FRIDAY, MARCH 16, 2012
JU men open conference play at Marist Saturday
Goalie Pete DeLuca (28) has 84 saves this season and a stout .579 save percentage. Play Video
Goalie Pete DeLuca (28) has 84 saves this season and a stout .579 save percentage.
This is why they play the season.

It’s not that previous games were unimportant, far from it actually, but the Jacksonville men’s lacrosse team gets to the meat of its schedule this week as it begins Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play at Marist Saturday.

“This is what you prepare for,’’ coach Guy Van Arsdale said. “For us it’s been our focus since September. You always focus on getting better but you also focus on getting better so you can play in the conference games.’’

The big deal, of course, is teams now start jockeying for position in the upcoming conference tournament and its reward, a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

“All games are meaningful, but these tend to be a little bit more with what’s at stake,’’ Van Arsdale said. “If you’re lucky enough to get there (the conference tournament) you’re playing to get extra lacrosse by playing in the NCAA tournament. That’s always going to be one of our primary focuses. They always say your next game is your biggest but this really is the biggest.’’

Marist comes into the fray with a bit of a deceiving 2-2 record.

The Red Foxes began with wins over Sacred Heart and always tough Stony Brook then lost to seventh-ranked Maryland and took a tough one goal loss to Rutgers in their last outing.

“Rutgers has been playing well,’’ Van Arsdale noted. “This will be the best team we’ve played since Duke, by far. This is a team that’s right there with the Towson’s and the Navy’s and may be better.’’

The game marks the halfway point for the JU regular season and Van Arsdale still sees a work in progress.

“We’re still learning how to prepare well; we’re still learning how to sustain a level of intensity and play at a level we feel good about,’’ he said. “We’re still learning how to compete for a full 60 minutes. We’re definitely not where we want to be and we’re definitely not where we’re going to be which is a good sign.’’

Improvement throughout the year is always a focus, too.

“You always want to think you’re going to get better during the year,’’ Van Arsdale said. “You certainly need to be at a level that you want to compete but you want to be at your very best toward the end of the year. That doesn’t mean you want to be awful the rest of the year, but you want to be finding ways to improve.’’

The season, Van Arsdale, is shooting by.

“It’s going a little too fast,’’ he said. “There are some days it’s going a little too long. Right now it’s going fast because we still feel like we’re building the foundation of the building. We’re not even laying the floor boards of the first floor yet, we’re still working on the foundation.’’

The Dolphins will be playing their second road game of the year and have three players in double-figure goal scoring.

Attacker TJ Kenary leads the group with 11 goals while Cam Mann and Ari Waffle each have 10.

Live stats will be available for the game on judolphins.com.