The Reverb: Rhody’s Rise
by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
LA CROSSE, Wis. – Rhode Island was just kind of lost for a while. Overmatched in Division I of the old Pioneer Collegiate Lacrosse League (PCLL) and burning through a new coach seemingly every year, the Rams couldn’t get traction.
In 2019, the PCLL and the Central Collegiate Lacrosse Association (CCLA) melded, creating the Continental Lacrosse Conference (CLC). Rhode Island used the opportunity to transfer to Division II of the CLC.
In its first season, URI showed well, winning the first CLC tournament, but rules in place dictated that the regular season champion – in this case, Bridgewater State – received the automatic berth to nationals.
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Despite not leaving New England, it was a promising sign. The hiring of Larry Madeira for the 2020 campaign coincided with a beefed-up schedule featuring a three-games-in-two-days set at Nashville’s Judgment Weekend.
The Rams lost all three, but a one-goal loss to Kennesaw State to finish the trip gave a glimpse of what was supposed to come.
Then, on March 13, 2020, everything went sideways.
And for nearly two years, the URI program was essentially dormant, like so many others. There were practices, scrimmages against some local NCAA teams and a friendly against Stonehill in 2021. But it wasn’t until they ramped back up during the fall of 2021 that normalcy returned.
URI started to get an idea that they might have something going on in Kingston. Rhode Island had the confidence in themselves – something that happens for most programs in the fall – but a trip south in late February of ‘22 brought more clarity.
What team should be No. 1 in this week's New Balance D-I poll? #mcla23
— 2023 MCLA National Tourney (@MCLA_Tournament) March 12, 2023
“The moment the lightbulb went off for all of us was last year down in Foley, Ala., when we matched up with FAU,” Madeira said. “They were just coming off a big win against Missouri State and we came out and played one of our best games of the year against a very good team.
“We always had the confidence that we were a great team, but that win specifically showed us what we were capable of at the national level.”
A run to the finals before bowing out to Utah only strengthened the belief that the Rams had arrived.
Consistency is the biggest challenge in the MCLA, and this season is a test of that. After beating No. 7 Grand Valley State on Saturday, 15-9, they are passing the exam with ease.
They’ve had to do it with seven new starters, but the guys who graduated left an impression on the next group of leaders.
“Last year's team found a recipe for success; this year's team is trying to perfect that,” Madeira said. “We lost a lot of great players, but their mentorship of our younger players has led to a near seamless transition as they step into those prominent roles.
“Some guys who were on the team last year have had to step into leadership roles that they didn't have in the past and they have, so far, answered the bell.”
There are still plenty of recognizable names. Junior middie Keegan Reilly was a force in Round Rock and dropped a seven-burger on Grand Valley State. Senior attackman Anthony Guarino continues to produce while senior goalie Hunter Billings has kept rolling from last spring.
What a beauty, switching hands with a dodge and fire for Keegan Reilly @LaxRhody had a day against GVSU today #gorhody #rhodyrams watch all the action here https://t.co/UvCcrs1VEi pic.twitter.com/Jxic34uQKv
— Fans Only Sportz Network (@fosportz) March 11, 2023
Some of the less branded names are the ones leading the way this year, according to Madeira. Junior LSM Ian Schermerhorn has been a monster from box to box for the Rams while the defensive middie duo of Sam DeRotto and Nick Ptaszek are giving opposing offenses fits.
“They don't get nearly enough credit for how big of an impact they have on our team,” Madeira said. “Those three are playing as big of a role in the success of our team as anyone else on the field.”
Madeira and his staff understand that they will have some challenges this year. With so much turnover, they can’t just plug and play. Every edition has its own traits.
“We put our players in the best position to succeed,” he said. “It sounds simple, but every year you have a new team, a new identity. The schemes you were running last year may not work with the personnel group you have this year, so you have to find ways to adjust.
“You can't live and die by one way of coaching and try to fit square blocks in round holes. Getting the most out of each player and watching them succeed in different ways all throughout the year makes it not only fun for the players, but is the best feeling you can have as a coach.”
It’s also gratifying to be No. 1 in the country with a chance at having a dynamic seed at nationals.
It is certainly a long way from where they were five years ago.
A look at our schedule this week ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/RdTcW8KRJ1
— UNH Men's Lacrosse (@UNHLacrosse) March 12, 2023
MY TOP FIVES
1. Virginia Tech (8-1) – We’ll give the Hokies credit for the bye week, I guess.
2. Liberty (5-1) – Great start to a brutal run of games. Utah swing upcoming.
3. Georgia Tech (8-1) – It’s a Top-5 neutral-site loss. The sky isn’t falling.
4. Florida State (9-0) – Cruising right along. Pitt and UGA will be a great test.
5. Utah Valley (8-0) – Wolverines get a crack at Liberty next. Upwardly mobile.
1. Rhode Island (6-1) – Complacency is the Rams’ biggest opponent until May.
2. Missouri State (3-0) – Two weeks away from St. Thomas/Grand Valley showdown.
3. Montana State (5-1) – Chilly weekend sweep keeps the Kittens on track.
4. UC San Diego (6-0) – Tritons get a break from slaughtering their subdivision.
5. St. Thomas (2-1) – Going the entirety of March without a game is interesting.
SLIDES & RIDES
- USC senior Sam Brimberg is an attackman for the Trojans, but this past weekend he proved to be the consummate team player. With the top three goalies on the shelf due to injuries, Brimberg was asked to step between the pipes against a pair of Top 11 teams.
The last time he donned the goalie utensils was 2017 when he was a player at Stuyvesant (N.Y.) High School, but his USC squad needed him. Brimberg made 17 stops against No. 5 Boston College and then 16 more against No. 11 Utah Valley. The Trojans lost both, but the New York City product showed out. Good on you, Sam.
- What are you thinking about the conference breakdown for Division II bids to Round Rock? Obviously, plenty of moving parts, but no crime in thinking out loud (although it should be noted that not all conferences may have an AQ by the end of the year). First instinct:
We’ll be tracking this all spring. Note: I have zero “inside” knowledge, as I don’t think there is any knowledge out there yet.
- Liberty beating Georgia Tech sets up one of those three-way conundrums that will add another 15 minutes to the selection call in late April. Liberty beats Georgia Tech, which beat Virginia Tech, which beat Liberty. There’s a lot of time to clarify the issue, but I guarantee it will be a seeding tiebreaker at some point.
- Go ahead and plug in Montana as the top seed out of the PNCLL North. The Grizzlies are looking solid for the top overall seed (which gets the preferred semifinal time slot) that goes to the higher-ranked top seed…BYU jumped all over Boise State, leading 7-0 at the half before taking the 10-8 triumph. Good second-half answer by the Broncos, good win for the Cougs.
- Your luck in the MCLA can change in the blink of an eye. No. 24 Southern Methodist was on a roll, winning seven of its first eight games, including a road win at No. 14 Cal on Saturday. On Sunday, the Mustangs got roasted by an unranked Santa Clara squad, 18-5. Down in Baton Rouge, Illinois rolled up No. 17 LSU and Arkansas on Friday and Saturday, respectively, before getting clipped by unranked D-II Tulane on Sunday. LSU beat Tulane, 15-3, two weeks ago. Keep your head on a swivel, kids.
- Coaches nominations for the PEARL Goalie of the Week and Warrior Player of the Week are due by noon EDT to [email protected].