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Rollins College – New Coach, New Direction

Written by Lee Roggenburg on . Posted in , , .

WINTER PARK, Fla. (February 8, 2011) – The Rollins men’s lacrosse team charges into its fourth season of action under new directions as interim head coach RJ Rossi takes the helm for the Tars’ 2011 campaign. Rossi, who stepped-up to the challenge after the resignation of inaugural head coach Andrew Baxter in December, has revamped the squad from the ground up with hopes to create a new beginning from the other beginning’s end.

In just a few weeks’ time, Rossi has overhauled the team in all aspects, bringing in new faces to the coaching staff, devising new team directives, and instilling a new sense of excitement within the team as the season quickly approaches.

The Tars welcome three new faces to the coaching staff as Kyle Hofstaedter, Chris Shunk, and James Foote come on board under Rossi’s guidance. With each one bringing their own areas of expertise to the team, Rossi is confident that the program will reach new levels of success in the coming months.

“We’ve gotten off to a great start and the coaching staff is pleased with the team’s progress so far,” says Rossi. “There is a new sense of commitment within these young men, and the new attitude has been very impressive so far.”

“The team is completely focused on the task at hand,” Rossi continues. “They’ve proven very quickly that they’ve bought into the new philosophies we’ve instilled, and have been very supportive of the new coaching staff throughout this quick adjustment. The entire team has handled the transition very well, and there are new levels of respect, responsibility, and accountability within this team.”

Rollins returns 21 letter winners from the 2010 team, including eight starters. With the combination of experience and new talent on the field, Rossi and company are eager to see how the season unfolds.

“We are excited about the combination of veteran leadership and new talent,” Rossi explains. “There is a unique dynamic to the team this season, and we’re looking for that distinctive mixture to make positive things happen in our 2011 campaign.”

Heading up the Tars this season on attack will be a solid group of returning players who made an impact on last year’s squad. Rossi will look to returning starter and lead goal scorer Charlie Shelly to help take the reins on attack this season.

Shelly enters into his third season with the Tars after posting a team best 16 goals and tacking on six assists for 22 points, good for second on the team. After seeing time on the field in the 2008 and 2010 seasons, the senior captain is the program leader in goals scored with 33, and tops the all-time points leaderboard with 44.

“Charlie is playing the best lacrosse of his career,” says Rossi. “We’ll be looking at him to provide the emotional leadership this season for the entire team, and we’re looking forward to seeing where this season takes him.”

Joining Shelly on the attacking line will be Austin Ricci, a Winter Park native who finished his sophomore campaign tied for second on the team in goals scored with 13, and added six assists for 19 points.

“If anyone has benefitted from the changes we’ve made this spring, it’s Austin,” Rossi points out. “We’re expecting big things out of him from day one. He’s a whole new player out there.”

Justin Wright will be the fourth attackman this season, but will be utilized more in the midfield due to his immense speed and athleticism. Wright finished his freshman year second on the team in goals scored with 13, but notched a team best 13 assists to lead the squad with 26 points on the year.

Joining Wright in the transition from attack to midfield will be Charles Cook, who will be expected to utilize his dexterity and agility on a broader scale in his junior year. Cook rounded out his 2010 season with eight goals and six assists for 14 points, and was a big presence on the attacking unit.

Wright and Cook will be led in the midfield by junior captain Eric Schmit, a transfer from St. John’s University who had a breakout season with the Tars in 2010 and earned Deep South Conference Honorable Mention honors. The Deephaven, Minn. native tallied nine goals and three assists in his first year with Rollins, and earned a faceoff percentage of 57 percent, winning 73-of-129. He completed his season second on the team in ground balls with 38.

“Eric is the most tenacious player on our team,” Rossi explains. “He leads by example, and we fully expect him to have another All-Conference season this year.”

Matthew Lunnen will also be expected to help anchor the first midfield line this season. The junior captain has provided the Tars with a composed sense of control on the field in his first two seasons, and the coaching staff expects him to help guide the team once again this year. A native of Baltimore, Md., Lunnen has had two solid campaigns so far with Rollins, tallying a total of 13 goals, 10 assists, and 23 points, while also adding 34 ground balls.

James Libutti will help round out the midfield unit as he has proven that he is determined to have the best season yet. The junior midfielder has flown under the radar his first two seasons, but has worked incredibly hard and utilized preseason to its full extent in order to stand out.

“James is having the best preseason of the midfield group,” Rossi says. “He’s moved up the depth chart significantly, and we’re very impressed with his determination and dedication so far. His tenacity and uncanny goal scoring ability has come to the forefront this spring. We’re looking forward to seeing what he can produce.”

This year’s defense will be led by Nick Scannapieco and Andrew Vossler. Scannapieco, who was First Team All-Conference after his freshman season, finished 2010 second on the team behind Vossler in ground balls and caused turnovers with 38 and 15, respectively.

