You all requested it and you are getting it. Here are the storylines coming into the 2019 season from DIII and NAIA schools around the state of Kentucky.
Obviously the biggest college storyline in Kentucky this season is at Bellarmine with Jim Mitchell coming in as the new head coach and looking to build the Knights into a consistent SoCon power.
There is more college lacrosse action around the Bluegrass state than just the Bellarmine Knights. In Kentucky there are two NCAA DIII schools and three NAIA schools that currently field men’s lacrosse teams.
So here are the storylines for every Kentucky DIII and NAIA men’s team coming into the 2019 season.
Entering the Heartland Conference Era can The Success Continue For Transylvania?
2019 is a big year for the Transylvania Pioneers as they, and the rest of their counter parts, will be entering a new conference for lacrosse. Over the past five years the Ohio River Lacrosse Conference (ORLC) served as the conference for both men’s and women’s lacrosse programs whose schools were in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) and President’s Athletic Conference (PAC). All of the schools in both conferences are in the upper south and midwest.
Both of those conferences are finally sponsoring lacrosse so all of those teams will be in their school’s main conference for lacrosse just like other sports. Both conferences will get auto-bids to the NCAA tournament just like they did in the ORLC the past two seasons.
Transylvania has been on an upward trend ever since the programs inception in 2013 as the Pioneers have never had a losing season and have made the NCAA tournament two seasons in a row and won the ORLC all four years it was in existence. As the Pioneers enter a new conference with five familiar foes they look to replicate the same success and go even further. The next big goal for the Pioneers is to win their first NCAA tournament game as they have been pounced in the first round by Hampton-Sydney and Washington and Lee in 2017 and 2018.
Coming off of a 12-7 season in 2018 the Pioneers return a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Their biggest returner is junior LSM T.J. Toivonen. The Sherwood, OR native was one of the main contributors for the Pioneers last season with 55 caused turnovers, 97 ground balls, 4 assist, and 14 goals. Toivonen was voted as the ORLC Defensive player of the year and selected by the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IMLCA) as an All-Region defense honorable mention for the Mid-Atlantic region.
In addition to Toivonen the Pioneers have a lot of talent coming back. On offense the Pioneers return three of their top five scorers in junior attackman/midfielder Trenton Sneed, senior attackman Nic Bailey, and sophomore midfielder Kayd Aquino. In 2018 Sneed tallied 70 points (26G,44A), Bailey had 39 points (27G,12A), and Aquino ended the year with 30 points (22G,8A).
On the defensive side of the field they return a lot of firepower with junior Ben Kraft, senior Logan Fogle, and others. Kraft had 20 caused turnovers and 34 ground balls last season while Fogle had 11 caused turnovers and scooped up 44 ground balls. In goal to anchor the defense sophomore Michael Webb looks to improve on what was a fantastic freshman campaign where he racked up 144 saves with a 50.2 save percentage.
At the faceoff dot Transylvania returns junior Paul Stickel. The Louisville, KY native and Trinity alum went 171-309 at the faceoff dot with last season. Stickel currently sits 6th all-time in career faceoff percentage at Transylvania with a current career percentage of .542.
The Pioneers look poised to have another great season, win their conference, and get their third trip to the NCAA tournament. Transylvania will open the 2019 season on February 20th at home against Augustana (IL). Their first ever HCAC conference game will be at home on March 13th against Hanover.
How Can Centre Continue to Improve Under Zimmerman?
The Centre Colonels underwent a big change this season as Grant Zimmerman was hired as the new head men’s lacrosse coach at Centre. Zimmerman was a standout goalie at North Carolina and comes to Centre after being an assistant at Denison for three season where he helped lead them to an NCAA Final-Four appearance in 2017.
With this new energy that coach Zimmerman brings to Centre the Colonels look to continue to improve in 2018 and beyond.
The Colonels have been going up ever since the programs inception in 2011. The Colonels were the first college lacrosse team in Kentucky to make it to a national tournament when they made the NCAA tournament in 2013. Since that season the Colonels haven’t won their conference, Southern Athletic Association (SAA), as they look to get back to being in the NCAA tournament once again. As the Colonels enter the Zimmerman era the future looks bright as they look to become a perennial contender in the SAA year after year.
Coming into 2019 off of a 7-8 2018 season where the Colonels lost to Birmingham Southern in the first round of the SAA tournament they return a lot of young talent on both sides of the ball.
