With senior attacker David Burke’s leadership and experience, the reigning champion St. Thomas men’s lacrosse club team has high hopes for the 2013 season.
Returning players and strong leadership will be key for the Tommies, who have won three national championships in the past four years and are ranked No. 1 in preseason polls by the Men’s College Lacrosse Association. Coach Peter Moosbrugger said a high ranking is nothing out of the ordinary for his team.
“We’re used to being No. 1 now. It’d be a letdown if we weren’t,” Moosbrugger said.
Although it has become the norm for St. Thomas, goaltender Ryan Zeilinger still enjoys topping the polls.
“I’m not a huge rankings guy, but I do like being No. 1,” Zeilinger said.
Some key defensive players graduated from last year’s squad, but most of the offense has remained intact. Burke said the experienced senior class will be key to this season’s success.
“A lot of us older guys have been playing together for three years now,” Burke said. “We’ve been through the grind, and we know what it takes to win.”
The returners also set a great example for the team’s newcomers. Moosbrugger, in his 10th year at St. Thomas, praised the team for its hard work on the field, as well as in the classroom.
“When we recruit, we look for players that push themselves even when no one’s watching,” Moosbrugger said. “You can have great talent, but you’re not going to meet your goals without commitment to team and self.”
The Tommies were back-to-back champs in 2009 and 2010 and hope to do the same this year.
“We definitely have a target on our backs. Other teams hate St. Thomas because we always make it far in the national tournament,” Burke said. “Who wouldn’t hate the team that wins the championship every year?”
Because they know the pressure is on, the Tommies take their training seriously.
“The players understand that you can’t have bad practices, miss running or skip the weight room because there are more than 100 teams looking to take our spot,” Moosbrugger said. “Our players don’t need any extra motivation; they are here to compete.”
The team’s 2013 championship run started Jan. 26 when it defeated Mankato State 23-1 in a scrimmage. The Tommies expect more competition in the Las Vegas Shootout, which begins Friday.
While in Las Vegas, the Tommies will face No. 3 Westminister, No. 8 Concordia-Irvine (Ca.) and No. 19 California State-Fullerton. Moosbrugger said one of the team’s goals for the season is to win the Las Vegas Shootout.
“We fully expect to come out of the Las Vegas tournament 3-0,” Moosebrugger said. “This is the most talented roster we’ve ever had. We just have to continue getting better as a team.”
Other difficult competition is ahead against No. 5 St. John’s, who St. Thomas faces April 6 at home.
“Everyone in the state of Minnesota gets excited for that game. It’s competitive, emotional and physical,” Moosebrugger said.
Burke said he looks forward to the chance to defeat the Johnnies after losing 7-6 last year.
“St. John’s is always a good game because of the rivalry between the two schools,” Burke said.
Another team St. Thomas expects to see later this season is No. 2 Grand Valley State (Mich.), who the Tommies defeated in last year’s national championship 9-8.
Although the team has a tough road ahead, it’s living in the present now.
“We just need to take things one game at a time,” Zeilinger said. “We are focusing on the short-term.”
Maggie Whitacre can be reached at email@example.com.