Setting the Scene
What: Bucknell Bison (0-0, 0-0 PL) at Delaware Blue Hens (0-0, 0-0 CAA)
Where: Delaware Stadium (Newark, Del.)
When: Saturday, Feb. 4 | 1 p.m.
Live Stats: BucknellBison.com
Live Video: Blue Hens All-Access
-- Bucknell opens its 50th season Saturday at 1 p.m. as it travels to Newark, Del. to take on the University of Delaware. This is the sixth consecutive year that these two teams have opened the regular season against each other.
-- The Bison program enters the 2017 season with 355 victories all-time after going 10-5 last season.
-- In Patriot League competition, the Bison went 5-3 in 2016, finishing tied for third in the conference. They finished the season with a 7-6 double-overtime defeat to Loyola in the Patriot League Semifinals.
-- Bucknell has finished with an overall winning record in nine of the past 10 seasons.
-- In their 10 victories in 2016, the Bison managed to win by an average margin of 5.4 goals.
-- Head coach Frank Fedorjaka returns to lead the Bison this year. It will be his 12th season leading the program, as he holds 106-62 record as a head coach at Bucknell.
-- The Bison return five regular starters, the team’s top two point scorers, and three members of the All-Patriot League Team.
-- This season, Bucknell was picked to finish fourth in the Patriot League preseason poll, earning 91 points. Ahead of the Bison were Loyola (128), Navy (112) and Army West Point (96). Loyola earned the maximum 16 first-place votes.
-- Delaware was 5-10 overall and 2-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association last spring.
-- Their two victories were the most in the conference for the Blue Hens since the 2011 season.
-- Delaware placed four on All-Colonial Athletic Association Teams a year ago. Current senior Paul Major made the Second Team while current sophomores Austin Haynes and Andrew Romagnoli made the All-Rookie Team.
Series History with Delaware
-- Bucknell is 6-25 all-time against Delaware, dating back to 1969.
-- The two teams have met for six straight years, starting in 2012.
-- The Bison won last year’s season opener, a 13-5 triumph in Lewisburg.
-- Bucknell has taken three of the past four matchups against the Blue Hens.
-- Following its first road non-conference game of the season, Bucknell will return to Lewisburg for the first of three consecutive home contests. The Bison will first take on Bryant on Feb. 11 at 1 p.m.
Below is a closer look at the Bison men’s lacrosse team heading into the 2017 season:
As the calendar flips to a new year, another opportunity presents itself for the Bucknell men’s lacrosse team to compete against some of the best teams in the country. The Patriot League demands excellence from teams looking to be the best in the conference, and Bucknell will be fighting for that top spot once again this season.
Head coach Frank Fedorjaka will be at the helm for the Bison, as he enters his 12th year leading the program. During his time at Bucknell, Fedorjaka has created a team that is perennially competing at the top of the Patriot League, posting a 106-62 overall record, including a 47-25 mark in the Patriot League.
That consistency continued last season as the Bison finished 10-5 overall and 5-3 in the conference. Despite that success, which included four straight wins to end the regular season and a gripping 7-6, double-overtime loss to Loyola in the conference semifinals, Fedorjaka has confidence that this season could be even more special than the prior one.
“Every year is a new season, a new team. There’s a new way to win games, gain chemistry and find out what the team is really all about,” Fedorjaka said.
The new season begins this Saturday with an away game at Delaware. Bucknell will return to Lewisburg for a pair of home contests against Bryant and Fairfield before opening conference play against Colgate on February 25. Still, there’s plenty of work put in as the regular season gets underway that enables this team to be able to compete effectively.
“Our out-of-conference schedule is good because it allows us to have similar competition to the Patriot League,” added Fedorjaka. “We also had scrimmages that were important to getting ready for our season. They helped us get to know each other a little better, put us through some adversity, and the scrimmages put us together for a couple of days so we could get used to competing on the road.”
With the departure of key seniors from the prior year’s squad, Fedorjaka looks to the strong end of last season as the starting point for the current team. From ball movement on offense, to faceoffs, to consistency on defense and at goalie, there is plenty to be excited about.
“This year we have a lot more ball movement on offense,” explained Fedorjaka. “Everyone is a little more involved, and everybody can attack at any time. They play off of one another’s movements. We have a lot of players who can create their own shot, who can finish in tight, and who can set up shots for their teammates. Each player is that triple threat, and it makes us a more dynamic offense.”
