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February 22, 2002
Vol. 43 No. 16

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Miller predicts success for young squad

Following seasons in which the program went 1-13 and 2-9, Susquehanna men's lacrosse Head Coach Ron Miller isn't just hoping for success in his second year at the helm.

He's predicting it.

"I'll be extremely disappointed if we don't have a winning season," he said. "We expect to contend [in the Middle Atlantic Conference] this year."

After making the prerequisite progress expected of a nascent program in its first two years, the team is confident that it will emerge this season to the upper tier of the MAC.

The Crusaders lost only two seniors to graduation and return 17 letterwinners, so team cohesiveness should be an advantage for the team before it even steps on the field, according to Miller.

"When you're 2-9, you can't look at a lot of things as strengths, but I think we have a very close-knit team," he said. "We have some new faces due to recruiting, but I feel good about our chemistry."

Sophomore attack Scott Hodgson said: "This is a very close team. We're always together and we care about each other, and I think that's important."

The team will also be anchored by its defense, Miller said. He cited two games last year, a 12-11 loss to DeSales and an 8-6 defeat to Scranton, as examples of the defense's ability to put the squad in position to win games.

"Toward the end of last season we lost a few heartbreaking games, and it was tough to get off the bus knowing we lost the way we did," Miller said. "But this year we have established our defense from the very first day of practice."

Besides the opponent, the team will be battling another foe the entire season -- inexperience. Miller emphasized that most of the team's talent is concentrated in the underclassmen because the team is entering its third year of existence.

"We probably have as much talent, quite honestly, as some of the best teams in our conference," he said. "We have some extremely talented young players -- the key word being young."

Nevertheless, Miller said he is confident that the talent level of this year's recruiting class will be tough to equal in future years.

"We have two high school All-Americans, and that alone separates us from a lot of other Division III schools," he said, speaking of Dan St. Ours and Justin Mason, both US Lacrosse Boys High School All-Americans in 2001. "We are very fortunate in that respect."

Junior midfielder Andy Nadler said: "The freshmen are the future of the program. If some of those kids could step up this year and play, it would be crucial for us."

Miller pointed to several factors that he said will set this season apart from the previous two, the first of which is the presence of full-time Assistant Coach Gordon Galloway.

"We didn't have an assistant who was here all the time until this year," Miller, also the football team's offensive coordinator, said. "That's extremely important to me because I have dual roles on campus."

Another major difference is simply the access the team has to the James W. Garrett Sports Complex.

"Last year, the first time we stepped outside on a field was our first game," Miller said. "That hurt. Just having the field house alone has put us so far ahead of where we were last year."

The most important distinction according to Miller, however, is not physical, but mental.

"Our guys now understand that we can be a very successful lacrosse program," Miller said. "When you believe in something, I think your work ethic increases tremendously. They believe we can win, and so do I."

Nadler agreed that this team has the intangibles that the others lacked.

"This is not like last year, and it's not like the year before," Nadler said. "Especially with the field house, we have more time and more space before we get into the first game."

Although the team captains have yet to be named, Miller said he is counting on a mix of veterans and second-year players to lead the way. Nadler leads the team in career points, including a team-high 34 last season. Sophomore attackers Hodgson and Hale Abramson, whose 22 goals led the squad, had outstanding freshman campaigns.

Offense, however, is not where the team looks for guidance. The true leader, according to Miller, is senior defenseman Dave Howard, who is the only player on the team to receive votes for the MAC All-Star team.

"We always give him the opponent's best offensive player," Miller said. "He completely shut down the Player of the Year in the conference last year."

Looking at this year's schedule, the team might have an opportunity to establish momentum early. Susquehanna's first four opponents each finished with a losing record last season, and combined to go 11-35. The first of these teams, Norwich University, will square off with the Crusaders on March 4 in Orlando, Fla. Susquehanna will then open the home season with a match vs. Shenandoah on March 13.

"If we can come out and get some wins, that would be a huge confidence boost for the entire team," Hodgson said.

Victories, not facilities or talent on paper, will help Susquehanna gain standing in terms of the sport, Miller added.

"You have to win before you get any kind of reputation, but we're sure working on it," he said. "People are going to be really surprised at how much different of a team we are."

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