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  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich^^Rivier College Men's Lacrosse coach, Mike McCraffrey leads his team onto the field before the start of their first home game against the University of Maine at Farmington.
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich^^University of Maine at Farmington midfielder, #13 Amie Daniels fires a shot of Rivier College netminder, Lauren Hall in a recent game in Nashua.
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich^^Rivier attacker Natalie Bonvie fires a shot on goal in a game against the University of Maine at Farmington.
  • Photo by Jodie Andruskevich^^Rivier College's Patrick Bruenn goes on the attack as he gets past Ethan Fletcher of the University of Maine at Farmington during the Raider's first home game of the their inaugural season.
Saturday, April 3, 2010

Rivier College now has lacrosse

It was a chilly but sun-splashed day for the Rivier College men’s lacrosse team’s first-ever home game, and the crowd was into it – and knowledgeable.

“Go for the ball, not the man,” came a shout after a Raider missed a ground ball and instead went for a UMaine-Farmington attacker.

Those are the kinds of mistakes head coach Mike McCaffrey will have to live with, as a majority of the players on his microscopic 12-man roster are vastly inexperienced – some playing the sport for the first time. Women’s coach Mary Maruszewski has a much bigger squad (18), but the same problem still exists.

“Eleven have played before,” she said, “but the problem is we have juniors who haven’t picked up a stick in two years.”

Thus the challenge of an athletic department introducing a first-year program, not unlike expansion teams in professional sports. The wins and losses are secondary, the goal is to just get the thing off the ground.

McCaffrey, who went through this several years ago in the early days of Bishop Guertin High School’s program, told his players after a 10-1 loss to UMF to not even worry about the scoreboard.

“Anytime you start a program from scratch, you have no idea what’s around the corner,” McCaffrey said. “But you do know you want to start with some hard-working kids that are going to get out there and get after it every day. We may not have the numbers, but I told the kids I’m proud of them, getting up and down the field under these conditions.”

But those conditions, having a small roster, are not getting in the way of the program’s main objective.

“Our goal this year (with both teams) is to get it going,” Rivier athletic director Joanne Merrill said. “Put a team on the field, kind of see where we stand. So far (with the men) it’s a great group of guys, it’s a numbers game. But we have a good, manageable schedule for us.

“You want to establish it and build it and then you get the numbers. … You have to get some kids who have a little bit of vision themselves.”

McCaffrey has been on the job since the fall of 2008 and certainly didn’t expect to start with such a small roster. But the economy and lack of a program to show prospective recruits was a factor in his mind.

“Last year was more difficult than I expected, because you’re recruiting on air,” McCaffrey said. “Yeah, we’re going to have a turf field here, and this is the league we’re going to be in. … We didn’t play. This year, we’re actually out there playing. I know there were a lot of Nashua South kids here. Hopefully they’re looking out there saying, ‘Hey, there’s an opportunity for me to play out on the field.’ ”

There are some local recruits on the men’s team. One of the team’s better players is Merrimack freshman Randy Perrine. No wonder, he played for the Tomahawks in high school, but now he’s part of history at Rivier after McCaffrey snagged him.

“I think it makes a big difference, being part of history,” Perrine said. “We’re like a family now. All of us are best friends, just doing the best we can.”

Cody Langdon, meanwhile, didn’t have that opportunity at Fall Mountain Regional in Langdon. He was at a college fair at Southern New Hampshire University where McCaffrey spotted him and sold him on the football-type contact aspect of the game. McCaffrey’s philosophy has been to recruit as many top athletes as possible first, and then wade through the lacrosse waters in recruiting because the sport can be picked up in time.

“It’s a lot of hard work, I’ve never played before,” Langdon said. “I played football in high school, you get to hit people in lacrosse. … The first day of practice was a learning experience, but I was surprised, everybody picked it up really quick.”

McCaffrey kept the schedule short – just 10 games and not another one until April 10 – and the slate includes two games versus city rival Daniel Webster College. The team will join the Great Northeast Athletic Conference’s new lacrosse schedule next year, and the conference will get an automatic NCAA Division III tourney bid for the sport in 2013. He says there aren’t heavy expectations, having his players play one quarter at a time.

“When you understand that the majority of these kids have never played before, you just can’t put them out there and expect things to happen,” he said. “There’s improvement. Kids are starting to understand the flow of the game.”

He sees the numbers increasing to an ideal of level of 25 or so on the roster. In order to be competitive and fight the fatigue factor, that is a must.

“Locally, we’ve got to try to grow it,” McCaffrey said. “I know there’s some kids at North and South who want to keep playing lacrosse. And also go out of this radius and try to pick up some kids.”

Ahead of the curve

As for the women, Maruszewski had an even harder uphill climb. She lost a year of recruiting due to the fact that she wasn’t the original coach hired for the job. The school had brought in Lisa Bertolino to coach field hockey and lacrosse but she left after just one year to head up the softball team at Regis College.

That meant Maruszewski hadn’t been able to recruit her own players. Still, she ended up with a large group, a roster of 18, and she feels 18-20 is adequate.

“True, I didn’t know any of the girls, anyone who came in to play lacrosse,” she said, “but they’ve all come in and done a good job. I’ve been lucky.”

Indeed, the women lost by a 16-14 count in their first ever game against UMaine-Farmington. A game that was tied at halftime. Maruszewski was thrilled.

“After the game, the kids were excited,” she said. “For all the things we did wrong, there were a lot of good things. We have to take the positive approach.”

Indeed, the women may be ahead of the men with the number of players that have experience, and there are 10 on the roster who are from New Hampshire. Salem junior Natalie Bonvie had six goals in the team’s first game and freshman Lauren Brett out of Otisfield, Maine, won several draws.

They have a 13 game schedule and have conference play immediately.

“It’s a very competitive league,” said Maruszewski, who went through the same thing with field hockey. “That’s the exciting thing.”

The first practice, all Maruszewski did was have the players work on conditioning.

A great recruiting tool has been Riv’s revamped lighted outdoor field-turf facility, and Maruszewski says that’s helped immensely. No gym time for this crew.

“I told the girls to bundle up, we were going to go outside almost from the start,” she said. “It’s wonderful. We’ve been outside since February where a lot of the teams we play just got outside in the last week or so.”

Maruszewski is also on the recruiting trail, and now, like McCaffrey, has a live team to show prospective recruits what they’d be a part of.

But there is still those growing pains for not one team, but two.

“It has been,” Maruszewski said, “an adventure.”

“To see where the team has developed from the very first practice to where we are now is unbelieveable,” Perrine said. “Over the next couple of years we’ll build a team and it’ll be awesome.”