The best word to describe last season for Montclair State University’s men’s lacrosse team: tumultuous. The last season came with restrictions, practice pods, not having locker rooms at away games and, of course, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But, they say a lot can change within a year.
Last season was met with ups and downs as the Red Hawks finished 7-5, ending 2021 with a tough 16-7 loss to their rival, Kean University, in the Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC) semifinal.
The home record did not help their cause as much either, with a 4-3 record in Red Hawk territory including losses against Kean, Cabrini University and Stockton University.
Senior midfielder Tim Elefonte had his “Stefon Diggs” moment last year, watching an elated Cougars team that eventually won the conference championship.
“You put in six months of hard work and lose to a team that you’ve seen three times already is frustrating,” Elefonte said. “But we use it for motivation.”
Senior attackman Tyler McCreery said the loss was tough for the team in general.
“It leaves a sour taste in our mouths,” McCreery said. “It’s motivation for next year. You look past it and remember how it felt to lose like that.”
This year, there are fresh faces to the program. Freshman Aidan Long and transfer Connor Gabilanes look to earn valuable minutes as Jacksonville University transfer Matt Holland wants to find a spark in the offense.
McCreery explains how different the lacrosse team is, and what the focus is for this upcoming season.
“This team has [done] a complete 180,” McCreery said. “Everyone has bought in, [including] freshman class, transfers, a strong senior group and a few fifth-year players. We remind them about the Kean loss and [how] it does not leave our heads.”
In comparison to past years, the team chemistry hasn’t been as strong as it could’ve been. This year has been different thus far.
“It’s a breath of fresh air to see everyone have team chemistry and connect,” Elefonte said. “We’re all friends and it’s nice to see it click.”
The jersey numbers will look different on both players. Elefonte will switch to No. 24 and McCreery will don No. 19. The team voted on who will wear these jerseys during the season, as they are given to seniors who exemplify leadership and character on and off the field within the program.
Namely, they represent two former coaches, Mike Schambach, who passed away in 2018 from a year-long battle with colon cancer, and John Greco, who passed away in 2010 after suffering a heart attack.
McCreery and Elefonte are both grateful they get to wear those numbers.
“These numbers are special, motivating and exemplify the coaching styles of those coaches, how they were as people and how much they cared about people,” McCreery said. “I’m thankful and honored.
Elefonte elaborated on why the number is so special to him.
“I grew up wearing No. 24 my whole life, so having something [like this] to honor coach Greco, I hope I can make him and his family proud,” Elefonte said.
Head coach Matt Poskay looks to ride momentum into his fourth season at the helm. With a career record of 21-14, Poskay explained how the team can adapt.
“Every year, there’s a new team trying to get better every day, [trying to] play well in-conference and out-of-conference and wanting to get a bid in the NCAA tournament,” Poskay said.
The Red Hawks return to their offensive prowess with senior attackman Christian Boyle, senior midfielder Joe Covino, senior Matt Dancsecs and junior Michael McCreery. The defense will be guided by fifth-year long stick midfielder Wilson Smith, who made First Team All-CSAC Honors, junior defenseman Tim Knutelsky and junior Jack Greco alongside Elefonte.
More pieces to the puzzle were gained as goalie David Metzger, a graduate transfer from Kenyon College, and Tom Roper, a graduate student from England will look to help balance out the Red Hawk’s depth.
Poskay says the team brings a lot of experience and that it will pay dividends from the previous year. While this team wants to win every game, they must also learn from tough outcomes.
“You learn from your wins and losses and even when you win, you don’t feel right,” Poskay said. “Having to work on the mistakes — it’s a whole combination of learning to get better, and no one has a perfect game.”
The Red Hawks start their 2022 season with three games on the road beginning on Feb. 22 with Vassar College. The date of May 1, 2021 still irks the program, but at the end of the day, it’s all about being 1-0.