By: Ryan Gasser, sports information director
COLUMBUS, Ohio – New system. New faces. New leadership. Is newer better? Capital University Men's Lacrosse certainly hopes so.
The 2019 campaign is going to be one of change for the Crusaders, but change is not necessarily a bad thing. A challenge? Maybe. But the challenge is what will make the journey and the prize at the end all the more worth it.
JUST A REMINDER …
Not to dwell on the past but the Crusaders will look to build upon a 2018 campaign in which they finished 9-7 overall, 5-3 in the Ohio Athletic Conference and made it to the conference tournament for the fifth consecutive season. This year, Capital has been picked to finish fourth in the new 10-team conference format following the addition of Marietta College.
IT BEGINS ON THE 'X"
With the shot clock being implemented into men's lacrosse that means more opportunities for the fast-paced Capital offense to score. But it does not go anywhere unless you win the draw. Junior Tyler Faig (Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington North) has the experience with over 700 faceoffs taken in his first two years. He took the most in the OAC last year and was third in faceoff wins (185) while possessing a 51.9 percent win rate on the X. He will return as the team's starting faceoff specialist.
"He is extremely dedicated to his craft," said Coach Marzano. "He is a workhorse and hit the weight room hard and is a film junkie."
Marzano also brought in some backup in all-state faceoff specialist Lake Harris (Lewis Center, Ohio/Olentangy Orange), and the two complement each other very well. While different in style, now Faig has a "sparring partner" of which he can both teach and learn from to improve both of their games.
"All we just have to do at this moment is find good chemistry with their wing play and we'll rely on a lot of other short stick middies to get out there and our LSMs to get out there and win some ground balls for those guys," said Marzano.
ON THE ATTACK …
It is a new era for Capital goal scorers and a new number one offensive option will emerge. That player will be junior attackman CJ Hughes (Cincinnati, Ohio/Walnut Hills), who last year scored 48 goals and tallied a team-high 22 assists (70 points). He was very active on the other end as well, collecting 28 ground balls and causing seven turnovers. The sharpshooting lefty will present challenges for opposing defenses, not just because of his southpaw tendencies but also because he has been bulking up and sharpening his game through the summer via the Ohio Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (OCBLL) as one of the league's leading scorers.
While two of the top three scorers for Capital will not return due to graduation, they will return someone who has been a very prominent part of Capital offenses of the past. Senior Ryan Rampi (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Darby) returns to the lineup after missing much of last season due to various injuries. In 2017, Rampi started 15 of 16 games, scored 27 goals and recorded 21 assists as a sophomore. As a freshman he played mainly as a reserve but still managed to score 21 goals in 18 games played.
Talbott Gottwals (Columbia, Md./Atholon) is one of the harder Crusaders to guard, especially without the ball. Marzano cites that he will give him freedom to move in space and create opportunities around the field. In 13 games last season, Gottwals scored nine goals and added nine helpers as a reserve.
Marzano will also mix in freshmen Jack Scharner, Griffin Rich, and Spencer Towne who he cites are all shifty and fast, which provides a lot of options both for them individually as well as for the team's strategy.
IN THE MIDDLE …
The addition of the 80-second shot clock in Division III men's lacrosse will add a new element to the game which will benefit Capital on both sides of the field. Athleticism will take a team a long way, and Capital has plenty of it.
The idea of the "two-way middie" is that a player can transition from one side of the field to the other in order to play both offense and defense. Coach Marzano says three guys stick out that can handle the two-way midfielder responsibilities: senior Barrett Naugle (Champion, Pa.), junior Luke Wyatt (Springboro, Ohio/Springboro), and junior Carter McCormick (Horseheads, N.Y./Horseheads). All three share similar traits in that they are fast, have great endurance, and are smart players. Naugle ranked fourth on the team with 32 ground balls and 12 caused turnovers, but with him being on the field more often fans can expect to see those numbers rise. On the offensive side, he scored 17 goals and tallied six assists.
Wyatt returns to Capital after a sophomore hiatus, but Crusader fans got a preview of what he can provide in 2017. He played in all 16 games as a freshman, scored six goals, two assists, and provided a very physical presence when called upon on the defensive front. He is primarily known as an offensive threat but will maintain his two-way ability and title.
McCormick has played in a reserve role over the last two seasons and will now step up to see more reps and minutes. He scored three goals and nine assists on the offensive side, and picked up 13 ground balls with three caused turnovers in a defensive role.
The more traditional midfielder roles have many familiar faces competing for the remaining spots.
Ed Carroll (Fairfield, Ohio/Fairfield) played in six games last year but is noted as one that will contribute as an offensive-minded midfielder, who came on later in the year to see additional minutes. Freshman Zack Heflin (West Chester, Ohio/Bishop Fenwich) has dazzled in fall ball and is sure to factor in on the attack.
Defensive short stick midfielders are not in short supply for Cap. Fifth-year senior Danny Needham (Medford, Mass./Arlington Catholic) returns after missing last season with a foot injury, but will be a key leader that displays the best of the Purple and White both on and off the field.
Sophomore Dylan Comella (Powell, Ohio/Olentangy Liberty) will move up into the midfield after splitting time there and on the backline as a freshman. Juniors Nick Latshaw and Noah McCarty will also factor into the equation at short stick defensive midfield.
The long stick defensive midfield position looks to also show what may be a year-long competition. But one name does stand out and that is freshman Jack Conley (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Darby).
"He can face off. He can play wing. He is a crazy athlete, is very, very fast. He has a "yes sir" mentality and is a competitor," said Marzano.
With a strong fall, Conley could be the favorite to suit up early but junior Sam Schooley, plus sophomores Doc Crimmel and Adam Scherman have experience that will be valuable when reps come their way.
