Season Preview: Men's Lacrosse Looking To Take The Next Step

Thursday, February 16, 2012
 

Jay Salasko has noticed something different about Muhlenberg men’s lacrosse practice this season.

The senior defenseman said the preseason sessions have been a lot louder with noticeably more talking on the field than in years past.

Alex Ardolino
Ardolino ranks 11th in Mule history with 41 goals and 12th with 53 points.
That communication is important, he said, because the Mules, who open up the season at home against Montclair State at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, are trying to implement a more cohesive style of play this year.

“I know in the past we’ve struggled a little bit, but we want to change that this season,” he said. “I think our defense is pretty solid and our offense has improved since our first practice. We’re working better as a unit and trying to take our game to the next level. I think if we come together as a team, we can have a successful season.”

The measure of success, he said, is qualifying for the postseason. It’s no secret that the Centennial Conference is one of the toughest and deepest leagues in the country. And this year is no different with three teams ranked in the preseason top 20.

The Mules, who have played 17 one-goal games in the past three seasons, have been close in the past; they were still in playoff contention entering the final week last season. And Salasko’s freshman year they finished in a three-way tie for third place, but missed out on the postseason because of a tiebreaker.

The key to taking the next step, he said, will be offensive diversity and defensive continuity. But it all starts with getting possession, and the Mules should be as strong as any team in the conference when it comes to that.

Muhlenberg led the CC with a .588 winning percentage last season and welcomes back its top two faceoff men, led by first-team All-CC selection Nick Rispoli. A preseason honorable mention All-American, Rispoli is coming off the best faceoff season in Mule history, setting single-season records for faceoffs won (116), percentage (.614) and ground balls (75). He’s joined by junior Ian Jones, who gives the Mules a solid change-of-pace option. He ranked sixth in the CC with a .576 winning percentage last season.

Jonathan Fritog
Fritog caused a career-high 3 turnovers in last year’s season finale against Ursinus.
When Rispoli and Jones win faceoffs, they will have plenty of options to go to in the offensive end.

Seniors Alex Ardolino (16 G, 6 A) and Corey Aferiat (8 G, 3 A) and juniors Doug Rheiner (11 G, 3 A) and Jack Reilly (7 G, 7 A) scored at least 10 points apiece last season. Sophomore Tommy Glancy (5 G, 1 A) made a solid impact as a rookie, and according to Salasko, is poised for a breakout season, and junior AJ Diaz is looking to make the move from man-up specialist to regular contributor.

“We have had a lot of guys stepping up on offense, and I think our offense is meshing as a complete unit and spreading the ball around,” Salasko said. “I don’t think defenses will be able to focus on stopping just one or two guys, which should make us a lot harder to defend, because there are a number of guys that can score.”

Junior Michael Carpetto gives the Mules a versatile option in the midfield. He finished third on the team with 37 ground balls and added four goals last season.

On the defensive end, Muhlenberg welcomes back a wealth of experience, which it will rely on to help ease the transition in goal.

Salasko is one of four returning defensemen, along with classmate Jonathan Fritog (8 GB, 6 CT) and juniors Ian deRuiter (20 GB, 12 CT) and Zach Weiner (16 GB, 7 CT), who saw significant action last season. Sophomore James Monroe is also expected to make an impact in front of the goal.

The biggest question mark on defense, and perhaps on the entire team, is between the pipes, where the Mules have to replace a three-year starter. After an open competition, Salasko said junior James Fasola has taken the reigns and asserted himself as the top option.

And from what he’s seen so far, Salasko said Fasola should fill in just fine in the net, adding he is confident the defense can help lead the Mules to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

“If we are going to have success, it will have a lot to do with us gelling as a unit,” Salasko said. “We’ve been trying to guide Jimmy, and he’s starting to step up vocally as a leader and take control of the defense. I think we have the potential to be a strong defensive unit.

“Right now, we’re just trying to get better every day until the start of the season. We want to win games all season long and come through when we need to, which hasn’t always been the case in the past. We’ve got a lot of talent, and we’re ready to take the next step.”