On the other hand, strong defensive play is the blueprint for Bucknell’s success, as its style of play leads to close, low-scoring contests rather than high-scoring affairs. Consistency on the defensive end, with only one starting defender gone due to graduation, should be a major factor in the success of this year’s team.
Even with a tactical offense and shut-down defense, Fedorjaka knows that he won’t get the success he wants without a talented student-athlete at faceoffs. He seems to have his guy in sophomore Jarett Witzal, who won a school-record 171 faceoffs for a .617 percentage as a freshman, in addition to collecting 57 ground balls.
“Faceoffs are such a huge component of ball possession because when you win a faceoff, the other team has to stop you, get the ball back, and clear it against a 10-man ride. If we lose the ball on the faceoff, we now have to stop them with our energy and clear. Jarett Witzal was one of the top-10 faceoff guys in the country percentage-wise last year, and certainly the top freshman,” Fedorjaka praised.
Witzal will be a major contributor on special teams like he was a season ago. Sophomore Jordy Elardo will backup Witzal for faceoffs, while junior Sam Hahn, who has taken over 200 career faceoffs, will add depth to the position.
On offense, three attackmen who combined for 63 goals and 33 assists last season will be starting in 2017. Juniors Will Sands and Connor O’Hara, and senior Quinn Collison, will be leading the Bison stampede after combining for 25 starts last season.
Sands, an Honorable Mention Preseason All-American, is one of the brightest student-athletes on Fedorjaka’s squad in terms of understanding the game of lacrosse. In addition to his uncanny ability to find the back of the net (he led the Bison with 36 goals in 2016), he has earned the respect of his teammates and will be the leader of the offense.
“Will is one of those few players that can play full speed, play hard, take a lot of risks, but not have too many turnovers, so his plus/minus chart is very much in the positive,” said Fedorjaka. “That is what sets him apart from everybody else.”
In the same light as Sands, Collison is a role model for this offensive unit. A very hard worker in the weight room and on the practice field, Collison puts in the effort to understand the game, which helped him score 15 goals on just 29 shots last season. Along with Sands and Collison, O’Hara will be starting at attack. His hands and finishing ability make O’Hara a nightmare around the crease, and he always ends up being at the right place at the right time. This is a very experienced trio for Fedorjaka on offense.
Marshall Dickson, brother of former Bison David Dickson, will also see considerable playing time as a backup attackman. Despite a small frame, he uses his passing talents and ability with the stick to his advantage. Additionally, freshmen Ryan Parsons, Jake Saenz, and Grayson Burns will all look to improve as attackmen throughout the season. Another freshman, Will Yorke, will be a key contributor on attack or midfield this year.
Behind the offensive unit, the midfield is going to see an influx of new players looking to make an impact on the game. Veteran Tommy O’Connor will be a starting offensive midfielder after starting all 15 games last season and finishing second on the team with 24 goals and 18 assists. His performance allowed him to lead all midfielders in the conference in points.
“Tommy is a very offensive-minded player. He has a hard shot. He has a knack for scoring and is playing really well right now,” noted Fedorjaka.
Fedorjaka also sees a pair of players who could have huge breakout seasons. Junior Sean O’Brien, a Maryland native, will look to make an impact in the offensive midfield after injuries set him back his first two years with the team. Having already made five starts and netting 13 goals a year ago, his shooting skills could help him break loose on the field. Reed Malas could see the same type of success after putting on 20 pounds since last season, where he made 13 appearances. His athleticism allows him to be one of the most versatile players on this year’s team.
Following those top three, other key contributors at offensive midfield include Ryan Durkin, Tom Smith, John Reed, and Nick Steinfeld. Their physicality and dedication will be important throughout the course of the season. Furthermore, Ben Foley, Joe Kazar, Trent Starr, Jake Dunlop, and Jake Guarino will add much-needed depth at the position.
At long-stick defensive midfield, freshman Hunter Newman will be given the first opportunity to start for the Bison. From Northampton, Massachusetts, Newman brings in a 5’9”, 160-pound frame.
“He’s a really good athlete and moves his feet well. He makes aggressive decisions and plays. That’s the only way to survive at this level, and he’s got that,” praised Fedorjaka.
Behind Newman will be junior Lukas Munoz, who brings in a lot of playing experience at the position. Munoz started his freshman year and will be a strong asset.
