This season, men's collegiate lacrosse aimed to speed up the game with the implementation of an 80-second shot clock while simultaneously allowing offenses more flexibility around the crease, expanding scoring opportunities.
Before the Southwestern University Pirates could capitalize on the faster pace, first the team had to slow down. In the words of coaching legend John Wooden, they needed to be quick but not hurry.
"I felt like we were a little ahead of the curve because we played that style of lacrosse the past few years," Head Coach Bill Bowman said. "Early on, we were almost rushing too much and needed to settle down, realize we had more time than we thought and it really worked well for us."
The internal clock the Pirates eventually settled on allowed for an interesting reaction in which a strong senior class whose careers edged closer to being past tense meshed with a young class holding a bright future to synchronize for a dynamic present.
Once acclimated, the Pirates took full advantage of the new rules and generarted the most prolific offense in school and Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) history.
Southwestern ranked in the top 10 nationally in assists per game (fifth, 11.06), points per game (sixth, 28.59), scoring offense (seventh, 17.47), and shot percentage (third, 0.380). The Pirates attacked school and SCAC record books the way they attacked a crease in the defense, lighting up both.
The Pirates produced 486 points over 17 games with 297 goals and 189 assists, scoring on volume (780 shots attempted) and efficiency (.380 shot percentage) while setting school records in each category.
Many of those record-setting offensive possessions ended with a Kai Knight-Turcan goal. The senior from Katy, Texas leaves Southwestern University as its all-time leader in points (222) and goals (149), besting class of 2018 graduate Matt Amerie.
"He's that Canadian-style lefty lacrosse player. You don't get that very often," Bowman said. "He knows how to play the game, knows how to play off ball and did very well in helping us run our offense. He was someone we could always count on in games and we're really going to miss him."
Knight-Turcan was one of three seniors to earn All-SCAC First Team honors, along with Logan Spalding and Jared Welsh. Spalding finished third in the SCAC in goals (28), eighth in assists (11), and sixth in points (39).
"Logan was Mr. Everything for us. He was First Team all-conference midfielder contributing offensively, defensively, and in transition at a high level. He's a true all-around player," Bowman said. "He's an example of where lacrosse is going."
Welsh was third in the SCAC in assists (33) and fifth in goals (27), which was good for fourth in points (60).
"Jared is probably one of the most complete players we've ever had," Bowman said. "He sees the field so well and can score whenever he wants but his greatest gift is understanding what the defense is trying to do and really picking it apart."
"We'll miss Tyler and the leadership he brought off the field. Mesquiti was a three-year starter and a stoic let's get the job done kind of guy," Bowman said. "Kyle on goal had the best year he's ever had. Up and down the lineup, all the guys played a role in what we did."
And though the metaphorical ink on the record books has yet to dry, time never stands still in today's lacrosse. Knocking on the door of Knight-Turcan's place atop the all-time points record is Zac Asbury.
In his sophomore season, Asbury set the SCAC single-season mark with 99 points, scoring 40 goals and setting another SCAC record with 59 assists, earning the SCAC Offensive Player of the Year award. In just two seasons, Asbury has already set the Southwestern University career assist record with 105, moving to the third spot on the school's all-time points list with 181.
"He sees the field, he can score, he can pass the ball, he does a phenomenal job of running our offense and he's only going to continue to get better," Bowman said. "From our end, he was the piece of the puzzle that let everything else come together. He's a great learner and teacher of the game."
There were bigger reasons for the Pirates' offensive surge than increased pace. Asbury directed plenty of possessions because teammate Zane Abbott earned the Pirates more than their opponents most nights, finishing 15th in the nation in face-off winning percentage at 68.5 percent, setting a new Southwestern single-season record.
"Zane went up against some of the best guys in the nation and won over 60 percent of his face-offs, which is unheard of," Bowman said. "You could see the difference it made for us, giving us possessions so we could do what we needed to offensively."
First year Tyler Santos also showcased talents that should make him part of a strong Southwestern core moving forward, winning the SCAC Newcomer of the Year.
Santos, a freshman long stick midfielder from San Diego, Calif., helped lead a Southwestern defense ranked first in the SCAC in ground balls with 35.82 per game. He helped the Pirates to the top ranking in the league in goals against average (10.58) and a number two ranking in caused turnovers (9.18 per game). Individually, Santos totaled 41 ground balls, good enough for sixth in the SCAC, and caused 18 turnovers, which was fourth-best in the league.
In all, the group led the Pirates to their second double-digit win season in program history at 10-7. The team set a new record for most goals in a game against Johnson & Wales University (JWU) with 30 and Asbury set a new school record with 14 points against Cornell College while Abbott recorded the most ground balls (14) and face-offs won (25) against JWU.
It was against the highest levels of competition, however, that showed the Pirates' growth and how much more they need to go, taking regionally ranked Rhodes and Colorado College down to the wire, losing to the latter in the SCAC championship game.
"I think if you want to look at it, big games are always the ones everyone gets fired up for and you can get a lot out of. One of our highest and lowest points was Rhodes," Bowman said of the Pirates' 13-12 loss. "We were right there for 57 minutes and 53 seconds and then they put the tying goal in. How we responded after that set the tone for the conference tournament and a good performance against Colorado College."
The 2019 senior class leaves the Pirates with a strong foundation and young players capable of raising the program's ceiling. This year's team showed its talent, now it simply needs to grow into it. Fortunately for the Pirates, time—even in the shot clock era—is currently on their side.