Staying the course opening day key for JU men
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With so much swirling around the JU men’s lacrosse team’s season opener Saturday, it would be easy for the Dolphins to lose their collective way. Coach Guy Van Arsdale is doing his best to make sure that doesn’t happen.

There, of course, is the natural excitement of a season opener. Van Arsdale is in his first year here, as are assistant coaches Jake Baxter and Brock Armour. Armour played at Towson under much of the staff leading the Tigers. And, Towson has a new head coach in 32-year-old Shawn Nadelen, one of the youngest head coaches in the NCAA.

Fortunately for JU, Van Arsdale has seen a lot in his day and is able to keep a steady head nearing the 1 p.m. game at D.B. Milne Field.

“I’ve had a lot of first years, a lot of first games of the season,’’ he said. “To me, they’re all fun and they’re all big. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to savor a chance to do that every time you have it. Take them as they come and be grateful for each one.’’

Which is the message he has been sending to the Dolphins – there are only 12 or 13 chances to play every year so make the most of it. But, he also acknowledges the team doesn’t have his experience.

“There may be, for our guys, a little more excitement because they’ve worked so hard to get to this point and to finally have this opportunity,’’ he said. “It’s a big deal.’’

The Dolphins head into the season after last year’s 5-10 effort. It was their first year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in which they finished 3-3.

Plenty of players return from that team, attacker TJ Kenary for example, who led JU with 21 points, middie Cameron Mann who had 18 goals and 45 ground balls and top defenseman Jake Ziegler (44 ground balls). Mann and Ziegler both were selected to the MAAC preseason All-Conference first team.

Much of the pressure will fall on sophomore goal keeper Peter DeLuca, who played 848 of the team’s 903 minutes last season and had 169 saves. Van Arsdale is high on the keeper and is looking of him to become the backbone of the defense.

Despite the returnees and a productive preseason, Van Arsdale still isn’t sure what to expect and that’s part of the excitement for him.

“It’s part of what openers are about, to see a couple of things,’’ he said. “One is how your kids handle success, which is sometimes a difficult thing to do, even just fleeting successes in the midst of a game. To see how they handle that and also see how they handle getting punched in the nose. That’s going to happen, too.’’

Towson is coming off an unusual season in that they were only 3-10. Five of their losses were by one goal. Junior attack man

Matt Hughes was their leading scorer with 18 goals and six assists.

The record, according to Van Arsdale, doesn’t tell the Towson story.

“Last year’s season for Towson was an aberration and they’re going to be awfully, awfully good,’’ he said. “They have unbelievable tradition, they have tremendous coaches and they have very good players. We know a lot about the talent they have. They’re sitting right in the hot bed of the sport in Baltimore so they have a chance to keep some of that talent home and I think they’ve done a wonderful job of that. I’m sure, like us here, they’re looking at kind of a new day and a chance to really unleash what they’ve worked so hard to do.’’

Nadelen, who has been in the Towson program seven years as an assistant, is equally wary of the Dolphins.

“We have an idea of what Jacksonville is going to be like with a lot of off-ball movement offensively and we think we have some things in line to combat that,’’ he said. “We are going to have to play a complete game to be able to win. Jacksonville is a very talented group and I think they will be more patient and better than they have been in the past. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”

- Jim Nasella