Young Griffs face must-win game

Don’t be satisfied. This is men’s lacrosse coach Randy Mearns’ message to his team as they prepare to take on Detroit in a must-win game to clinch a spot in the MAAC Championship.

The team last season certainly wasn’t satisfied. But that was a different group. That team also got off to a slow start, but scratched and clawed its way into the playoffs and eventually into the NCAA tournament. It faced two must-win games at the end of the regular season, but its never-say-die attitude powered them to the championship.

Last year’s Griffs included 16 seniors, including captains Justin Maderer, Jimmy Haney, Sean Callahan, Simon Giourmetakis, and other key players like Mike Allaire, and Ryan and Brendan O’Hagen.

“My hat’s off to that group,” Mearns said about his team last year. “They had a fantastic resolve [at the end of the year last year]. All the things that we asked as coaches in a game plan, they executed it, and when it got to the point that our backs were against the wall, that’s when they came together as a team.”

But this year those players have been replaced by freshman and sophomores who have been burdened with losses all season long. Those losses, however, have presented the young team with opportunities to improve during the struggles.

“We’ve had all these learning experiences,” Mearns said. “As we continue to correct and correct and correct and correct, guys have more understanding. The last two or three weeks we’ve started to perform on a more consistent basis.”

Instead of last year’s seniors, this edition of the Griffs is led by freshmen such as attackmen Vinny Gravino and Billy Jacobbi and defenders Rich Stapleton and Nick Tuttle.

Jacobbi specifically has been a catalyst offensively. He has played in the last five games after beginning the year as a redshirt. Over those games he has scored six goals in addition to collecting four assists.

“[Billy] continued to develop and work hard. All of the sudden it was like ‘wow, he just got a step on DJ [Giocobo]; he just dodged on Donner,” Mearns said about Jacobbi. “Billy came to my office and we had a conversation. I told him ‘You can help us this year. I think you can play’.”

Now when Mearns looks at his freshman, he doesn’t see them as rookies.

“They’re not freshman anymore. This season we’re 12 games in. They know how to play now. They’ve had these learning experiences, and for us to be successful all those experiences need to culminate into success on the field.”

While they have grown up fast, the team still lacks the veteran leadership it had last season. Even this year’s seniors find themselves in unfamiliar situations. As a junior last year, midfielder Joe Rautenstrauch was a key defender. Five games into this season, the coaching staff decided they needed his athleticism at attack.

“As a team we had to make a lot of changes leadership wise, but personally changing positions was a quick learning curve,” Rautenstrauch said.

Rautenstrauch talked about the roller coaster ride that was the MAAC Championship last season, including the final two weeks of the regular season. He credited the senior leadership for getting them where they needed to go. That’s something that will be missed down the stretch this year.

“It’s kind of just been leadership by committee,” Rautenstrauch said. “I’m one of the only seniors, so I’m trying to do my part. But we’re doing a good job and starting to find our groove.”

They’re finding their groove at the same time that last year’s team did and, despite the drastic changes in the experience and leadership of the team, they won’t be satisfied.

It starts Saturday, and Rautenstrauch expects the same the result.

“We’re gonna beat Detroit on Saturday,” he said. “You have to go in confident. If we can get in the tournament, which we will, I have no doubt that we’re gonna get a MAAC Championship.”

Rautenstrauch said he only is trying to do his part to lead the team, but his confidence is exactly the kind of leadership the younger players need.

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