By Wesley Evans
BUENA VISTA, Va.—In its first ever season as members of the Capital Athletic Conference, the Southern Virginia University men's lacrosse team finished its 2014 campaign 1-15 while competing against some of the toughest opponents in NCAA Division III lacrosse.
The Knights fell against CAC champion and No. 2-nationally ranked Salisbury University in mid-April. The Seagulls are 18-1 on the year, with their only loss coming against Christopher Newport. Salisbury beat nine opponents ranked in the top 25 this this season.
Southern Virginia also fell to Mary Washington and York College, who have spent considerable time in the national ranks throughout the year, and are both headed to the NCAA Division III tournament.
"It was a great season in terms of establishing the culture of our program," said head coach Jason Lamb. "We saw great improvement in the way we want to do things. It was an improvement in our academic commitments, our efforts in the weight room and our consistency in our weekly practice schedule. The accountability in terms of commitment to the program was another big win - we were able to establish a program of order and discipline."
The Knights had a hard-fought contest against Beloit College midway through the season, but fell 12-8 after being down 5-4 at halftime.
Southern Virginia earned its lone victory in its final game of the season, a 13-3 win over visiting Bethany College. In that contest, the Knights jumped out to a 7-1 halftime lead and never looked back, giving up only two goals in the second half.
"In terms of lacrosse, there was improvement and it could be seen in the last game," Lamb said. "I feel this season was one of my greatest coaching jobs. We had guys on our team who had never played before, didn't know how to pass and catch and didn't know how to pick up a groundball. You generally don't have to deal with those scenarios as an NCAA program. It was a monumental leap forward with where we were at the beginning of the year compared to the end – you could see it in their attitude and in their confidence."
Freshman midfielder Nash Wilkey paced Southern Virginia throughout the year, recording 19 goals and 24 points, to go along with 42 groundballs in 16 games played.
Sophomore midfielder Mike Bangerter also contributed 11 goals during the year and picked up 39 groundballs.
Marcel Blake, a sophomore defender, led the team with 43 groundballs on the year.
Goalie Tyler Cox played 14 games this season in the circle and recorded 175 saves, which ranked third among Capital Athletic Conference goalies.
"We had three major successes this season," Lamb said. "First of all, we established the culture of the program. Coming into next fall, they know how we do things here. We don't do stupid things and we don't take the sport lighthearted.
"Secondly, we saw great improvement with the players who had never played before. We had guys help us improve, guys who helped us win our last game and guys who will be with us in the future.
"Last of all, we got to see the CAC. We saw teams that we're striving to be like. We got to see what level they represent in strength and performance. We saw what they do and how they do it. We saw what other teams are doing to be successful and know what we're going up against."
Having only three seniors on the team, men's lacrosse will look for more experience to help it compete at a higher level next season and earn its first ever Capital Athletic Conference victory.