By Matt Jenkins
---- — Take a good, hard look at the Endicott College men’s lacrosse team and find a weakness.
It hasn’t been easy for any of the Gulls’ nine opponents so far ... and it won’t get any easier trying to stop an Endicott team that just climbed to No. 15 in the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Division 3 poll after winning its third straight game and improving to 7-2 this spring.
Head coach Sean Quirk, now in his 17th season at the Endicott helm, has built a solid program that contends for the Commonwealth Coast Conference championship every year and is a threat to advance in the NCAA tournament.
This year, Quirk hopes the Gulls have the depth and skill to take the program a little further.
“We’ve always had two or three, maybe four guys that have been at the top of the scoring list. My assistant coaches and I were just looking (at the stats) and there are maybe 6-7 with 17 points or more this year. Who are you going to defend?,” Quirk said. “We have a ton of balance on that end of the field and defensively ... we just have a great defensive unit.”
Sports — team sports, especially — are often broken down into simple terms, offense and defense. The Gulls are unquestionably equipped in those two areas, but their strength is more than skin deep. They have an excellent All-American goalkeeper, a top-notch faceoff specialist, and that thing that is so hard to quantify — team chemistry.
“We mesh together,” Beverly resident Nick Pinciaro, a junior attackman, said. “We’re always doing the same things together.”
That chemistry is something that’s built over time and passed down from one class to the next.
Balance plays a big role
When Quirk and his staff recruit athletes, they don’t guarantee starting positions or make promises about individual awards. But they do stress the team concept and vow to get the players in-game experience. That, feels Quirk, is the key to sustaining excellence.
This year’s team, for example, is loaded with juniors who have seen regular action since their freshman season. Now that class is a strength, and their dominance in certain games has opened the door for younger players to get their cleats wet.
“Those juniors have been playing a ton and a lot have been starting since freshman year,” said Quirk, who ranks eighth on the active wins list for Division 3 college coaches. “Honestly, a big thing in our philosophy is playing younger guys (so) by the time they’re sophomores and juniors you can really see their experience. Like (Saturday), we played Nichols and beat them pretty good (26-8). We played our starters and upperclassmen, then got a ton of freshmen and sophomores three quarters of run.
“We get our guys experience and never have a rebuilding year. That’s been a big impact and how this program has sustained itself.”
Five players from Endicott’s junior class are among the top six scorers on the team. Freshman attack Colin Bannon currently is tied with junior attack Kyle Weber for team lead in points with 26. Bannon powers the team with 20 goals while Weber has 18 goals and eight assists.
Juniors Harrison Cotter (19 goals, 6 assists, 25 points), Jeremy Morgan (17-7-24), Josh Tordik (6-17-23) and Pinciaro (15-7-22) also come in above 20 points.
Endicott has only been giving up eight goals per game because of a stout defense, which is led by sophomore goalie Cameron Bell. He took over the starting job early in his freshman season and ended up being named USILA Honorable Mention All-American.
Bell has excellent defensive players in front of him, including senior captain Peter Erickson. Junior defenders Ian Knechtle and Chris Cooney and senior Breck Merritt have also been outstanding for the Gulls.
Then, of course, there is freshman midfielder Tommy Hughes, who had the difficult job of taking over the faceoff duties from Sam Ozycz. All Hughes has done is win more than 60 percent of faceoffs and scoop 88 ground balls.
“Really, there is no strength; we’re well balanced. Our defense can play lock-down every game. We’re letting up about seven goals a game and our offense is running the sets. We’ve had about 5-6 kids playing since freshman year and we’ve all grown a lot,” said Pinciaro, a Sport Management major.
“I really love going to school around home because I can basically go home to my family whenever. I couldn’t ask for a better coach; he’s definitely a big reason why I’m here and for the success I’m having.”
Endicott, which has captured seven league titles under Quirk, still has some big games remaining in the regular season. The Gulls host Wentworth tonight (7 p.m.) and Gordon Saturday (3 p.m.) before playing at No. 7 Tufts next Tuesday. Endicott also faces conference rival Western New England College next week and hosts No. 20 Bowdoin on Saturday, April 19.
There’s still a long road ahead for the Gulls, but they feel like it’s a road they can travel together.
“We have a lot of standards in our program. We want to win the CCC every year, and this year the guys feel that they can do that,” Quirk said. “They feel that if we do win our conference or get an at-large bid to the NCAAs, they feel like they are one of the better teams in the country.”