GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- After a frustrating conclusion to the 2018 season, the Tusculum University men's lacrosse team is eager to restore itself as an up-and-coming program in the South Atlantic Conference for 2019.
Head coach Richard Carrington will begin his sixth season along with his Pioneers on Saturday, Feb. 2 at Pioneer Field against nationally-ranked Limestone, kicking off a 13-game regular season that includes seven home games and eight SAC contests.
Tusculum will move forward without five of its top seven scorers from last season who were lost to graduation. The quintet -- Nate Wade, Dallas Wade, Andrew Kransberger, Chris Ryan and Tyler Klarner -- each ranks among the top six in program history in career goals, assists and points.
"We have to consistently win ground balls at the midfield and in our defensive end, and clear the ball successfully the first time," said Carrington. "We also need to be competitive at the faceoff dot and take pride in our stick work. It is important that we focus on being better in April than we were in January."
Tusculum finished 4-9 overall and 2-6 in the South Atlantic Conference last season, but were tied in the fourth quarter of three of their losses.
Junior Liam Macdonald is the top returning scorer for the Pioneers, coming off a season in which he scored 19 goals and had eight assists for 27 points. Macdonald (Coquitlam, B.C.) scored at least one goal in 11 of the Pioneers' 14 games last season, including three in wins over Alabama Huntsville and Newberry. His 40 career goals rank eighth in program history, as do his 63 points.
The only other attackman with collegiate experience is sophomore Braden Elam. Last season, Elam (Maineville, Ohio) appeared in eight games and collected two goals and an assist for three points, all coming in a 24-7 win over Shorter.
Joining the program this season are freshmen Giovanni Berardis (Cape May Court House, N.J.), Sean Dunn (Palm Harbor, Fla.), Trevayne Hunter (Aldergrove, B.C.), Kale Lawrence (Kaleden, B.C.), Nate Raymond (Traceys Landing, Md.) and Cody Webb (Naples, Fla.).
Senior Keegan Bell was named honorable mention All-SAC last season after contributing 17 goals and 11 assists for 28 points. Bell (Port Coquitlam, B.C.) had goals in 12 of the Pioneers' 13 games including the winner in double overtime at Newberry. He ranks seventh in program history in goals (44), assists (31) and points (75).
Sophomore Ethan Bohannon emerged as the Pioneers' faceoff man early in the season, and finished the year at 46.5 percent (107-for-230) at the dot overall and 46.9 percent in conference matches. Bohannon (Marietta, Ga.) had a dominating 26-for-31 performance on draws against Coker and was 14-for-19 against Mars Hill, 12-for-15 against Shorter and 12-for-20 versus Alabama Huntsville.
Two newcomers could have an immediate impact for the Pioneers in redshirt freshman Josh Pickford and junior transfer AJ Hems. Pickford (Victoria, B.C.) sat out last season but is expected to be a contributor for the Pioneers this year. Hems (Laurens, S.C.) played two seasons at Roberts Wesleyan in Rochester, New York, where he had 14 goals and 10 assists as a freshman and 12 goals and five assists last year as a sophomore.
Senior Charles Mills (Hamburg, N.J.) has appeared in 36 career matches, making 13 starts, and had one goal in eight games last year. Junior Trey Carney (Lexington, Ky.) has made 11 career appearances with seven ground balls, and junior Campbell Holley (Trussville, Ala.) has played in five career games.
Several sophomores return with game experience from last year, including Lorenz Brown (Charlottesville, Va.) who played in 11 games as a freshman. Riley Burns (Ft. Mitchell, Ky.) played in six games a year ago and had two assists along with four ground balls, and Luke Doehring (Ft. Knox, Ky.) had an assist in three games. Nash Johnson (Kennesaw, Ga.) and Dawson Lovejoy (Farmington, N.Y.) also saw game time last year, with Lovejoy appearing in eight matches and Johnson three.
Freshmen additions to the midfield position are Will Cookman (Nanaimo, B.C.), Jordan Daniel (Langley, B.C.), Nathan Fraser (Kamloops, B.C.), Andy Michalski (Victoria, B.C.) and Addison Wilkins (Moore, S.C.).
Edgar (Port Coquitlam, B.C.) played in all 13 games last year and led the Pioneers with 14 caused turnovers. Edgar also ranked third on the team with 28 ground balls, pushing his career total to 87 in 28 career games which ranks ninth in program history. Edgar is tied for fourth in career caused turnovers with 30.
McKitrick (Aldergrove, B.C.) made nine starts last year and collected 17 ground balls while forcing nine turnovers. He has 36 career ground balls and is tied with Edgar with 30 career caused turnovers in 24 career contests.
Coleman (Kill Devil Hills, N.C.) appeared in 12 games last year and made 12 starts, finishing fifth on the team with 23 ground balls and tied for second with McKitrick with nine caused turnovers.
Also returning on defense are junior Jordan Mauro (Montgomery, N.Y.), who played in seven games last season and had seven ground balls, along with sophomore Tanner Deck (Saskatoon, Sask.) who had two ground balls in seven contests. Sophomores Austin Poteet (Signal Mountain, Tenn.) and Zach Earp (Burlington, N.C.) each saw action in a pair of matches last year for the Pioneers.
Joining the program is junior Noah Jessey (McLean, Va.) who started 14 games at Davis & Elkins in 2017 and had 42 ground balls and a team-high 23 caused turnovers. Freshmen on defense include Brent Floyd Jr. (Glen Burnie, Md.), Freddy Harbinson (Okanagan Falls, B.C.) and Tyler Nunenmacher (Mandeville, La.).
