is probably the best goalie that I have had the opportunity to coach in my 15-year career,” Torpey said of his redshirt-senior captain. “His willingness to adapt and step outside his comfort zone has really pushed him to new heights. His desire to be the best is as intense as anyone I have ever had the opportunity to be around in this sport.”
Geisler is coming off of a junior season in which he posted a conference-best 9.44 in goals against average and finished second in the nation with 13.63 saves per game.
Junior Matt Siegmund, sophomore Russ Bartle and freshman Zach Tuell give the Panthers depth at the goalie position. They will continue to have the opportunity to learn from Geisler’s work ethic and leadership.
HPU will have to replace a two-year starter in Garrett Swaim, but Torpey has great confidence in his returners to build another solid defensive unit in 2015. Senior Pat Farrell, another seventh-round pick in the 2015 MLL Draft, returns after earning All-Atlantic Sun honors in 2014. Farrell and redshirt-junior Harris Levine tied for the team lead with 16 caused turnovers last year.
“I am looking forward to having some strong veteran leadership on our defensive end,” Torpey said. “Farrell is one of the better cover guys that I have ever had the chance to coach and is a kid who just wants to get better. He does all the little things you would want from your top defender.”
Last season, the Panthers led the A-Sun allowing just 9.44 goals per contest. With so much experience returning, the unit will look to be even better in 2015.
“[Junior] Zack Price has been playing really well lately and is a guy that can play up top or down low,” Torpey stated. “[Redshirt-junior] Nick Bittner started all but one game last year and is very solid and sound.”
“[Sophomore] Tanner Landstra has come along strong along and Michael Lanahan, a freshman, really starting to turn the corner,” Torpey said of the team’s defensive depth. “[Junior] Benny Baiocco is a stalwart. He’s tough as nails and always gives everything he has every single day.”
Levine (43 gb, 16 ct), redshirt-junior Jeff Hale (6 gb) and junior James Dunn (10 gb, 8 ct) return to help anchor the defense. While redshirt-junior Kyle Moses and sophomores Tucker Coil and Daniel McKenna are also back to add depth along with freshman Terrell Sands.
Junior Jamie Piluso returns after placing 12th in the nation with 59.4 percent face off percentage (174-of-293). He also led the team with 95 groundballs while posting four goals during the 2014 season.
“Jamie Piluso was a unanimous all-conference pick last year that gives us a strong presence in transition with a very good stick and an aggressive attacking mentality at the Face-off X,” Torpey said.
Senior Chris Davila returns and is described by Torpey as a jack-of-all-trades while freshman Brady Brehm will give the Panthers a third option in the circle.
Versatility is key in the HPU midfield as the unit returns eight players that saw action in at least 10 games in 2014.
Redshirt-juniors Mitchell Dupere (13g, 3a) and Brad James (10g, 6a) each finished with 16 points last year. Junior Tyler Cook, one of the team’s six captains, posted 14 points (12g, 2a) and fellow junior Christian Beith provided 10 points (5g, 5a).
Senior Dylan Bozel, redshirt-juniors Richard Byrd and Brendan Montrello and juniors Joseph Taulane and Spencer Wichert all provide depth and experience in the midfield.
“We have some good, veteran leadership and we’ve been impressed with the way they have meshed with our younger guys,” Torpey continued. “Like last year we plan on playing a lot of guys in the midfield and look forward to attacking in all kinds of different ways with the personnel that we have.”
Sophomore Nick Basile and Sean Harrison are back to build on their freshman seasons while the program adds freshmen Tyler Vogrig, Matt Huertas, Chandler Vanderbeek, Connor Vanderbeek and Connor Robinson to the rotation.
Juniors Dan Lomas and Matt Thistle lead the Panthers’ offensive attack, which paced the A-Sun with 9.63 goals per game. Lomas won 2014 A-Sun Offensive Player of the Year in 2014 by posting a league-best 42 goals to go along with six assists. Meanwhile, Thistle earned all-conference honors by leading the league with 53 points (17g, 36a) on the year.
“Lomas is a returning All-American and is such a presence inside and outside, he is really becoming a strong dodging threat,” Torpey stated. “Thistle is the quarterback of our offense and has done a good job taking control this year knowing when to push or pull back.”
Sophomore Michael LeClair makes it a three-headed monster on the attack after tallying 25 points (13g, 12a) during his first year at HPU. Senior Hunter Edens, redshirt-junior Adam Seal, sophomore Matt Koerner and redshirt-freshman Dan Murray will compliment the trio of Lomas, Thistle and LeClair.
Torpey is optimistic that the freshman class of T Moyer, Jason Ashwood, Ben McCormack and Peyton Garrett can provide depth and give the team a more multi-faceted attack.
Starting the Regular Season:
The Panthers will begin the season on Sunday, Feb. 1 at noon against Delaware in Vert Stadium. HPU will stay home next weekend when it hosts defending national champion and No. 3-ranked Duke at noon on Saturday, Feb. 7.