GEORGETOWN, Texas – Southwestern men's lacrosse enters its fifth season as a varsity program and is looking to take the next step towards the national playoff picture with its first winning season behind six talented and experienced seniors.
Michael Villa, Alex Michael, Jeremy Tufnell, Carter Cowan, Daniel Ayala and Tyler Downing have been the lifeblood for the Pirates since their freshman year and have helped mold this team into the competitive squad it has become in a very short time.
"The seniors understand the system and what we are trying to accomplish," said Head Coach Bill Bowman. "They have seen us go from just trying to fill a team to becoming competitive."
Downing, a midi from Austin, Texas, has earned the honor of donning the #33 jersey this season and has done so with an unrelenting passion for the game and tireless work ethic. The third leading scorer last season and Honorable Mention All-SCAC selection, Downing will anchor the Pirate attack. "Tyler wants to do anything and everything he can to help the team. His stat sheet is always going to show that he is a goal scorer but oftentimes those goals are when we need them the most. He just finds a way to give us what we need when times get tough."
Michael, a speedy midi from Houston, Texas, is a spark plug for the Pirates offensively. He was seventh on the team in goals and fifth in assists last season. "Alex is one of the quickest and most dynamic players we have," stated Coach Bowman. "He creates all kinds of matchup problems for our opponents. His lacrosse IQ and his ability to make others on the field play their best is second to none."
Cowan, an attacker from Austin, Texas, was fourth on the team in goals last season and can manufacture a goal seemingly out of thin air. "We are excited about what Cowan will do this springs as he has had his best fall and preseason ever," said Coach Bowman. "He has a very good understanding of what we are trying to do and finds a way to be successful when we need it the most."
First Team All-SCAC selection Tufnell is a captain this season and serves as a two-way midi for the Pirates. A goal scorer and fierce defender, Tufnell "has a great understanding of both ends of the field and does a great job of working with the guys on the line to make sure they are very efficient."
Villa, an attacker from San Antonio, Texas, was third in assists last season and did his fair share of goal scoring, tying for fifth on the team. As the general of the offense, Villa has carried an unbelievable load offensively for the Pirates and will have more help this season. "Michael is one of the smarter guys and has been holding down our attack," said Coach Bowman. "He knows the plays better than anyone and recognizes matchups, making it easier for others to be successful."
Defensive powerhouse and First Team All-SCAC defender Daniel Ayala rounds out this very talented and dynamic senior class. Ayala's impact isn't always evident on the stat sheet, but just minutes at a game it is apparent why he is irreplaceable on defense. Ayala led the team in ground balls and turnovers last year and "is one of the few guys who is fast enough to make up for the small mistakes we may have and recover. With him in we are a much stauncher defense and you can tell when he is out."
Southwestern's impressive offensive foundation doesn't stop at the senior class, however, as they return SCAC Newcomer-of-the-Year Austin Fox who was second on the team in goals and assists in his first season as a Pirate. Coach Bowman is also excited about newcomers Matt Montagne and Kyle Anderson. Montagne will miss the first part of the season as he rehabs an injury, but will be a great spark for SU upon his return and Anderson will present some matchup problems with his size. Both figure to be impact players by the SCAC Conference Championship.
"With a robust group of returners we have an offense that is feeling very confident and they are starting to see the little nuances that will help us out as we go through the season," said Coach Bowman. "Staying healthy and maintaining our team chemistry will be hugely important this year, but our depth is something we haven't had before and will be a huge advantage for us."
In the midfield the senior impact will continue to be very important and with the added experience of Honorable Mention All-SCAC and "great two-way midi" Jackson Timian, Southwestern can take more chances offensively. "They know what we do and work really well with the attack and you should see a lot of cohesiveness out there."
The often unheralded gem of Southwestern's team is their defense. Headed up by Ayala, Coach Bowman also has big plans for Honorable Mention All-SCAC selection Ross Warkentin. In just 12 games last season, Warkentin was second on the team in caused turnovers and tied for eighth in ground balls. "Ross could be an All-American this year and has come back from his injury last season without missing a beat."
Joining Ayala and Warkentin are sophomores Christopher Adams and Zach Finger. "Both got significant playing time last year in support roles and have a better understanding this season. Fellow sophomore JC McDonough and first-year Austin McCrory that should get some time and provide more depth. Our athleticism is what makes our defense great."
In between the pipes, Coach Bowman has three talented goalies jockeying for position. A.J. Cole seems to be the favorite as he started all but one game last season, but sophomore Charlie Fisher and first-year Daniel Donovan are coming on strong and are vying for some playing time this year.
Southwestern has also enlisted the services of new assistant coach Rick Cremen. "Rick has brought a fresh outlook that is only going to make us better, on both sides of the ball, and is doing a great job in a short amount of time."
SU opens the season on February 8th with a three game home stand against former SCAC opponents Hendrix, Rhodes and Millsaps. "They are going to be tough but are opponents that we know well and are somewhat rivalry games for us," said Bowman. Following the opening home stand, SU embarks on their toughest stretch of schedule to date, facing Colorado College before one of the top teams in the nation in Roanoke. They then face a tough Hope College squad and host Birmingham Southern before traveling to Colorado to take on Babson and Colorado College for a second time.
Southwestern then heads into the heart of the conference play and add in a few young teams in Ohio in Franciscan and Capitol.
"We feel like we have a solid schedule that will challenge us and prepare us for the conference championship."
"Ultimately, we need to maintain our intensity and focus to be successful this year," said Bowman. Nobody out hustles us but we have to play smart. When we play smart and loose and free that is when we are at our best."