NEWTON, Mass. – Last year the Mount Ida College men’s lacrosse team found themselves back in a familiar spot – the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) championship game, the 11th time in the last 12 years in which they have played in their conference finals.
Now, a class that is nearly three-quarters upperclassmen would like to return the program to an even more familiar position – that is as champions of the league for the first time since 2012 when they capped a streak of eight titles in nine years.
“We are veterans. We were a younger group last year, but this year we are becoming an older group,” said Head Coach Andrew Fink of his team which will be comprised of 13 juniors and seven seniors, who will try to avoid becoming the first four-year class in program history to not win a conference title.
Mount Ida was selected fourth in this year’s GNAC men’s lacrosse preseason poll, following a year in which they finished 11-5 and reached the conference title game as the #2 seed before falling to top-seeded Emmanuel. Along the way, the Mustangs ripped off a ten game win streak and compiled a 7-1 conference record.
“It’s easier to come off of a championship appearance like last year than it was going into last year when our sophomores didn’t know what it took to get it done. Now we are looking to get back and take that experience to do something different.”
The biggest impact players on this year’s team include captains Alex Veloukas (Salem, Mass.) and Steven Koziski (Peabody, Mass.), the anchors of the defensive unit. Koziski, an all-conference type defender who will be covering the opponent’s top attack all tem long, led the team with 23 caused turnovers a year ago, while Veloukas scooped 33 ground balls and caused nine turnovers and will bring a hard-working attitude to the back-line.
Coach Fink called his defensive midfield, led by Matt Hoffman (Brewster, N.Y.) and Cole Davis (Chester, N.H.) the heart and soul of the team. Both are juniors with elite experience and Hoffman scooped 34 ground balls last year, good for fifth on the team.
The goalie position will be one of the few to not feature a junior member, as sophomore Cam Hayward (Derry, N.H.) will step into a starting role after splitting time last season. In 12 games played with 10 starts, Hayward posted a 6-3 record with a 7.91 goals against average.
Junior Tommy Thompson (Schuylerville, N.Y.) will slot into a backup role to provide depth behind Hayward.
Back to the trend of junior contribution, the athletic long stick midfielders are juniors Ryan Trinque (East Greenwich, R.I.) and Cody Burdick (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.), who returns to the lacrosse field for the first time since high school. They will do well in between the lines and box to box for the Mustangs.
The attack-minded midfielders are highlighted by 2015 All-Conference Second Team selection Chad Coehlo (Salem, Mass.), who was second in the GNAC in assists with 15 while also scoring 11 times himself. He picked up 18 ground balls in 16 games and also caused six turnovers for the Mustangs. Joining Coehlo is senior Chris Kidger (Groton, Mass.), and juniors Jon Berry (Chichester, N.H.) and Peter Hardy (Tyngsboro, Mass.), who scored a dramatic game-winner to defeat Norwich in triple overtime a year ago.
A veteran unit headmans the Mount Ida attack with leading goal scorers Lucas Stralka (East Greenwich, R.I.) and Wyatt Sullivan (Arlington, Mass.) returning for their senior and junior seasons, respectively. Stralka notched a team-high 28 goals and 42 points a year ago and Sullivan was two goals behind him with 11 assists and 21 ground balls.
“I like that this team is battle tested – lots of teams can’t say that. Last year we won a lot of close games, triple overtime games and playoff games,” said Fink. “This team is not kids, so if we lose this year it’s not because we are inexperienced, it’s because someone’s better. If we win, it’s because we are veterans.”
Men’s lacrosse opens their season on Thursday when they travel to Newport, R.I. to play in the Frostbite Classic against the Salve Regina Seahawks. The season’s hope opener is on Saturday, March 12th at 3:00 pm against Wentworth, the second half of a double-header in which women’s lacrosse will also start their season.
Conference play begins with a rematch at the site of last year’s championship game as the Mustangs travel to Emmanuel on April 2nd for a noon start time, while home conference clashes this year include Rivier (April 6), Johnson & Wales (April 13th), Albertus Magnus (April 27th) and Anna Maria on April 30th, when Mount Ida will celebrate Senior Day.