Feb. 25 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The 21st varsity sport at Bethany College is continuing preparation for its inaugural season, as the Bison men’s lacrosse team will scrimmage Fairmont State at home Feb. 26 and open its first varsity season March 3 against St. Andrews (N.C.) at Bison Stadium.
First-year head coach Todd Wolffrum has 23 players on his roster for the initial season, including 14 freshman and even the nine upperclassmen are first-year players. The team was able to play three games at the Washington & Jefferson Invitational in the fall, so Wolffrum has used that experience and their month of practice to try to get a feel for what to expect in the first year.
“I feel we have some talented players, but we are trying to catch them up to where they need to be to play at the NCAA level,” said Wolffrum, who played two years at Pfeiffer University (N.C.). “In a more established program, some of our guys might sit for a year or two to learn and get better, but with being a first-year program, they are getting thrown right into the fire.
“However, the month of practice we’ve had, all the guys are competitive, which as a coach makes you happy, and they are determined to win no matter what,” said Wolffrum.
With this just being the initial year of the program, Wolffrum is realistic about the kind of year the team will have with so many young players. His idea is to use this year to build the foundation for the program moving forward and his players are getting that message about keeping an eye to the future.
“Everyone understands that we could take some lumps from teams this year but we also want to give some back too,” said Wolffrum. “Everyone is here for the long haul and committed to building something great here at Bethany.”
The strength of the first varsity lacrosse team at Bethany is expected to be the defense. Freshman goalie C.J. Studnicky (Severna Park, Md.) has already shown his worth by earning a captain position. The defense in front of him includes another captain in freshman Corey Doneski (Annapolis, Md./Broadneck), freshman Eric Sowinski (Pittsburgh, Pa./Seton-LaSalle), sophomore Hunter Madsen (New Philadelphia, Ohio) and senior Stephen Mott (Lake Oswego, Ore./Lakeridge).
In addition, freshman Duante Mayes (Youngstown, Ohio/Austintown Fitch) and junior Kyle Niland (Canton, Ohio/St. Thomas Aquinas) are also candidates for playing time on the defensive end.
“The heart of our program starts with the goalie and rounds out on defense because that’s where most of our experience is,” said Wolffrum. “From day one, C.J. has shown he wants to be a leader on and off the field and that’s why he’s a captain.
“On defense, Corey is also a captain and is my voice out on the field,” said Wolffrum. “Hunter, Eric and Stephen are talented players and we’ve been working on forming them to play at the college level. Kyle (Niland) and Duante will look to get a lot of time as defensive midfielders.”
When looking at the midfield or attack positions, Wolffrum is still evaluating players and trying to see where players can fit best. Among those who have stood out so far include freshman Travis Granich (Huntington, W.Va.), freshman Kyle Romanek (Brunswick, Md.), freshman Conley Bartelt (Woodbridge, Va./Forest Park) and sophomore captain Kyle Arrington (Jackson Twp., Ohio/Jackson).
“To be honest, everyone may get to play every spot early on to see what we have,” said Wolffrum. “We are talented but very raw and need to be molded into a productive offensive unit.
“We have had some guys step up so far, including Travis, who is a workhorse and is like the team’s Energizer bunny,” said Wolffrum. “Kyle (Romanek) came in as a solid defensive player, but has turned into one of our better offensive-minded midfielders. Kyle (Arrington) and Conley will help us score goals this year, but their talent is still very raw. If they keep working hard, by the time they are seniors, they will be our best players on the field.”
Others in the mix for time include a trio of sophomores in Zach Gordon (Leesburg, Va./Heritage), Josh Smith (Tarentum, Pa./Deer Lakes) and John Tritschler (Lower Burrell, Pa./Greensburg Central). The freshmen trying to play their way onto the field include Sam Breitenstein (Mohnton, Pa./Gov. Mifflin), Julius Dixon (Montgomery Village, Md./Clarksburg), Robbie Foster (Greatbridge, Va./Greatbridge), Dylan Radwanski (Toronto, Ohio) and Brandon Schnupp (Pittsburgh, Pa./Seton-LaSalle).
Wolffrum’s goals for the first year mostly hinge on improving throughout the season and building for the future. However, with many schools just starting lacrosse this year like Bethany, the schedule features numerous first-year programs and could provide some wins for the Bison to use as momentum builders for coming seasons.
“Look, we know we are not going to go undefeated, but there are a lot of games that we should be very competitive in or even win,” said Wolffrum. “The schedule can help us because we are playing a lot of other first-year programs going through the same issues we are, as well as some other teams who have been struggling in recent years. I really think if we all come together, we can make a run at possibly getting seven wins to go .500.
“Regardless of how many wins we get this year, we have a great core group to build on,” said Wolffrum. “They have the determination that by the time they graduate, they will have made significant strides with the program and that begins this year.”