Sophomore Patrick Thomas (Tega Cay, S.C.) started 10 of the Pioneers' 13 games and compiled a 3-6 record with an 11.73 goals against average. Thomas had a .506 save percentage and made a season-high 21 stops against Catawba in the season finale. Thomas also had 15 saves in a 10-9 loss to North Greenville and made 15 saves against Queens.
Junior Ryan Pickering (West Haven, Conn.) made two starts and played in six games last year, finishing with a 14.86 goals against average. He played all 60 minutes and made 11 saves in a loss to Lincoln Memorial, and came up with five saves in a win over Alabama Huntsville. In two seasons, Pickering has a 13.49 goals against average and a .452 save percentage in nine appearances.
Freshman Ross Geiger (Calgary, Alberta) will vie for playing time along with Thomas and Pickering between the pipes for the Pioneers.
Tusculum opens the season on Saturday, Feb. 2 at home against Limestone. The Saints, one of the perennial powers in Division II, went 11-8 overall last year and finished in a three-way tie for first place in Conference Carolinas with Belmont Abbey and Mount Olive. Limestone lost to Belmont Abbey in the conference championship game, then fell to Indianapolis in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Limestone is 3-0 all-time against Tusculum, including a 17-6 win at home last March.
The Pioneers will host Lees-McRae on Saturday, Feb. 9. Tusculum's only other meeting with the Bobcats was the first home game in program history on Feb. 19, 2014, which was a 23-6 Pioneer win. The Bobcats were 2-7 overall last season and 1-5 in Conference Carolinas.
Tusculum will be on the road on Sunday, Feb. 17 at Alabama Huntsville. The Pioneers beat the Chargers 12-6 in a neutral-site game last season in their only prior meeting. UAH went 8-7 last season and finsihed 3-2 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, losing to Indianapolis in the conference tournament.
On Saturday, Feb. 23 Tusculum will visit Shorter. The Hawks were 1-13 last season and 0-5 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. The Pioneers have won both previous meetings with the Hawks, by scores of 23-6 on the road in 2017 and 24-7 at home last February.
Tusculum will begin its SAC schedule on Wednesday, March 6 at Mars Hill. The Lions were 2-12 overall and 1-7 in the conference last season to finish in eighth place. The Pioneers beat the Lions 13-5 at home last March and have won three in a row over Mars Hill to take a 3-2 lead in the all-time series.
The Pioneers will play their final non-conference match on Saturday, March 9 at home against Barton. The Bulldogs are a first-year program and will compete in Conference Carolinas.
Returning to SAC action, the Pioneers will face their strongest test of the season on Saturday, March 16 at Lenoir-Rhyne. The Bears are coming off a 2018 season in which they swept conference play with an 8-0 record, only to lose 12-9 to Wingate in the championship match. Lenoir-Rhyne then advanced to the NCAA Division II semifinals, losing 12-11 to Saint Leo to finish with a 17-3 record. The Bears have won all six meetings with the Pioneers, including 14-10 in Greeneville last March.
The Pioneers will finish March with back-to-back home games, hosting Queens on Saturday, March 23 and Newberry on Saturday, March 30. The Royals were 9-7 overall last year and fourth place in the SAC with a 5-3 record, while the Wolves went 4-11 overall and winless in eight league matches. Tusculum is 4-1 all-time against Queens, with a 12-5 loss in last year's matchup, while the Pioneers beat Newberry 12-11 on the road in double overtime in their first-ever meeting last March.
Tusculum will kick off April with a road trip to Coker on Saturday, April 6. The Cobras and Pioneers have developed a rivalry, with Coker winning four of the six matchups all-time. The Cobras earned the final SAC playoff spot over the Pioneers last year with a 3-5 conference record, thanks to a 17-13 head-to-head win in Greeneville.
Another "rivalry game" will be played on Wednesday, April 10 at Pioneer Field against Lincoln Memorial. The Pioneers and Railsplitters have played each other four times in the regular season, with two of the games decided in overtime and none by more than two goals. Tusculum has a 3-2 lead in the series with LMU, but the Railsplitters won at home last April by a score of 14-12. Lincoln Memorial finished in third place in the SAC at 6-2 and was 14-4 overall last season.
Tusculum's final regular-season road game is Saturday, April 13 at Wingate. The Bulldogs upset Lenoir-Rhyne 12-9 in the SAC Championship final but did not receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Wingate finished the season with seven straight wins, three by one goal, and went 11-5 overall and 7-1 in the conference. Last year, the Bulldogs beat the Pioneers 13-9 in Greeneville and join Lenoir-Rhyne as the only teams with six wins in six all-time meetings with Tusculum.
The Pioneers wrap up the regular season at home on Saturday, April 20 against Catawba. The Indians beat the Pioneers 14-10 in last year's final game to snap a three-game losing streak in the series which Tusculum still leads 3-2. Catawba grabbed fifth place in the conference with a 4-4 record and went 6-9 overall during 2018.
The South Atlantic Conference Men's Lacrosse Championship will begin with first-round games on campus sites on Tuesday, April 23. The semifinals and finals will be played April 26 and 28 at Wingate. The NCAA will select eight teams to compete in the Division II tournament, which begins May 11 with quarterfinal action and continues with semifinals on May 19. The NCAA Division II Men's Lacrosse Championship game will be Sunday, May 26 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.