Handicapped by a shorthanded squad, the Lions men's lacrosse team suffered their second consecutive loss to open the season, falling to the Castleton State College Spartans, 14-6 in a game that became increasingly physical as it progressed.
The Lions were missing five players due to injuries and prior commitments. The absences were huge, considering the team was already undermanned and was going up against an experienced Castleton squad. Despite all this, veteran senior midfielder Joe Greaney, who was forced to play attacker, believes the team stepped up offensively.
"I'm proud of the offense," he said. "We stepped up today. It's good we even kept it that close with so many guys out."
Offense was not the Lions' primary concern going into the game; defense was. Castleton's offense has been among the top two in scoring in the Northeast American Conference for four consecutive years. Their talent was on display here, with the Spartans controlling the tempo of play over the entire game. They never lost a face-off, and kept the field wide open with plenty of passing, ensuring more opportunities for open shots. After a commanding opening wherein they scored two quick goals in the first 2:36, the Spartans secured a 5-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. They never looked back, or lost the lead.
Lions Head Coach Michael Blanchard agrees it was Castleton's game from the get-go.
"We started very, very slowly," Blanchard said. "We just didn't really get it going in the first [period]."
The Castleton defense was much tighter than Emerson's, using their superior numbers and size to beat up on the Emerson offense. Their defense seemed more clumped together than Emerson's, providing Castleton goalies with more support.
Blanchard noted the Lions' need for more consistent defense.
"This team is poised for a break through," he said. "What we have to focus on most is doing a better job of getting ground balls and taking more shots. We need to get more shots on net."
The grind of extended playtime on the short-staffed Lions and the unseasonably cold game-time conditions seemed to get to them by the second half. Consistently out-hustled and out-muscled, the Emerson players often found themselves on the business end of a vicious stick-slap to reclaim the ball, resulting in several turnovers.
As it became apparent that the game was going to be a rout, it became much more physical. Players on both teams became pushier in the second half as tempers rose. Senior attacker/midfielder Jake Frank believes Castleton was not just playing physically, but playing dirty.
"It's tough, really tough out there," said the film major. "[They] disrespected the game. They were touchy-feely, and they took [Emerson's physical play] personally. They were really verbal."
"I was getting as many big hits as I could," he said as a smile overtook his face. "It was a hard-fought game, but they were whining by the end."
When asked if he needs his best players to step up their game, Blanchard answered no.
"You can't ask a player to try to 'bring their A-game,'" he said. "They are not going to be able to bring their A-game or their B-game every night. Sometimes you have to be okay with their C-game, their average game. You need their C-game to be good enough to win."