ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. – As the St. Bonaventure men's lacrosse team enters its second season of action at the Division I level, members of the Bonnies bring a level of comfort that didn't exist a year ago at this time.
For one, the Bonnies return 28 players a year ago who had no D-I experience entering last year and now have a year's worth of familiarity with what it takes to be successful at that level.
St. Bonaventure also has the benefit of doubling the amount of home games on its 2020 schedule – hosting six games on home turf after only playing three at SBU in its first season.
The added home contests are part of an impressive – and challenging slate – for 2020.
"Entering our second year as a program we wanted to make sure we had a solid non-conference schedule before getting into MAAC play," Bonnies head coach Randy Mearns said. "We're a year stronger and wiser. We're trying to get better every day. Building a program from scratch is no easy task, but we now have a familiarity with what needs to be done that the guys didn't have a year ago at this time."
After playing scrimmages at Drexel and Mount St. Mary's – the Brown and White did not have any scrimmages last spring - the Bonnies open their slate at home Sunday, Feb. 9 when they host Saint Joseph's. The Hawks went 7-7 overall and 3-3 in the Northeast Conference last year and scored a win in the first-ever meeting between the programs last year.
The early portion of this year's schedule is much like last year's with several road trips.
First up is a trip to Kentucky to play in Louisville at Bellarmine (Feb. 15) which went 3-4 in the SoCon last season.
Next, the Bonnies have two dates to circle on the calendar as they head further west to Colorado and the Denver Faceoff Classic. St. Bonaventure will play two of the nation's top programs in the Rocky Mountains – host Denver (Feb. 22) and Air Force (Feb. 23). Denver has won 10 or more games in all but one season since head coach Bill Tierney took over in 2010 and reached last year's Big East Championship. Like Denver, Air Force won 10 games last year and went 6-1 in the SoCon.
The long road swing continues at High Point (March 2), which went 13-3 and climbed into the national Top 10 last year, and fellow SoCon member Mercer (March 4).
"The Faceoff Classic is a phenomenal event. Denver does a first-class job with it and that's an exciting event for our team to be a part of," Mearns said. "We were able to pick up solid mid-major opponents in Bellarmine and Mercer and High Point was tremendous last year. We want to continue to compete at a high level and we have done that with six really challenging opponents before we start our MAAC games."
Bona opens up MAAC competition at Detroit (March 14) and Canisius (March 21) to finally complete the time away from home.
The Bonnies will be well-rewarded with a long homestand to close out the year. Five of the team's final six games will be played on home turf at the Marra Athletics Complex as MAAC play heats up.
"We're basically at home for six weeks to end the season. It's exciting to be able to be at home much more than last year," Mearns said. "The three home games we had last year were phenomenal. We did an excellent job as an institution, the entire Athletic Department staff in creating a tremendous environment. We feel it is really going to be to our advantage having the long run of home games at the end of the year."
SBU hosts last year's MAAC runner-up Quinnipiac March 28 in a Saturday matinee, then steps out of conference play to host independent Cleveland State which went 8-7 last year on Tuesday, March 31.
Manhattan makes the trip to Western New York to play at Bonaventure Saturday, April 4 as part of Alumni Weekend before the Bonnies make their final road trip of the year April 11 at Monmouth.
The schedule concludes with back-to-back home contests – Siena (April 17) and defending MAAC champion Marist (April 24). The conference semifinals and finals are slated for April 30 and May 2 at Monmouth.
With the foundation for the future of the program set last year, Mearns and his staff hope to see the team continue making steps forward this spring. The Bonnies bring back three MAAC All-Rookie Team selections in Austin Blumbergs (11 goals, 14 points), Brett Dobson (118 saves, .557 save percentage) and Sean Westley (14 goals, 27 points) while Nick Conklin (44 groundballs, 24 caused turnovers) and Zack Belter (31 groundballs, 16 caused turnovers) also started every game as freshmen. Matthew DeGirolamo (15 goals, 17 points), last season's team goals leader, also returns along with Cian Collins (11 goals, 19 points), Jackson Rose (10 points), John Killcommons (nine goals), John Fox (four goals, eight points) and Ben Mazur (93 saves, .484 save percentage).
Five of the Bonnies' home games will be broadcast live on WGWE 105.9 FM and streamed worldwide on the WGWE website - only the Feb. 9 game will not be carried by the network. A schedule of ESPN+ games will be released after the New Year.
"We still have a long way to go, but it was a noticeable difference in the fall in the level of our play," he assessed. A lot of guys put in a ton of work over the summer, in the weight room, playing box lacrosse and keeping active in getting better all summer. Last year everything was new and we all feel much more confident this year."
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