In Year Two of The Baxter Era, Offense Looks to Carry The Stags

(Photo Courtesy of Fairfield Athletics)

The Fairfield Stags have made two NCAA tournament appearances in program history, 2002 and 2005. Both seasons saw them churn out winning seasons, be ranked in the top 20, and make appearances in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Since 2005, the Stags have not made a return trip to the big dance but they have been pretty dang close to doing so. In 2015, Fairfield made the CAA Tournament for the first time in program history and fell in the semifinals. The following season, in 2016, the Stags reached the CAA championship game, where they fell to Towson, 4-2, in what many remember as one of the slowest games of the decade.

Fairfield has not even gotten close to sniffing the postseason since that loss in the CAA title game to end the 2016 season. The Stags have finished 5th, 6th, and 6th again in the final three season of the Andy Copelan era. And while they certainly weren’t talent inept across the board, they just couldn’t seem to put a full season together and dig themselves out of this losing rut.

Heading into the 2020 season, it marked the beginning of a new era for Fairfield lacrosse: the Andrew Baxter era. Coming from Yale, where he served as the defensive coordinator and helped lead the Bulldogs to two consecutive national championship appearances, including a title victory in 2018, Baxter appears to already have the Stags on the right track.

In just his first year, Fairfield went 5-2 before the season was ultimately cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak. And like multiple other first year head coaches around the country, the 2021 season will look very much like a second year zero for Baxter. And while the field looks to be stacked against them in the CAA with teams like Delaware, UMass, Drexel, and other bringing back a heap of veteran experience, Fairfield could very well end up surprising some in year two under Baxter.

While there is no confirmation on any seniors coming back for an extra season like some other programs, the Stags will have a pretty decent amount of their contributor back from last season.

Offensively, the Stags will be returning three of their top five scorers from last season in junior attackman Brian Reda (7G/20A), junior midfielder Taylor Strough (24G/2A), and sophomore midfielder Bryce Ford (16G/9A). Sophomore attackman Patrick Drake (8G/10A), who was their sixth leading scorer, will also be returning in 2021.

The Stags boasted the best offense in the CAA last season, averaging 16.43 goals per game. Returning this much production is huge, and if they can take a full step together as a unit and avoid Ford or Drake having a sophomore slump, Fairfield could be sitting in a very similar position on offense as they were this season. And if that is indeed the case, CAA defenses may want to take note because they won’t be flying under the radar as much as they seemed to be this past season.

In addition, while there have been no reports of his return, there is a chance that Dylan Beckwith could be coming back for a fifth season. And if he indeed does, that is a major win for this Stags squad and their offense could be beyond what anyone can foresee at this very moment.

Frankie Labetti’s success at the faceoff dot last season was a huge factor in the success of the Stags’ offense. Serving as Fairfield’s primary faceoff man for the past few seasons, Labetti went 107-for-195 (55%) and looks to continue his success in 2021.

While the Stags have a great core group of guys back on offense and the success at the faceoff dot should be there to give them ample possessions, the biggest question mark as to how soon Fairfield can be good lies on the defensive end. The Stags were virtually the worst defense in the CAA and one of the worst in the nation, ranking 66th in scoring defense.

Giving up 15.57 goals per game is not something that any coach takes lightly, no matter how good or effective your offense may be. As the ld adage goes, defense wins championships.

Seniors George Elmquist (9GB/7CT) and Lucas Pedersen (12GB/5CT), a Texas and Washington native, are their top two returning poles. While they each put together pretty solid seasons during the seven games the Stags played, they will both need to step up even more as seniors in 2021 if this defense was any chance at improving.

James Corsaniti, who has been the Stags’ primary starter in cage since his freshman season in 2019, led the CAA in saves per game last season with an average of 13.86. However, he was second to last in the conference in save percentage, going .473% in that category.

While Corsaniti was left out to dry by the guys in front of him multiple times per game last season, he must take another step forward with this entire defense in 2021. And while things weren’t pretty on the back end this past season for the Stags, this unit certainly has the ability to take a step forward after a a year, albeit s short one, under their belt with this new staff. Year two could be totally different. And if so, this Fairfield team could certainly pull off some surprises.

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