Moving on to short-stick defensive midfield, Grayson Helm will be the starter after coming in as a reserve in all but one match in 2016. A very physical player who was used to playing at offensive midfield his first two years with the team, Helm will use his skills in transition to his advantage.
Behind Helm will be Duke Repko and Brad Landry. Repko is a lefty who also has had experience in a more offensive position. Landry’s speed and confidence will allow him to make an impact with the increase in playing time he is set to see. Teddy Dumbauld and Dunlop will add some depth to the position.
One of the vital focuses Fedorjaka believes to be crucial to his team’s success is consistent defense, and that is something he will find in 2017. Mike Schiappa, Benny Borgognone, and Matt Gilray will be leading a talented defense after combining for 32 starts and allowing just eight goals per game through the playoffs last season.
Schiappa, a three-year starter, plays at close defense. Not only is his skill on the field evident, coming off a season with nine caused turnovers, but his role as a leader is just as important to his individual and team success.
“Mike isn’t a very a vocal guy, but when he speaks, everyone listens,” continued Fedorjaka. “He’s always doing the right thing. He’s a little bit of an overachiever, which is inspirational to our guys. He makes the right play, he works very hard. He works within his abilities and always goes to the right spot.”
Paired with Schiappa is the junior Borgognone. Not only will his experience be vital, but his speed, aggressiveness, and hard checks will form a formidable front on this defensive unit. He recorded 15 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers last season.
Lastly, Gilray will contribute at short-stick midfield, long-stick midfield, and close defense. As one of the most all-around talented players on this roster, Gilray’s versatility gives Fedorjaka a plethora of options when it comes to the style of play he wants to utilize.
“Gilray can cover the quickest guy or the strongest guy. It doesn’t matter; he can cover just about anybody. He’s a great takeaway guy and a great ground ball guy. He’s excellent with the ball and probably the best long stick I’ve ever coached,” praised Fedorjaka about the junior that registered an amazing four goals and four assists with a long stick last year.
Gilray ranked third on the squad a year ago with 44 ground balls and finished first with 12 caused turnovers. He will look to improve upon those numbers as a full-time starter in 2017.
In addition to those three starters, senior Brad Dotson, who stands at 6’7”, will rotate in as well. As a starter sophomore year, Dotson has the experience and poise to make a positive impact on defense.
With the unique 10-made ride style of defense, Bucknell will look to continue its stretch of shutdown defense. With a high-energy type of pressure, Fedorjaka hopes the team’s ability to ride will force quicker possessions and more opportunities in transition.
Defensively, senior Nader Sharif-Emami, junior Matt Linden, and sophomore Jack Feeley will add extra depth. Freshmen defenders Conor Shears, Alec Talarico, and Jack Gelinas will also use the season to become accustomed to the 10-man ride and gain experience.
Finally, at goalie, Christian Klipstein will look to improve upon his phenomenal rookie season that saw him earn a Second Team All-Patriot League honor. He posted a .579 save percentage on 485 shots faced, and added 34 ground balls. With another year of experience, Klipstein will have another chance to shine and compete for the honor of being the best goalkeeper in the conference.
Joey Altemus is another sophomore who will back up at goalie after making four appearances last season, and has already excelled at the spring scrimmages this season. Junior Brac McKee will also serve as a reserve goalkeeper after making seven appearances last year.
“Christian is doing great and got a lot better,” noted Fedorjaka. “He has worked on making himself a more complete goalie. He’s more familiar with the 10-man ride, and he’s very good at directing the defense. He’s coachable and a terrific stopper. Joey Altemus is another talented sophomore. He’s very active, and good at 10-man and clearing, so we feel good about him as well.”
The team voted on captains as well for this upcoming season to portray the leadership and experience necessary to excel at this level of collegiate lacrosse. Seniors Schiappa, Helm, and Collison, and juniors Sands and Gilray will be the five 2017 captains.
“The reason we have so many captains is that everybody has their own way of leading,” said Fedorjaka. “I think different people respond differently to different types of leadership. If we’re going to reach out to all 42 guys, we need different styles of leadership to connect with each guy.”
Experience, combined with the confidence to improve upon what made last year’s team successful, appears to be the blueprint for Fedorjaka’s team this upcoming season. No stone is left unturned, as each and every facet of the game is worked on until mastered so that the Bison have the best opportunity possible to succeed in the new season.
“From the drills we do, to the schedule we create, it’s all so that we can have success in the Patriot League,” concluded Fedorjaka.