JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With a restart to conference action comes the chance for the Jacksonville University men’s lacrosse team to live up to its preseason billing, as the Dolphins (1-7, 0-1 Atlantic Sun) begin the month of April with the first of four straight A-Sun games to close out the regular season. These games will prove critical to the team’s ultimate fate. Only the top four of the six teams in the Atlantic Sun qualify for the conference tournament, and the entire championship event is held at the home of the No. 1 seed. JU’s first chance at climbing in the standings comes on Saturday, when the Dolphins host VMI (1-9, 0-2 A-Sun) at 1 p.m. at D.B. Milne Field. The game will be broadcast locally on CW17 with Richard Miller and Brian Freshley calling the action.
Last Saturday was a frustrating day at the office for Jacksonville, who ended the non-conference portion of its schedule with a 13-2 loss at Ohio State. The offense couldn’t get things clicking until the third quarter against the tough Buckeye defense, by which time the Dolphins trailed, 12-0. Tom Moore contributed the first goal of the game for JU and later added an assist on Chase McIntyre’s score. Pete DeLuca made 16 saves in goal and is now ranked seventh in the nation in saves per game, averaging 12.25.
The gauntlet of non-conference play is behind the Dolphins now though, and the rest of the season is what will make or break their season. Like Jacksonville, VMI left the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference after last season to help form the Atlantic Sun. As such, the teams share plenty of history despite the relative youth of JU’s program. Thirteen has been the lucky number for Jacksonville in its last three meetings with the Keydets. After losing a one-goal game to VMI in 2010, JU has reeled off three straight wins in the series over the past three seasons, scoring 13 goals in each contest. 2011 and 2012 each produced a one-goal victory for the Dolphins before last season’s 13-8 triumph on the road in Lexington, Va. Ari Waffle had a hat trick in that game, while Kyle Rebman and Rob Wertz added a pair of goals.
There’s no denying that VMI has struggled this year, especially on the offensive end, but that doesn’t mean Jacksonville won’t be for a battle. The Keydets earned their win this season over Air Force, a team that handed JU a 15-12 setback. Furthermore, VMI lost a one-goal game to High Point, the same as the Dolphins did. Jacksonville will need a strong defensive effort to ease the pressure DeLuca has been put under in recent games and continue the offensive drought that the Keydets have had. Averaging 5.60 goals per game, VMI has the second-worst scoring offense in the nation. Mickey Hofmeister is the main threat for the team, having scored 16 goals and seven assists on the year. No other Keydet has reached double-figures in goals. Preseason All-Atlantic Sun member Tyler Prasnicki leads the defense with 19 caused turnovers and is second on the team with 33 ground balls. Goalkeeper Evan Windisch has a .527 save percentage and ranks 10th in the nation at 12.10 saves per game.
Next Saturday will be Senior Day for Jacksonville, with the Dolphins hosting current conference leaders Mercer in a game that will carry huge implications into the postseason. Face-off for that game is also set for 1 p.m. at D.B. Milne Field and will once again be a CW17 broadcast.