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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Push it to the max

    Arizona lacrosse midfielder Curtis Fillmore battles UCSD defenseman Coleman Peng for the ball during the Laxcats 10-9 win March 29 at Murphey Field at Lohse Stadium. The Laxcats head to California this weekend to play No. 2 Chapman University in the Mens Collegiate Lacrosse Association National Championships.
    Arizona lacrosse midfielder Curtis Fillmore battles UCSD defenseman Coleman Peng for the ball during the Laxcats’ 10-9 win March 29 at Murphey Field at Lohse Stadium. The Laxcats head to California this weekend to play No. 2 Chapman University in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association National Championships.

    It’s springtime for Arizona lacrosse, and that means playoffs.

    Sure, the Laxcats are unranked. Sure, they’ve slugged through a season filled with injuries, coaching changes and roster cuts. Sure, they’ve even got a losing record. But something else is sure: In any playoff, hope springs eternal. If you get in, you’ve at least got a shot to grab the brass ring.

    “”That’s the good thing. We know we’re the underdog,”” said first-year assistant coach Trevor Rainville. “”We can take people by surprise.””

    For the Laxcats to go anywhere in the postseason would definitely take people by surprise. But there were no indications at yesterday’s practice at Rincon Vista Field that the Laxcats were headed into a weekend elimination match with No. 2 Chapman, the prohibitive favorite. Nobody was hanging their heads. It was business as usual. The air was warm and clear. The grass was a deep, springtime green. Even the birds were chirping. No doom to be found here.

    “”We’ve got nothing to lose,”” said senior Shane Morrison.

    The Laxcats seem to be finally emerging from a winter of discontent. They’ve struggled this year, posting a 5-9 record overall and breaking even at 2-2 in its Western Collegiate Lacrosse League. They’ve installed four new coaches, including head coach P.J. Rovinelli.

    The team, which formerly did not cut players, has also been whittled down from 65 deep to 35. Rovinelli said he makes “”character cuts, not talent cuts.”” It’s been part of his plan to instill what he says is a blue-collar culture – guys who may not be superstars, but who work hard every day.

    “”I give more of a role to guys who are just hard-nosed and scrappy sometimes,”” he said.

    “”You want to buy the best tools, but sometimes you rely on the rusted ones. It’s not always the fancy ones that get the job done.””The roster cuts, coupled with injuries to upperclassmen, have also meant serious playing time for the freshman and sophomores who make up more than half of the starting positions. Two freshmen fill in at the critical goalie position. Assistant coach Jeff Pfeifer described it as something of a “”rebuilding year.””

    Rebuilding has its perks. With so many freshmen and sophomores getting major minutes, the program can only mature.

    “”Overall we’ve got a lot of young talent,”” senior Max Fleischman said. “”We’ve been developing our freshmen all year and they’ve definitely been looking really good lately.””

    Rovinelli, however, has also said the team’s youth sometimes means making “”fundamental mistakes.”” There have been stumbles along the way. They closed out their season Sunday night by falling 16-6 at ASU. The Laxcats had only three shots on their opponents’ net in the first half and 14 turnovers.

    That didn’t mean they gave up, though. Arizona got up off the mat and outscored the Sun Devils in the fourth quarter.

    Overall, the attitude is that the Laxcats think it’s going to be all right. Yes, the worst is over now. Sports are cyclical. The fortunes of teams will ebb and flow. For a team in transition, Arizona has been fighting the good fight, clawing it out against one of the toughest schedules in collegiate club lacrosse.

    “”We’ve played the cream of the crop,”” Rovinelli said, citing the fact that his team has played every squad in the nation’s top six, with the exception of Chapman, who they’ll play this weekend in California. Rovinelli also said his team has lost six games by five goals or less, which he said is encouraging.

    “”Unfortunately, we haven’t come out with a lot of W’s but we think we’ve played better than the scores have showed,”” Fleishman said about his team’s struggles. “”The future looks very bright.””

    The future looks bright in part because of freshmen like Greg Shuck who have stepped up in a difficult season. Shuck stepped right out high school, not only into a starting role when necessary, but also into a completely new position. He’s been “”converted”” from offensive midfielder to defense to plug gaps made by injuries. There hasn’t been pressure, he said, just fun.

    “”We’re just gonna work hard out here everyday. It’s fun to see the field,”” he said.

    As for the playoffs, Shuck said he was excited, but he knows the Laxcats are up against tough odds.

    “”I haven’t been in this situation before, so I’m kind of looking forward to it. We’re the underdog. We’ll see what happens,”” he said.

    Before practice the team got into a huddle and shouted, “”Tuesday! Bruise Day!”” – a fitting war cry for that blue-collar mentality Rovinelli talks about. Despite its travails, this team isn’t out of it yet. They’re moving forward and not looking back.

    “”You get into the playoffs and it’s a whole different program,”” Rovinelli said. “”You’re not an underdog when you know you can win.””

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