DEFENSE A KEY …
Defensemen are often overlooked in the success of a team but you cannot put a value on experience. Two of the three defenseman spots will be occupied by multi-year returning starters in Christopher Yeager (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Darby) and Connor Ryan (Westerville, Ohio/Olentangy Orange).
Yeager may not pop off the page due to battles with injuries over the last two seasons but when healthy he is noted as being one of the league's top close defensemen. Coach Marzano notes that his speed and cover ability make him a tough assignment to navigate for opposing offenses.
Ryan, who assumed a starting role midway through his freshman season, has been getting more physical and using the experience gained early to be a force underneath. He led the team and finished inside the top five in the OAC in caused turnovers (28), and finished second on the squad with 44 ground balls.
The third defensive spot is still up for grabs but only because the competition for it has heated up throughout camp. In the group of Crusaders looking to rotate in and possibly earn that spot are transfer Jake Fisher, junior Sam Schooley, sophomores Nick Werhya and Hunter Knipp, and freshman Zach Whaley. Werhya and Schooley both saw time throughout the season last year while Fisher and Whaley look to take their first steps on the field this season. Whaley also has some additional experience working with Ryan on the defensive front after spending the summer playing alongside one another in the OCBLL, where together they won its inaugural championship.
"We're about six or seven guys deep at that position," said Marzano. "It's going to be a tough decision, a fun decision, but we're also happy that we can run a lot of guys at defense if needed. They have their own skills and traits that we like. We just have to go game to game and make sure we find the right matchups for everybody."
BETWEEN THE PIPES …
Senior TJ Johnson (Champlin, Minn./Champlin Park) has been waiting for this moment for three years, and now the spotlight is his. After serving as a backup for the bulk of his career, Johnson has seen his fair share of shots but is now ready to make them count in game day situations.
"It's funny, with Cole [Palmby] and TJ I thought we did have two of the better goalies in the whole conference but only one could play," said Coach Marzano. "What we've seen in the early season … he is more than ready."
Last year, Johnson saw action in four games for a total of 110:20 but allowed just seven goals, good for a 3.81 goals-against average (GAA) and 72.0 percent save mark. In his career, he has appeared in 22 contests, has made 48 saves, and sports a 5.01 GAA.
Two freshmen will back up Johnson and each has been taking large numbers of shots to prepare them for a battle that will likely be similar to what Johnson and former standout Cole Palmby displayed for three years. Charlie Farmer and Josh Snyder each have their own strengths and with the leadership and example shown by Johnson, both will show continued development from what Marzano called "an exceptional fall".
MOVING ON … (OC)
One major player will be missing from years past and that is two-time Ohio Athletic Conference Player of the Year, Brennan O'Callaghan. The numbers will certainly be tough to replace, but what the standout graduate O'Callaghan left behind is an intangible that can be passed down for many more classes to come.
"You don't really replace an OC. He has left his legacy with these guys and the thing that he has left with our team the most that our program will never forget, ever, is his work ethic."
The "next man up" is unquestionable junior attackman CJ Hughes who has waited for his turn to be the number one offensive option, and now is his time.
One Crusader has been waiting in the wings for three years and has only sparingly got the opportunity to showcase his skills, but 2019 will be his year. Senior goalie TJ Johnson played behind four-time First Team All-OAC'er Cole Palmby, but there is no question in Coach Marzano's mind that Johnson is ready for the spotlight.
"What people don't know is that there was a heated competition here for three solid year with his [Palmby] backup, TJ Johnson," said Marzano. "He [TJ] and Cole have just worked together for so long and he has been ready to take over."
Coach Marzano recognizes that a team without a 60-goal scorer or an established goalie will be different, but he also realizes that year to year every team is different in its strengths and weaknesses. So in 2019, the team will be tailored to its current skill sets, which involves more experienced midfielders, a few new key contributors, and new leadership that learned from one of the best.
OH CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAINS …
The Crusaders will be led by a trio of returners that have over the course of the offseason been voted by their peers to serve as captains this season. Those individuals are senior midfielder Barrett Naugle, junior midfielder Luke Wyatt, and junior attackman CJ Hughes.
Marzano on Barrett Naugle: "… he is the fastest kid on the planet. He is hilarious. He does everything you want. He is an all-around student-athlete at Capital University. He leads by example. He is going to keep it calm when I keep it intense. He is a guy that is always there for his teammates."
Marzano on CJ Hughes: " … CJ brings a lot to the table. The thing that impresses me since I've been here since day one is his work ethic … his work ethic, to a T, is picture perfect. I don't know that you can outwork CJ Hughes much … I think the world of him."
Marzano on Luke Wyatt: " … he just outworks everybody. He has kind of guided us and helped us not change but make this culture even better. He has made a huge, huge impact on us in his two semesters here and starting his third one."
THE ROAD AHEAD …
Capital opens up the season on Saturday, February 23 when they host Kenyon College at Bernlohr Stadium at 12 p.m. The Crusaders seek their first win over an established Lords program in its fourth overall meeting.
Four of its seven nonconference games will be against North Coast Athletic Conference opponents including DePauw University, The College of Wooster, and Wittenberg University. They will open the OAC slate on the road with a tough task in Berea against the Baldwin Wallace Yellow Jackets on March 23.
The team's OAC home opener will be on March 30 when they host Muskingum University. sOther marquee matchups include its first meeting with first-year program Marietta (April 3), another road challenge with defending OAC Champion John Carroll University (April 6), a rivalry showdown with Otterbein University (April 13), and a matchup with preseason favorite Ohio Northern University on (April 19).