Steady Improvement Key to Eisenreich's Success
Feb. 28, 2012
By Jon Terry, Bucknell Athletic Communications
The Bucknell men's lacrosse team has been an annual contender for Patriot League titles for many years now, but in 2011 the Bison took a major step forward. On the way to a program-record 14 wins, they finished off a clean sweep of the league and captured regular-season and tournament titles. A season like that requires improvement from all 43 players on the roster, but perhaps no Bison made a more dramatic leap than Billy Eisenreich.
Eisenreich had been a solid player during his first two seasons at Bucknell. After scoring four goals as the team's fourth attackman as a freshman in 2009, he moved to midfield as a sophomore and produced 10 goals and nine assists in 13 games.
But 2011 was a breakout year for Eisenreich. He earned First Team All-Patriot League honors after producing 18 goals and 15 assists in 13 contests. His star status was born through some monster games in big moments. He logged two goals and five assists, including a helper on the overtime goal, for a seven-point night in a win over Navy. He poured in another seven points with three goals - the final three of the game - and four assists in a crazy 12-11 come-from-behind win at Lehigh. Eisenreich also had a hat trick against Lafayette, and on the national stage he turned heads with two goals and two assists in Bucknell's heartbreaking overtime loss to Virginia in the NCAA Tournament.
Eisenreich was one of the best players on the field in that Bucknell-Virginia game, and already in the last month he has been selected by the Ohio Machine in the third round of the Major League Lacrosse Draft and has been named to the watch list for the Tewaaraton Trophy, given to the national player of the year.
While Bison fans have enjoyed Eisenreich's ascent, steady improvement has been his forte since picking up a lacrosse stick for the first time as a fourth-grader in Chatham, New Jersey. Up until that point, his dream was to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, Jim Eisenreich, and become a major league baseball player.
In the fourth grade most of his buddies began playing lacrosse, and he was ready to give it a try as well, except that he missed the sign-up date and was unable to play. As fate would have it, his family won a raffle drawing for a set of youth lacrosse equipment. All dressed up but with no team to play for, young Billy went out in the yard by himself and began throwing lacrosse balls against a pitchback for hours on end. By the time fifth-grade lacrosse sign-ups rolled around, Billy had some of the best stick skills in Chatham.
"I just loved lacrosse at a young age," recalls Eisenreich, whose younger brother, Jack, is currently a freshman lacrosse player at Michigan. "We had great rec coaches, guys who had all played the game. My parents were totally into it. They were there for every practice and every tournament. They were very supportive, and I loved it, so they encouraged me to keep doing it."
Eisenreich went on to earn all-conference, all-state and All-America honors at Chatham High School. He scored 51 goals as a junior and had 71 goals and 32 assists as a senior for a team that finished 19-2 and was ranked No. 4 in the state.
It was during his junior year that he began thinking about lacrosse as a ticket to a great college. Eisenreich says he also considered Villanova and Middlebury, two excellent academic choices in their own right. But he had his eye on Bucknell from the start, and with a little help from a well-connected summer league coach, former Bison assistant Pat Myers began recruiting him. Eisenreich attended the Bison Brawl summer camp, and he verbally committed to head coach Frank Fedorjaka prior to his senior year.
"I just wanted to use lacrosse to get into the best school possible," he says, "whether that was D-III or D-I. The thing about me is that every year I kind of got noticeably better. Some players even out at some point, but felt like I got better each year, and I still feel like I'm on a track like that. That really helped me not only get to Bucknell, but also to do well while I'm here."
Eisenreich can't quite put his finger on why he has steadily improved throughout his lacrosse career, but increased strength and confidence probably have a lot to do with it.
"I can't explain it, it's always just been like that," he says. "I go through fall ball and I'm doing my thing, and then I come back in the spring and I'm playing so much better, and I don't really know why. I'm naturally really skinny with okay speed. But every year I've gotten a little bigger and a little faster. I think there's definitely a correlation, but also I think it is confidence."
Playing midfield the last two years, Eisenreich has frequently drawn a short-stick defender, which has given him a bit more room to maneuver. With that, his confidence has clearly soared. A perfect example came in the Virginia game, when he bull-rushed a defender all the way to the crease before scoring to break a 4-all tie.
As the 2012 season gets underway, expectations are high for both the Bison and for Eisenreich, who relishes the opportunity to wear that proverbial bulls-eye that can often be a burden to defending champions. Fedorjaka calls him "one of the top five offensive players that I've coached," and this year he has moved him back to attack, where he quarterbacks the offense as both a feeder and a finisher. With Eisenreich teaming with junior Chase Bailey and sophomore Todd Heritage, Bucknell has one of the most talented and versatile attack units in the league.
"I really like attack," says Eisenreich. "I like being in front of the goal because it's easier to be a threat when you are in a position to score. But I am comfortable behind there. I have two great attackmen with me who are both great off-ball players. They know how to move without the ball and put the ball in the net, as well as feed. One is a righty and one is a lefty, so it can't really get much better. It's been a good transition, but it can still get a lot better."
After suffering a tough overtime loss to 19th-ranked Delaware in the season-opener, the 12th-ranked Bison continue their brutal early season schedule with three straight road games against No. 11 Massachusetts, No. 10 Villanova and Patriot League rival Navy.
"We've never really had this much respect before," says Eisenreich. "The Patriot League is a very underrated league. The teams are good, and they have always had great competition against each other. But once you start getting national attention you get that target on your back. Maybe that loss to Delaware gets rid of that a little bit, but in the league it will still be there. Those games are so intense anyway, it's not going to make much of a difference.
"Having that foul taste in your mouth [from the Virginia game] pushes you harder. I know everyone has worked very hard since then, and it shows. That driving force can make a team a lot better."
Note: This story appeared in a recent edition of the Bucknell Basketball Gameday Program.