Vossler will make the move from defensive midfield to close defense this year, and will look to have another standout season for the Tars. The Manlius, N.Y. native has had an impressive two years with Rollins, earning 2010 Lacrosse Face-Off Yearbook Preseason All-American honors, as well as a nod on the 2009 Deep South Conference Honorable Mention team. He was named DSC Defensive Player of the Week for the period ending March 9, 2010, and has led the team in ground balls and caused turnovers for two consecutive seasons. In program records, Vossler leads with 119 ground balls and 45 caused turnovers.

“Both Nick and Andrew are top quality athletes that can take on even the most elusive players,” says Rossi. “We are expecting nothing but the best from both of them, and I feel that without a doubt they should both be All-Conference selections at the end of the season.”

Scannapieco and Vossler will anchor the defense alongside Andrew Hanna and Jorge Colon, who will be once again expected to have solid seasons. Both Hanna and Colon will be utilized to help shut down key opponents and help move the ball down field, and the coaching staff will look to them to make seasoned decisions and use their experience wisely.

Three goalies will compete for time in cage this season, with freshman Paul Valukas leading the race after working extremely hard in preseason. Returning senior Doug O’Brien remains on the newcomer’s heels, and has made the slot a highly-competitive position. Freshman Ian Flick will also compete for time in goal this season.

Rollins welcomes nine additional new faces alongside Valukas and Flick, and has brought in a plethora of talent and multiplicity to all areas of the field. Rossi is confident in the freshmen class, and expects them to contribute significantly.

John Herbert will play a large role in the midfield, and will be a key member right from the start.

“John is one of the top athletes on our team,” Rossi points out. “He was recruited as an attackman, but has done everything asked of him and more and we really feel he’ll fit in better in the midfield. With Wright, Cook, and Herbert matched-up together as middies, we’re going to have speed and athleticism that we haven’t had in that area of the field in the past.”

Archer Knopes will compete for time on defense with Colon and Hanna, and has already stepped into the collegiate game with ease. In the defensive midfield, Jessup Daniel and James Clarke will compete for time as long-pole midfielders, and will help fill the void that Vossler leaves behind as he transitions more to close-defense.

“We’re really counting on their contributions, especially the long pole middies,” Rossi adds. “They have some pretty big shoes to fill, but we’re hoping they can step up to help manage the defensive midfield.”

Jack Dever will highlight the list of newcomers, and will be leaned on heavily from the start. He will quarterback the offense despite being a freshman and will be expected to use his incredible game sense and exceptional skills to help make things happen this season

“It’s a huge responsibility, but I believe Jack can handle it,” Rossi explains. “He’s accepted the challenge and I have one hundred percent confidence in him and his decision-making on the field. He’s just a tireless worker, and we know he’s going to have a top-notch college career.”

The hard work the players have put in throughout a grueling preseason has left little doubt that the Tars are ready to get out onto the game field.

“We’ve had a long preseason with a lot of conditioning and fundamentals” Rossi added. “Getting out onto the game field will be a welcome change for these guys, and our upcoming schedule will provide them with plenty of challenges.”

Rollins opens their season and jumps right into Deep South Conference action as they take on Florida Southern at this year’s Faceoff for a Cause to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project on Saturday, February 12. After dropping their first matchup to the Moccasins last season in the exact same situation, the Tars are eager to pick up a victory over their conference rivals on opening day.

Rollins continues its DSC run a week later when they take on reigning DSC Champion Saint Leo University. The Tars, who have not been able to best the Lions yet in program history, will look to stun their conference foe on their home turf, February 19.

After kicking off the season with two consecutive conference games, the Tars step out of DSC action and take on Division III opponent York College on February 27, using the game to warm up against South Region powerhouse Limestone the following day on Sunday, February 28.

The Tars end their seven-game home stand by hosting three DSC opponents. The Tars take on Wingate on March 7, and will look to pick up their second consecutive victory over the Bulldogs after besting them 11-8 last season.

Rollins hosts Catawba three days later on March 10, and then takes on Mars Hill on Wednesday, March 16 before hitting the road on the biggest road trip the program has ever taken.

The Tars head west to California in search of not gold but a pair of victories as they take on Dominican University of California and Notre Dame de Namur University on March 18 and 20, respectively.

After their trip cross country, the Tars return to their home field to take on brand new Deep South member Lenoir-Rhyne University in their final conference contest of the regular season.

Rollins closes out their regular season slate with one final road trip, traveling to North Carolina to take on regional opponents St. Andrews Presbyterian College on April 1 and Pfeiffer University April 3.

With a brand new beginning opening the doors of possibility as wide as ever, the Tars are hopeful that they will be participating in the Deep South Conference Tournament to be played April 12-17, with the championship game slated to take place at Saint Leo University.

Despite obvious adversity, the Rollins men’s lacrosse team looks stronger than ever and Rossi is confident that big things are in store for the team in 2011.

“I’m expecting vast improvement, and believe our new collective attitude will be the component that defines the season,” Rossi concludes. “We have the talent, without a doubt. But ultimately, this season will boil down to whether or not they believe in their abilities on the field. That will make all the difference. We have a close-knit, determined group of student-athletes this year. If they take things one day at a time and maintain a positive attitude, then it will be a very successful season.”