(Photo Courtesy of Siena Athletics)
Siena watched two of its shots get blocked and two get saved in the final 1:25 of the MAAC semifinals against the No. 1 seed St. Bonaventure in what would be a 12-10, season-ending loss for the Saints. But while the Saints’ 2022 season ended in a loss, the year was far from one itself.
A season earlier, Siena went 0-8 against a conference-only schedule. And to make things sting a little more, all but one of those games were decided by two goals or less. So churning out a 6-9 (3-3 MAAC) season last spring that included making the conference tournament for the first time in a full, normal season since 2014 and going 1-1 against the top-seeded team in the league was a clear sign of growth for this squad.
With much of the Saints’ roster from a year ago back, including three of its five All-MAAC honorees from last season, many are looking for Liam Gleason’s program to take yet another step forward in 2023.
“Being able to get enough wins and do enough to take that next step and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2014 was a great step for the program,” Siena head coach Liam Gleason told Lacrosse Bucket. “Our goal is still obviously to make the playoffs in the MAAC but obviously this year we want to take it a step further and make it to that championship game and give ourselves an opportunity to make it to the NCAA Tournament…So our goal this year was to come in and ramp it up even more.”
The Saints will be looking to take that next step as a program in a MAAC that looks somewhat different from what it has known as the league expanded to 10 teams this summer with the additions of LIU, Mount St. Mary’s, Sacred Heart, VMI, and Wagner. The regular season conference slate and the conference tournament have been expanded following the addition of those newcomers.
Gleason said that while the changes to the conference won’t affect their approach, it does alter the way in which the season will unfold. Siena will play just four non-conference games this season as opposed to the nine it played a year ago. MAAC play begins a week or so earlier than normal on March 11th.
“Generally, you are building your schedule to have a strong out-of-conference schedule that is going to get you ready for the MAAC playoffs. Now there is a little less of that and you are going to start playing conference games earlier than ever…And we know we have some conference foes that we will have to prepare for that we aren’t as familiar with as our normal conference rivals.”
Over the years, the MAAC has garnered a reputation for being a league that is one of the more defensive-heavy in college lacrosse. Last season, the league featured four teams who ended the year as a top-20 scoring defense. That group included Siena, which featured a unit that allowed an average of 10.60 goals per game (16th in DI).
That trend should be expected to continue on the back end for the Saints this season, especially so with the return of goalie Christopher Yanchoris for a fifth season. A two-year starter, the Sykesville, Md., native is coming off a massive season last spring in which he made 210 saves with a 57.4% save percentage and was named a second-team All-MAAC selection.
“This will be his (Chris Yanchoris) third year as a starter for us and last year he really stepped up and showed what he could do at this level…He really has come in this year where he left off and really being that brick wall behind our back line,” Gleason said.
Ranking 6th in save percentage and 5th in saves per game at season’s end in 2022, Yanchoris is the most notable returnee for this Siena defense. However, he is far from the only impact player back on that end for the Saints. Trevor Marsala is a two-year starter at close and was an All-MAAC second-team selection last season. Brian Mack also returns after starting all 15 games at close last year. Sean Jeffery is Siena’s top returning LSM who, in addition to being the team’s leading pole in ground balls, netted a hat trick last spring.
All three of those aforementioned poles were sophomores last spring with Mack and Jeffery being first-time starters at their positions.
“When you are a defenseman and you have a goalie that can steal a couple saves, it certainly helps you play a more aggressive style and I think we have some good continuity [within the defense] now,” Gleason said.
Marsala and Mack are the top two returners for Siena’s close defensive group this season and will be looked upon as some of the team’s leaders and top playmakers on that end. Sophomore Andrew Rooney is expected to enter into the fold as the team’s third pole at close this season following a freshman campaign in which he saw action in nine games.
“They (Trevor Marsala and Brian Mack) are a 1A, 1B group,” Gleason said. “They are both a little different in their style of play, but they complement each other very well and we expect them to be big-time players for us on that end. Trevor is gonna be our guy that takes a little bit more chances and is good at putting the ball on the ground. Brian can be both. He can cover a team’s number one attackman for dodging but he can also be a good off-ball guy…And then we have Andrew Rooney who has really come in and took the reigns and is really doing a great job of complimenting those guys, too. He can come in and maybe be an off-ball guy and allow Trevor and Brian to go out there and be more aggressive.”
Junior midfielder Jack Erb is expected to step into that role as the Saints’ top two-way midfielder and complement that rope unit out in front. He served in a similar role last season behind an All-Conference honoree in Nick Pepe.
While Siena isn’t a team that will feature as inordinate an amount of new faces on the defensive end as some teams, that statement is less true when looking at the offensive end with only a handful of its top-10 point-getters from a year ago returning in 2023.
Sophomore Pratt Reynolds netted a team-high 33 goals last season while also dishing out eight assists en route to earning a unanimous selection as the MAAC Rookie of The Year. Christian Watts scored 32 goals and eight assists last season while spending time at both midfield and attack last spring and was also an All-Conference honoree. He returns for a fifth season of college lacrosse.
Transfers will play a big part in helping to fill those holes on offense as the Saints brought in Zac Shutte and Rocco Santillo as graduate transfers from Springfield and SUNY Brockport. Schutte is coming off a 91-point season last spring in which he was a NEWMAC All-Conference First-Team selection. Santillo had 44 points off 35 goals and nine assists last spring en route to earning First-Team All-Conference and Third-Team All-American honors. Will Edell also comes in as a transfer from Detroit Mercy, joining his cousin, Matt, on the Saints’ roster.
Schutte and Santillo are expected to make a sizable impact at the midfield this season playing alongside Watts. Jack Junior Cavaioli could also be in the mix there as well, along with the aforementioned two-way talent Jack Erb.
Of the holes that this Siena offense has coming into the season, the biggest is who will step into that role as the feeder for an offense filled with shooters and goal-scorers. Fifth-year George Rusnack, who has started 20 of his 39 career games at Siena at attack and came out of the box mostly last season, and sophomore Ryan McCarthy, who saw action on the man-up unit last season, look the most likely to fill that void.
“We expect him (Pratt Reynolds) to be a big scoring threat for us again…He can stretch a defense with his shot but also has some elite hands inside. Now is time to find some guys to put the ball in his stick,” Gleason said. “George Rusnack returns for his fifth year…Right now he has been a great leader for us on that end. He is a great ball handler and has been able to find Pratt. And then we have a sophomore who has come into the mix in Ryan McCarthy who has some real ability at feeding…He is really showing that growth from freshman year to sophomore year that he can handle that next step in his role as coming out now and being a starting attckman.”
No matter how this offense ends up looking this spring, it will likely be a unit that gets many extra possession with the edge at the faceoff dot that senior Dylan Pape gives the Saints. He went 144-for-269 (53.5%) as the primary option last season. He ranked second in the conference and 30th in DI in faceoff win percentage.
Siena will begin its 2023 season at home on February 11th against NJIT and opens MAAC play at home against Sacred Heart one month later on March 11th.
Gleason said the key for this team to put together the season it wants is to take it one game at a time and focus on getting better each and every day. “We have a great group of leaders that have been great at focusing on that aspect and making sure the young guys don’t get ahead of themselves.”