Halfway through the season, the Bishops lacrosse team carries a 5-2 record into conference play.
After winning the NCAC’s inaugural tournament last season, members of the team feel ready for the raised stakes that come with every upcoming game.
Last year one of the team’s biggest goals was to win the conference, and this year is no different.
Coach Mike Plantholt elaborated on the reasoning behind this, as the conference tournament winner now automatically qualifies (AQ) for the NCAA tournament.
“In years past our conference didn’t have enough teams with lacrosse programs to create an AQ schedule. That changed last year, and now everyone is vying for that conference title, the stakes are higher.”
The team was predicted as the favorite to win the conference this year in the preseason coaches’ poll, and despite two disappointments feel confident.
While they haven’t cracked the official top 20 rankings yet, junior Tommy Minkler says that rankings aren’t what matters to them.
“Our coach says a lot to take care of the little things and the big things will come, and our team buying in to being process rather than results oriented has helped us improve.”
Minkler was injured last year, suffering a tear to his ACL, MCL, and meniscus. He started playing for the team his freshmen year and is excited to contribute to this year’s efforts.
Minkler described the team as fast-paced, one who looks to get up early on teams and dictate the tempo.
He said in doing so they can force teams to play their game and take forced shots and settle for worse looks.
Defensively, the Bishops have been in the top 10 in team defense the past two years, and this year looks to be the same. Anchored by co-captains Steve Coin and Steve Barnett, three of this year’s four senior starters have played together, getting valuable playing time as a unit for the past three years.
Behind that defense is goalie Ryan McMahon. He has ranked in the top three in saves in the conference for three consecutive seasons. According to Planholt, he is a player other teams need to game plan for.
Spencer Schnell, recently drafted into the PLL’s Ohio Machine, is another threat on the team’s roster.
Minkler described him as a player who “could play on any other team in the country.”
The senior midfielder was drafted late last calendar year to play professionally as a result of making last years All American team.
Senior Casey Helms elaborated on the need for roles to change this season.
“We lost about half of our starters from last year, but have plenty of veteran presence to step up and fill those spots,” Helms said.
“Personally, as a senior on the team my role has evolved into one of a leader, the younger guys look up to us all for an example, and I strive to be a good role model both on and off the field.”
In conference play, OWU’s biggest roadblock for repeating as conference champions is rival Denison.
The Denison Big Red is currently ranked number eight in D-III, and the Bishops get the chance to play them near the season’s end.
Helms said the team will be well prepared for the challenge by then, and at their peak.
“There is a noticeable change that I can see from week to week. We have taken huge strides to tighten things up, and I think that once we get into conference play we will really hit our stride,” Helms said.
The Bishops will begin conference play on March 22 against Oberlin, and will wrap up the regular season April 19 with a home game against Wittenberg.