Men’s lacrosse looks to capitalize on a new season


Arthur Mansavage

Senior attacker and captain Nick Fuglione leads the rush against the Wentworth Leopards.

By Leo Kagan, Assistant Sports Editor

On a sunny Connecticut afternoon last April, the Emerson men’s lacrosse team was in a tie game with six minutes left in the fourth quarter—six minutes to score and qualify for the postseason for the first time in program history.

For the Lions, 1-4 in conference play, the only things standing between them and history were the No. 2 ranked Coast Guard Bears. If they lost, the fifth and final playoff seed would be decided by a coin flip. Captain and midfielder Jack O’Rourke, a junior at the time, said the players knew they had to seize the moment.

“It was either [win] or leave it up to chance,” O’Rourke said. “We didn’t want to leave it up to chance.”

The Lions managed two shots on goal to break the tie and send them to the playoffs for the first time ever. The euphoria would only last a few days—Emerson lost in a roller coaster first round playoff match-up to Babson College on May 2—but for this year’s team, it’s a feeling they’re hoping to taste again.

“We set the school record for wins in a season and qualified for the NEWMAC playoffs for the first time,” said Head Coach Matthew Colombini. “Our goal is to continue to do those things but now take the next steps, winning playoff games and hopefully winning a championship.”

At the same time, Colombini said he knows it won’t be as simple as picking up where the team left off last May.

“The fact that we won games last year has no impact [winning] them this year,” he said. “We’ve talked a lot about not getting ahead of ourselves or [looking] past teams. We had one good year. It took a lot of work, so we’re continuing that work.

Returning to peak form is made more complicated by the departure of four upperclassmen, including attacker Austin Franklin and midfielder Skyler Celetto, who tallied a combined 237 points as Lions. O’Rourke emphasized that last year’s graduating players will be missed for more than their offensive contributions.

“Those were four huge leaders and they carried a lot of that weight,” he said. “The leadership staples in a lot of the system that we play, they knew exactly what [Coach Colombini] wanted, so they knew how to execute that pretty well.”

Though this year’s team—stocked with eight new freshmen—has plenty of talent, uniting that talent under a system has been more challenging than in years past.

“It’s little things that we didn’t have to teach last year,” Colombini said. “Things guys just knew because they’d been through it so many times. We’ve had to go back and get back to a lot of fundamental stuff, taking an extra day with things that in the past, we might assume guys can pick up a little quicker.”

This year’s Lions squad lacks the same experience as last year’s team, whose starting attackers and defenders entered last season’s playoff game against Babson with a combined 244 career games started. This year’s starting group had just 36.

But Colombini said that what this group lacks in experience, it makes up for in skill. The players just have to prove they can utilize that skill effectively.

“In a lot of ways we’re more talented this year than we were last year,” he said. “So the question is ultimately going to be, does our talent carry us far enough till those [young] guys get experience.

Despite losing a few top scorers and key leaders, the Lions feel poised to leap forward—a leap that O’Rourke believes must begin with in-conference play.

“Winning conference games is everything,” he said. “Historically Emerson has been at the bottom of the NEWMAC almost every single year. [Winning] those games we know we can win are huge—but we know we have the ability to beat top teams too.”

Colombini said that, in a conference where every game has a “college football feel,” the path to success is minimizing costly errors.

“It’s going to come down to eliminating small mistakes,” he said. “There were a lot of little things we did wrong along the way that enabled [losing in the playoffs] to happen. Whether it’s a dropped pass or a bad read, there isn’t a lot of margin for error.”

Colombini said he is looking forward to turning over the keys to a new group of leaders who he feels are prepared to guide the team on and off the field.

“It really does feel like a different team,” he said. “All those guys who started all those games really dominated the focus, but now it’s Birk [Swan’s] team, it’s Nick [Fuglione’s] team, it’s Josh [DeMattos’] team. It’s an exciting, different challenge to see how all the pieces are coming together, and I’m ready to get going.”

O’Rourke said he is confident his team will be able to put all the pieces together and reach their ceiling as a unit.

“I truly believe that we can win a NEWMAC championship,” he said. “We beat Coast Guard who were ranked second last year. They were supposed to maybe win [the championship]. We have the ability, the skill, and the discipline to win a championship this year.”

The Lions are 2-1 to start their championship campaign. They’ll face off next against the University of New England Nor’easters Wednesday.