It Will Take Andy Whitley Time to Build at Bellarmine

(Photo Courtesy of Bellarmine Athletics)

The Bellarmine Knights have not had a winning season since 2014, when they went 7-5 (0-4) in the final year of the ECAC. Prior to that, they had only had two winning seasons in program history. In 2010 they went 9-6 (3-4) and in 2005, their inaugural season, they went 13-2 playing a schedule that featured DI, DII, and DIII opponents. 

At the end of the 2016, which was their second season in the SoCon, things looked like they might be going up for the Knights after making the postseason for the first time in program history, losing to Air Force by two goals in the conference semifinals.

But things ended up going in the opposite direction, as they went 4-9 (3-4) in 2017, 4-9 (2-5) in 2018. The 2019 season saw them go 3-10 (3-4) under first year head coach Jim Mitchell before he bounced. The Knights brought in Andy Whitley to lead the Knights ahead of the 2020 season and they posted a 2-6 record before the season was cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak. 

Whitley has a tough task ahead of him to build Bellarmine back to where they were in 2016. It can certainly be done, but it will take some time. And while 2020 wasn’t pretty, he has already made some progress just by sticking around. Inconsistency in coaching staffs has made many doubt the real ability of the program to be any more than an occasional competitor in conference. 

Personnel wise, it will be interesting to see the caliber of players that Whitley can lure to Bellarmine and keep on campus for the entirety of their four years. Which hasn’t always been the case with high-caliber players. The most high profile case is Austin Shanks transferring to Ohio State and helping lead the Buckeyes go to Championship Weekend in 2017. All-Conference Goalie Johnny Hulsman made a run for the Midwest, transferring to Marquette after a strong freshman campaign in 2018 and 2019 SoCon Freshman of the Year Riley Seay took his talents to Loyola. 

If he can achieve those two things, consistency on the field and keep star players around, Bellarmine can reach the heights that many believe they can in lacrosse. 

Coming into 2021, the jury is out on how good this squad can be. But they certainly have the talent to win more than just two games, and that was apparent in some of their close losses last season.

The Knights will return four of their top five scorers from last season. Senior attackmen Landon Trout (13G/10A) and Luke Legnard (13G/6A) have been two of the Knights’ top offensive threats over the past few seasons and are expected to continue playing at a high level in 2021. They should have the keys to the offense, once again. Senior Brayden Brown (13G/5A) will likely be the Knights’ third attackman and should take another step forward. 

Senior midfielder Griffin Bowie had a breakout season last year, tallying eight goals and five assists as a first year starter. Along with senior Blake Roshkowski, who can play both ways and is a transition threat, the Knights’ top two midfielders should provide some real stability and senior leadership from top to bottom on offense.

On the defensive end, the Knights’ will return starting goalie JC Higginbothom, who posted a 43% save percentage this past season. Senior LSM/D Jon Robbins (29GB/12CT) and defenseman Brendan Fennell (10GB/5CT) will both be back for an extra season. Junior Chase Fairbanks, who started all but one game at close defense, will be another impact returner that should take another step forward. 

While Bellarmine will have a ton of veteran presence all over the field this upcoming season, which should be a plus, there are still some areas where there isn’t too much optimism. Outside of power play situations, where they went 8-for-21 (38%) last season, faceoffs are the biggest question mark for the Knights heading into the season and could be the most detrimental things to their senior laden offense. 

The Knights haven’t had a primary faceoff man go 50% or higher at the faceoff dot since the 2016 season, when Connor Harryman went 59%. In their eight games last season, they used four guys but JT Simonton was their number one. He went 42-for-93 (45%). 

*Note: The NCAA has granted an extra year to spring sport athletes. However, a full of every senior returning is unknown. If you know an impact player who is returning but was not mentioned in the above article please comment, DM, or email us. Thanks*

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