On offense the Colonels will be led by sophomore attackmen Nick Maluby, Anthony DiMichele, and senior attackman Leland Gray. Last season Maulby led the team with 34 points (27G,7A) while DiMichele tallied 30 points (15G,15A), and Gray put up 25 points (19G,6A). On the defensive end the Colonels will be looking to junior’s Adam Johnson and James Silva to lead the way. Johnson tallied 13 caused turnovers and 22 ground balls last season while Silva had 13 caused turnovers and scooped up 24 ground balls.
At the faceoff dot the Colonels return junior Lucas Mozingo who went 119-231 last season. Sophomore Jonathan Pharies will also get some reps as well again this season. The biggest hole for Centre is in goal as they lose Sam Long who was a two-time USILA DIII All-American Honorable Mention and played in the USILA North vs South DII/DIII game last season. Long was also the first ever All-American in Centre lacrosse history. Junior Jack Perryman looks to be the guy to replace Long as he played about 50 minutes last season across three games. Perryman had 5 saves and didn’t allow a single goal.
Entering a new era of Centre Colonels lacrosse they have a lot of youth and energy coming into this season. They will open the 2019 season on February 17th at home against Wittenberg. Centre will open SAA conference play on March 16th on the road against Sewanee.
With A New Head Coach in Year Two, What Can Union Achieve?
The Union Bulldogs are entering their second season as a program. They also have the rarity of having a new head coach in their second year as well. Jeremy Strunk will lead the Bulldogs in 2019 after being an assistant at Aquinas (MI) for one season. Strunk was a high school coach for Hudsonville (MI) as well. He played in the MCLA D2 at Grand Valley State. Strunk brings some new young energy into lead this very young program and build the foundation.
Union comes into the 2019 season after a 2018 campaign where they went 0-13. The Bulldogs look to be much improved after a season of growing pains in year one. With a lot of youth back on this Bulldogs squad they should be able to improve off of last season. Competing in the tough Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) will be a challenge for sure as the AAC is one of the best, if not the best, NAIA conferences in lacrosse.
The Bulldogs schedule on the AAC website only shows three games at the moment and Union hasn’t uploaded their schedule on their athletics website yet. (weird right?)
Can Asbury Get Over The Hump in Year Four?
The Asbury Eagles come into the 2019 season looking to keep improving in year four of the program. The Eagles are now in their second year under head coach Ben Murhphy as he looks to get this young program off the ground and running full speed ahead.
Asbury is still looking to get to at least that .500 win percentage mark as they haven’t won more than four games since playing a full NAIA schedule. They will also be looking to get more than three conference wins. Asbury competes in the tough Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) which is one of the best, if not the best, NAIA conferences in lacrosse.
The Eagles have a lot of young talent back on both sides of the field this season. They will open the 2019 season at home against Aquinas (MI) on February 23rd.
Cumberlands Continues to Rise as A Powerhouse
In the mountains of eastern Kentucky a NAIA lacrosse powerhouse is on the rise and ready to take the next step. The University of the Cumberlands have been dominant over the past few seasons as head coach Pete Campbell has built a winning culture in just four years.
Cumberlands enters the 2019 season, their fifth as a program, after a 2018 season where they reached new heights of making the NAIA Invitational where they lost to Madonna in the second round after beating Siena Heights in the first round, and finished the season ranked 4th in the country. Cumberlands looks to get back to the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) championship game and the NAIA Invitational in 2019.
Cumberlands has a lot of talent returning from last year’s groundbreaking season. On offense the Patriots return their top three point scorers from last season in sophomore attackman Caleb Elerick, sophomore midfielder Dylan Crouch, and junior attackman Sam Collinson. Elerick tallied 53 points (26G,27A) last seaso to lead the team while Crouch had 39 points (25G,14A) and Collinson had 36 points (22G,14A). On defense senior Nick DiFranco and sophomore Jake Morgan look to lead the way among others on that end of the field. DiFranco had 43 caused turnovers and scooped up 116 ground balls last season while Morgan tallied 42 caused turnovers and 82 ground balls in 2018.
At the faceoff dot senior Kody Swann will be back to take the majority of the draws in 2019 after going 206-328 at the faceoff dot last season. In goal junior Will Settle looks to improve off of a good freshman campaign where he made 164 saves with a .590 save percentage. The Patriots have a lot back and they look poised to make another run at the NAIA Invitational and maybe go further than last season.