(Photo Courtesy of Centre Athletics)
Danville, Ky. is known across the Bluegrass as “The City of Firsts.” It served as the first capital city of Kentucky and was the site of the writing and signing of the first Kentucky constitution, housed the first courthouse in the state, and was even the first city west of the Allegheny Mountains to have a U.S. Post Office.
On May 15th, 2021, Danville added a few more firsts to its resume as Centre College was one of the host sites for the first round of the NCAA DIII men’s lacrosse tournament, marking the first time postseason NCAA lacrosse has come to the Bluegrass State. The Colonials went on to win their game, upsetting No. 14 seed Denison 12-11 to record their first-ever NCAA Tournament win in program history and becoming the first team from Kentucky to do so.
While the Colonels went on to lose to 16-seeded Colorado College the very next day 19-6, the 2021 season was still one for the record books that will be remembered for years to come.
Centre ended the year with a program-best 12-2 record (5-0 SAA), which included a fourth-quarter rally against in-state rival Transylvania, and as SAA champions.
“Last year was definitely a historic season for us,” Centre Head Coach Grant Zimmerman told Lacrosse Bucket in an interview. “There were a lot of things that came last year that we hadn’t been able to do as a program in the past and to be honest a lot of it is a credit to the guys on the team and the work they put in…The senior class was very strong for us and their leadership was some of the best that I have had in my 10 years of coaching.”
On top of their overall team success, the Colonels saw 13 players earn All-SAA honors, including six first-team All-Conference selections. Attackman Will Hubbs was named the conference’s Offensive Player of The Year, goalie Willis McCutcheon Defensive Player of The Year, and head coach Grant Zimmerman was named the SAA Coach of The Year for the second time in his three seasons in Danville.
Additionally, McCutcheon and two-way midfielder Jack Shannon were both named USILA DIII All-American Honorable Mention.
Coming off as historic of a year as the one the Colonels just did, the expectations for this program are as high as they have ever been in its 11 years of existence. And those high expectations aren’t coming from folks just around the Commonwealth or the SAA, but nationally. USA Lacrosse just put out their DIII preseason rankings in which Centre came in at No. 16.
But while there is the expectation that the Colonels will find success again in 2022, this year’s squad will look a bit different than last year’s. But there are some major returners back from last season in Will and Ian Hubbs on attack and defense, as well as goalie Willis McCutcheon in between the pipes.
“The Hubbs boys have been huge for us as far as being a consistent presence over the past few years and it works out very well that one is a defenseman and one is an attackman. I credit a lot of the success we’ve had to the work those two have done on and off the field, and we are better because of that and how they take care of business on game day.”
The younger Hubbs, Will, is one of only two returning top-five and four top-10 point-getters for the Colonels from a year ago. The junior out of Louisville has been the leading point-getter for this team over the past two years and is coming off a season last spring in which he put up 59 points off 38 goals and 21 assists in his first full season of college lacrosse.
Ian, the eldest Hubbs, is a three-year starter at close and the top returning pole for the Colonels. He is coming off a season a year ago in which he recorded 30 caused turnovers and 31 ground balls.
McCutcheon returns as the anchor to this defense, which was a top-15 unit in DIII a year ago, allowing just 6.93 goals per game. As a first-year starter, McCutcheon not only continued the tradition of good goalie play at Centre, but soared as he made 144 stops with a .634% save percentage. He finished the year ranked seventh nationally in goals-against average (6.52) and ninth in save percentage.
“It was huge for him to step up last year because we graduated a defensive player of the year [Connor Jongewaard] and then Willis took over and we didn’t lose a step,” Zimmerman said. “He stayed in the cage and did everything we asked, if not more, and we have high expectations for him this year.”
In addition to those three, the Colonels will also return their top option at the faceoff dot in Dylan Croft. The Towson, Md. native made his presence known as a freshman, going 138-for-214 (.645%) at the dot a year ago.
Croft, along with attackman Ridr Knowlton (18G/87A) and defenseman Robbins Graham (25GB/9CT), is one of multiple guys who saw a lot of clock last season and was a key part of this team as a freshman, and will be expected to continue that success as part of a squad that is going to be much younger this spring.
“This year we are a lot younger than we have been in the past, and especially opposed to last season where the bulk of the team was upperclassmen (juniors and seniors). The bulk of the team now is freshmen and sophomores,” Zimmerman said. “It will be key just how quick some of these younger guys adapt to the college game…they will be playing a lot more minutes and be asked to a lot more than they have ever done, and do things that they have probably never done before.”
Coach Zimmerman said he expects this team to take some lumps early in the season, but that things will hopefully smooth out and begin to click once they get into SAA play.
Centre starts their season on the road on February 12th against Wittenberg before having their home-opener a week later against Elmhurst. They begin conference play at Berry on March 19th.