The men’s lacrosse team aims for its first conference win in program history as it enters its third season under head coach Matthew Colombini.
Senior goalkeeper Bailey Kennedy said he expects to snap the losing streak in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference this season.
“I don’t think this is the year, I know this is the year,” Kennedy said. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement from this year to last year. I don’t think there’s any team in the conference we can’t compete with or beat. We’re not scared of them anymore.”
In their final game last season, the Lions lost to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in double overtime and fell just short of their first NEWMAC win. Since joining the conference in 2014, the team is 15-57 overall.
“Last year, losing against Mass. Maritime in double overtime broke our hearts, but it showed that we can compete,” Kennedy said. “Coach said the goal isn’t to win a NEWMAC game anymore, it’s to make the playoffs.”
In addition to the game against Mass. Maritime, Colombini said the team displayed growth in each conference game last season.
“Last year we took a strong step in being competitive,” Colombini said. “If you actually watched the games [last season], you’d say that through the first half it was very competitive. We have more depth this year and a little bit more talent that will help us compete for full games.”
Joining Colombini on the coaching staff are assistant coaches Will Jennings and Dave Kraus. On Nov. 6, Jennings was selected by the Boston Cannons in the Major League Lacrosse Supplemental Draft.
Kennedy said not many goalkeepers are fortunate enough to practice with professional players.
“Coach Jennings is a great guy, a talented player, and he helps everyone,” Kennedy said. “You can’t really beat getting warmed up at practice by a pro.”
Kennedy credits Colombini’s coaching for strengthening the lacrosse program.
“I have nothing but high praise for him,” Kennedy said. “He turned this program around so quickly, it’s very exciting to see all the changes that have come in just a few years.”
This season, the team will step away from permanent team captains. Instead, Colombini will select captains week-by-week because of the abundance of leaders on the team.
“There’s a really good vibe with the leadership across the board on the roster,” Colombini said. “We didn’t want to name one or two guys and then have really good leaders step back because they didn’t have that title.”
Four of the five seniors on the roster—Kennedy, Fernando Gutierrez, Marshall Tate, and Jared Brush—spent the fall semester at the Los Angeles campus. Kennedy said the younger players’ improvements in the seniors’ absence impressed him.
“We had a lot of players take on a leadership role,” Kennedy said. “The underclassmen really stepped up while we were away. I feel like the proud dad, going away and then coming back and seeing everyone all grown up.”
The Lions welcomed eight freshmen to the team this season. Colombini said he admires the way they have adapted to the collegiate level and expects the freshmen to receive playing time.
“A lot of [the freshmen] will be playing a lot of minutes,” Colombini said. “With every freshman class, there’s a lot of ups and downs with getting used to playing in college. I’ve been really impressed with how quickly they’ve picked up what we’re trying to do. Anything we ask, they’re doing it and they’re doing extra.”
Freshman midfielder Skyler Celotto said the younger players have already established a strong connection.
“We’ve got good chemistry,” Celotto said. “Right away we all became good friends, and we’re putting a lot of hard work in together. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Freshman goalkeeper Malcolm McGrath said they are solid on both offense and defense, and receive a lot of help from junior midfielder Austin DiPietro.
“We’re a lot more talented than we think we are,” McGrath said. “There’s a lot of potential on both sides of the ball. We have a really good faceoff guy [in Austin DiPietro], he’s going to be first team all-NEWMAC this year.”
DiPietro returns to the team following a phenomenal sophomore season. He led the NEWMAC last season in two categories—ground balls scooped and faceoffs won. He won 240 faceoffs, 59 more than the second-highest recorded total in the NEWMAC, and picked up 157 ground balls.
The annual preseason coaches poll placed Emerson at the bottom of the NEWMAC. Springfield College, winners of the last 10 NEWMAC championships, ranks first in the poll. The United States Coast Guard Academy—which handed Springfield a loss and defeated Wesleyan University, the No. 1 team in the country, last season—ranks second.
Entering the season as underdogs, Kennedy said the preseason coaches poll motivates the team to prove everyone wrong.
“That preseason poll is hanging up in our locker room right now,” Kennedy said. “I like the adversity that we’re facing and I like that nobody believes in us. We’re going to throw as many punches as we can and shock a lot of people. It’s fun when nobody believes in you.”
Sports Editor Aaron J. Miller did not edit this article due to a conflict of interest.