Lexington, Ky. – "We learned a lot of lessons last year – some of which came the hard way. I expect the team to continue moving in a positive direction. Our guys saw last year that we had to get stronger, physically and mentally. Our boys are working harder, smarter, and with a positive attitude." – Transylvania men's head coach Terry Justice.
Those lasting memories from 2018 are what fuel the Transylvania men's lacrosse team as it approaches the dawning of the 2019 season.
Now in Year 7, the Pioneers have come so far in such a short time. The Pioneers enter 2019 fresh off of two consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, their first two in program history. A roster that was flush with the untapped potential of youth and thin in veterans, the Pioneers turned the corner in the final month of the 2018 season to capture their fourth consecutive Ohio River Lacrosse Conference Tournament championship.
While their past successes are now in the rear-view mirror, the majority of the Pioneers return for the 2019 campaign, ready to write more history, ready to take the next step.
The Pioneers embark upon a 16-game regular season beginning Wednesday, February 20 as they welcome Augustana (Ill.) College to Lexington for the first of a four-game homestand against an impressive gauntlet of nonconference opponents. While the early onslaught of towering competition has become an annual staple for Transylvania, the shift into conference play this year will have somewhat of a different look.
For the first time in program history, the Pioneers will compete in the newly-named Heartland Collegiate Lacrosse Conference with Hanover, Mount St. Joseph, Earlham, and the new Anderson men's lacrosse team. After parting ways this past summer with teams who now comprise the Presidents' Athletic Conference for men's lacrosse, Transylvania will pioneer a new pathway in a set of double-round robin games with its other conference members.
A ticket to the NCAA Tournament remains for the team that prevails in the season-ending HCLC Tournament, but the Pioneers are intent on putting in the meticulous hours of work which precede that pinnacle moment.
"The team learned a lot from going to the NCAA Tournament the last two years," adds Justice. "The teams in the tournament are all strong teams with fundamentally sound players with high lacrosse IQ's. They saw what we have been preaching about the weight room and paying attention to the small details when practicing. They are hungry and anxious to get back and see their improvement."
Another wrinkle that will be thrown into the Pioneers' lacrosse season is the advent of the new 80-second shot clock. After the institution of the shot clock last year which was only used in arbitrary situations to ward off stalling, an 80-second shot clock will be present for all 60 minutes of gameplay and reset after a change of possession or a shot is taken on goal.
"The shot clock will change the way lacrosse is played," analyzes Justice. "The problem is we haven't seen how yet. We figure the pace will be quicker, but will teams drop back and slow the games with rides? Will there be more shots but fewer quality shots? Can teams with deeper benches wear down a team with more athletes, or will teams counter with zone defenses? We are excited to find out and Coach Otto and I have been planning our strategy for 2019."
After fielding a young team in 2018, the Pioneers lean upon a plethora of veteran leadership upon all dimensions of the field. Keying the offense for Transylvania up front will be junior attack Trenton Sneed (Milford, Ohio, Milford HS).
After leading the ORLC in assists in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, Sneed returns for his third campaign with the Pioneers after racking up 44 assists and 26 goals last season. "Trenton will be a key part of our success," echoes Justice. "He has been one of the top offensive players since the first day he stepped on campus as a freshman."
Along with Sneed, the Pioneers boast two seniors in Alex Cherry (Louisville, Ky. / St. Xavier HS) and Nic Bailey (Mission Hills, Kan. / East HS) who figure to add a steady dose of offensive firepower this season. Bailey was one of Transylvania's most dependable scorers in 2018, finishing second on the team in goals with 27, and in assists with 12. Named to the All-ORLC Second Team as an Attack, Bailey's efficiency has become a staple of Transylvania's offense.
Cherry is coming off a season in which he scored 19 goals and was named All-ORLC Honorable Mention in 2018. "Alex and Nic have been very steady and productive offensively," comments Justice. "All three have good stick skills and give 100 percent effort."
While the front line for the Pioneers packs plenty of talent across the board, one of the most vaunted individual talents leads the way for Transylvania in the midfield. Junior T.J. Toivonen (Sherwood, Ore. / Sherwood HS), the reigning ORLC Defensive Player of the Year, headlines the star-studded Transylvania lineup.
Already one of the most highly-decorated players in Transylvania men's lacrosse program history, Toivonen last season became the first player in the six-year history of the program to be named IMLCA All-Region as an honorable mention defender. A three-time ORLC player of the week winner in 2018, Toivonen was also named an All-ORLC First Teamer as a long-stick midfielder.
Leading the ORLC in caused turnovers and ranking third in ground balls with a sharp 100 last year, Toivonen's accolades and gaudy numbers still can't fully encapsulate the strong defensive presence he has helped create at Transylvania. "TJ is more poised and confident this year and has been leading by example," adds Justice.
Senior Logan Fogle (Louisville, Ky. / Ballard HS) is another veteran who will continue to lead the Pioneers, both by example and production. An All-ORLC Honorable Mention last season, Fogle ranked top-four on the Pioneers in ground balls and turnovers and is a key component of Transylvania's precision clearing efforts.
The Pioneers look to additional depth and a mixture of youth and veteran talent to comprise a fortified defensive unit. Junior Ben Kraft offers size, length, and a tenacious style of play in keeping scoring opportunities low for would-be scorers. An All-ORLC Second Teamer in 2018, Kraft ranked second on the team in caused turnovers and anchored a defense which limited opponents to less than eight goals per game last season.
Freshman AJ Teague (Milford, Ohio / Milford HS) is a defensive newcomer who figures to make an immediate impact upon the Pioneers' defensive row in 2019. A three-time First-Team All-Conference selection in Ohio, Teague is another Pioneer with an all-around skill set and poses another turnover-causing threat.
Sophomore Michael Webb returns for his second season in goal for the Pioneers. Also joining the goalie corps along with Webb are freshmen Luke Garas (Prospect, Ky. / North Oldham HS) and Connor Haney (Lexington, Ky. / Henry Clay). Senior Joe Shermock (Windsor, Colo. / Windsor HS) spent time last year as the backup goalie and also serves as a defensive swiss army knife for the Pioneers who can fulfill multiple defensive roles.
The Transylvania men's lacrosse team enters a conference with a new name in 2019 with new dynamics, but familiar foes. Prior to that new challenge, the Pioneers will embark on a grueling nonconference schedule that they hope will test and chisel them for their patented stretch run.
"Our schedule again is very competitive," adds Justice. "Out-of-conference teams like Augustana, Rhodes, Wittenberg, Albion, Baldwin-Wallace, Capital, Sewanee, and Centre are all very tough teams. They have all been to the NCAA Tournament and will be competing in their conferences for this year's trip to the tournament."
With a compelling blend of veterans and newcomers, Transylvania men's lacrosse begins Wednesday its latest process of solidifying a winning culture and making this spring their latest masterpiece.
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