2005 Air Force Lacrosse Season Outlook
Although the 2005 Air Force lacrosse team returns only five seniors, all are hardened veterans and the Falcons are quietly confident and looking forward to a very successful 2005 season. This confidence is borne from a number of factors from 2004, including the team's victory over top-ranked Virginia, five one-goal loses and three weeks ranked among the nation's top 20.
"Our players have worked very hard in the off-season and are eagerly awaiting the challenge of a top Division I schedule this season," said head coach Fred Acee. "They know what it takes to win. They have set lofty goals and are doing what is necessary to achieve those goals."
The 2005 schedule includes seven teams ranked in the preseason top-25 coaches poll, while the Falcons themselves received 12 votes in the poll. Among the ranked teams the Falcons will face are North Carolina, Towson State, archrival Army, Pennsylvania and fellow Great Western Lacrosse League opponents Notre Dame, Ohio State and Denver University. Air Force will open the season at Virginia Military Institute on Feb. 27, followed by the Denver Pioneers Face-off Classic March 5-6 where the Falcons will take on Towson State and Lafayette. Ivy League powerhouse Pennsylvania will visit the Air Force Academy on March 10 for a non-league encounter. The Falcons will then travel to Army, who have beaten the Falcons in overtime for the past two years. The Falcons will also face tough non-league opponent St. John's in Jamaica, N.Y.
The first order of business for the Falcons' coaching staff in 2005 will be to replace graduating defensemen Chris Palmer, Zack Lehman, Andy Sunderland and Jeff Moss. All were cornerstones of a very strong defense that allowed just over eight goals per game. "It is vital to the success of our team that our defenders step up and fill the void that was left by the graduation of the defense," said Acee.
Four-year starting attackman Greg Dangler, as well as Bill Kelleher and Dave Brown, will be tough to replace as will MVP midfielder Mike Colosimo, Tim Lorden and face-off specialist Greg Kantz. Coach Acee feels the toughest midfielders to replace will be defensive specialists Ray Wilson and Monte Caplan, who he characterizes as "very fast, athletic and tough."
"Replacing these graduated seniors will be a challenge for our team, but with our returning class of seniors and the combined experience of our junior and sophomore classes, this should be a competitive year on the field," said Acee.
AttackmenAlthough young, the Falcon attack will be very competitive. Leading scorer Will Meister, who tallied 11 goals and 14 assists in 2004, will lead the attack. "Meister is a great field general. He will lead our offense," said Acee.
Michael Weber, Kevin Krieger, Max Miller and Conrad Lochocki will all compete for a starting spot at attack. Krieger and Weber are big, strong attackers, while Miller and Lochocki are hard-shooting lefties. Freshmen Kevin Crumrine and David Rose will also compete for a spot on the field.
Acee is very excited about the prospects at the attack position. "I feel we should improve on our seven goals per game average of 2004. This is potentially the most talented group of attackmen we've ever had at the Academy."
MidfieldersSenior co-captain D.J. Benzing, who finished the 2004 season with 10 goals, 15 assists and 32 ground balls, will lead the midfielders. Benzing has been a starter for all four years at the Air Force Academy. He is an outstanding offensive and defensive midfielder. "D.J. is a quiet leader who will take charge on both ends of the field," said Acee.
Meanwhile, senior midfielders Michael Kennedy and Jeffrey Jablonski will need to have breakout seasons to help the Falcons have a successful season.
Returnees Paul Adams, John Smith, Justin Kuchta, Kevin Winslow, Kyle O' Neill, Billy Sullivan and Brad DelloIacono will compete for starting positions. Kuchta was the leading goal scorer at midfield in 2004 and will again be a force at that position. Adams has great speed and can play both ends of the field. Smith is a strong midfielder and is, according to Acee, "our best face-off guy." O'Neill and Winslow will also compete for the face-off spot, while Sullivan and DelloIacono will compete for the defensive midfield positions.
Newcomer Christopher Tubesing will face off and will be a force on both the offensive and defensive ends of the field. He leads a group of freshmen who are expected to compete for playing time. Jack Parchman, Peter Krasco and Lukas Fisher had very good fall practices and will add depth at the midfield position. Walk-ons Reilly Smith and Aaron Baney will also compete for playing time.
DefendersThe strength of the team will again be a talented and tough defense, led by seniors Jared Brush and co-captain Tim Hade. Hade earned all-conference honors in 2004 and Brush has been a starter for four seasons at both close defense and long stick midfield. Hade, who was chosen as a pre-season All-America, will anchor the long-stick midfield position.
Jordan Kemp will have a breakout year at close defense. Acee feels that Kemp and Brush are as good as any at their position. The third spot will be a dog fight between Daniel Breiding, Patrick Mitchell and Michael Cotham. All had very good fall practices and have worked hard in the off season. Kyle Rutherford and Ryan Stillwell will compete for playing time, while Jonathan Appleby and Spencer Reed will add needed depth to the defense. The long stick midfield positions will be manned by Hade and Steven Kessler with support from freshmen Pike Howard and Eric Olsen.
Goalkeepers The goalkeeper position is anchored by pre-season All-America selection Justin Pavoni. Pavoni was an All-Great Western Lacrosse League honoree in 2004. He finished the season with a .637 save percentage, ranking him third overall in the NCAA. Acee believes Pavoni is the consummate goaltender: "He is great in the goal, and great out of the goal. J.J. is possibly our best athlete."
Pavoni will be adequately backed up by sophomore Daniel Bellissimo, who Acee is convinced has all the tools to be a great Division I goalie. Walk-on Clayton Cruickshank provides needed depth at this position.
In short, the Falcons believe that this year they have all the right pieces in place for the program to turn a corner. By improving upon the strides that were made last season, the latest edition of the Air Force lacrosse team can make 2005 a season to remember.