(Photo Courtesy of Bryant Athletics)
Since 2007, Mike Pressler has been at the helm of Bryant lacrosse and the Bulldogs have seen, majority, nothing but success. Even in their transition to DI from DII in 2009, the Bulldogs continued their winning ways.
The Bulldogs joined the NEC in 2010 and have only missed one conference tournament (2019). In addition, they have won five NEC titles (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017) and made four NCAA Tournament appearances as a DI program, which includes their history upset over Syracuse in the first round of the 2014 tournament.
While Bryant has enjoyed much success on the field during the Pressler era, the past few seasons haven’t been up to the standard that many expect from the Bulldogs.
In 2019, they had their worst season in program history, going 3-11. And before the 2020 season was cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Bulldogs went 3-4. Their final game was an 18-16 defeat against No. 5 North Carolina in which the Bulldogs showed fight and promise against the top-five opponent.
What the Bulldogs showed in their final game of the shortened 2020 season may just have been a brief glimpse of what we could see from them in 2021. And with the departure of two-time defending NEC Champions Robert Morris from the conference, the door could be even more open for Bryant to make a climb back to the top, where they have sat for the majority of their stretch in DI.
And with as much talent coming back as they have, there is certainly plenty of optimism that they can achieve just that.
The Bulldogs will return seven full-time starters from last season, including their top two scorers in senior Marc O’Rourke (26G/7A) and redshirt sophomore Logan McGovern (12G/13A).
O’Rouke, who has been a primary piece of their offense for the past few seasons, and McGovern ran the show last season at the attack spot. And while the Bulldogs will lose their third-leading scorer in attackman Jake Buonaiuto due to graduation, bringing back those two is huge. Both have proved their worth and should carry most of the weight this coming season.
Sophomore attackman Kevin Groeninger (7G/5A) came onto the scene strong as a reserve attackman last season as a freshman and could find his way into that third attack spot in 2021.
The Bulldogs also return a heap of talent on the defensive end, as well. From their top two poles in redshirt junior Dante Pasqualoni (12GB/11CT) and senior Ryan Baker (14GB/9CT) to junior Luke Caracciolo (48.8 save percentage) returning in cage, the Bulldogs’ defense looks to be solid again in 2021.
During the shortened 2020 season, Caracciolo was second in the NEC in goals against average, allowing 10.67 goals per game. Additionally, the Bryant defense overall was the second least penalized team and had the second best penalty kill in the NEC, posting a penalty kill percentage of .722.
With the full-time starters that they have coming back, along with other big contributors, the Bulldogs’ defense should take another step in the right direction this coming season. And having Caracciolo in cage alone gives off arrays of confidence on the back end.
And while there is plenty of confidence at both ends for the Bulldogs coming into 2021, the same can be said at the faceoff dot.
Last season, Jack Ainger went 48-for-100 (48%) at the dot. While not fantastic, it is worth acknowledging that he didn’t take over as their primary faceoff man until their fifth game of the season against Manhattan. With three games as the full-time number one under his belt, he should only grow and be ready to take the next step forward. And if so, that will only aide this Bryant team in their quest to climb back to the top of the NEC.
With some experience returning on both ends and a possibly even bigger opportunity for a team to step into the limelight within the NEC, 2021 could very well be the year where Bryant climbs back to the top of the mountain and shows their face in May.