PHILADELPHIA - The Penn men's lacrosse team begins the 2007 season Friday afternoon, hitting the road to take on Villanova at 3 p.m. Last year, the Quakers downed the Wildcats, 9-6; in 2005, Villanova emerged with a 10-7 victory in the season opener.
Penn enters the season ranked 12th in the USILA preseason poll; Villanova is unranked.
Some things to think about as the Quakers head into the 2007 season...
Penn returns 19 letterwinners from last year’s NCAA Championship first-round team, but has to replace 10 departed seniors including three who earned All-Ivy honors (D.J. Andrzejewski, Andy Blechman, Alan Eberstein) and seven who started regularly.
Penn lost 57 percent of its goals (the departed seniors scored 78 of Penn’s 137 goals in 2006) and 56 percent of its points from a year ago (the seniors had 113 of the 203 points).
Penn looks to replace its three leading scorers from a year ago (Andrzejewski, Jim Riordan, Eberstein); the leading returning scorers are senior David Cornbrooks and sophomore Craig Andrzejewski (D.J.’s younger brother).
Cornbrooks scored 18 goals last season from his midfield position, good for third on the team; he earned honorable mention All-Ivy.
Cornbrooks scored in 10 of Penn’s 14 games last season, and had seven multi-goal outings.
Andrzejewski ran with the second midfield last year, but will likely move to the attack in 2007.
Sophomore Alex Weber started all but one game on the attack as a freshman. He scored four goals in 2006.
Yet another sophomore, Casey O'Rourke, saw plenty of time up front and had eight points (6g, 2a).
In the midfield, sophomore J.J. Lian joined a pair of seniors as a freshman on the first unit in 2006. He had eight points (5g, 3a).
Another sophomore, Drew Collins, was a regular on the second unit and finished sixth on the squad with 15 points (10g, 5a).
The defense figures to be anchored by seniors Mark Haase and Matt Kelleher; Haase started nine games last year, while Kelleher started every game his freshman and sophomore years before suffering an injury prior to the start of last season. He returned at the end of the season and made four starts in nine overall appearances.
All three of Penn’s leading defensive middies are back for 2007 -- senior Alex Staffier, junior Max Mauro and sophomore Brian Weiss.
As a freshman, Weiss finished second on the team in ground balls in 2006, with 42; he also had 13 caused turnovers as a short stick.
Mauro had 29 ground balls and eight caused turnovers in 2006; he has played in every game the last two seasons.
Staffier was a member of the Landon School team that was top-ranked in the nation at the end of 2002, while Weiss was a member of the McDonogh team that was top-ranked in 2005.
Senior Greg Klossner is the incumbent in goal; he was the regular starter last year, for the first time in his collegiate career, and had an 8.33 goals-against average and a .539 save percentage.
One of Penn’s two new goalies, Chris Casey, backstopped Georgetown Prep to a No. 1 national ranking last year; another newcomer, Brendan Saxon, was one of his defensemen.
Eight of this year’s sophomores were high school All-Americans who will be getting their first major shot in college after all of Penn’s graduations.
Q&A With Head Coach Brian Voelker...
You lost a lot of seniors from last year’s squad. How do the dynamics change for this year?
“We will miss those guys a lot, especially the things they did on the field -- they were a talented group. Most of all, we will miss the leadership and attitude they instilled in our team. I hope they helped set the tone for our program, and the younger guys learned from them.”
You guys have now been to the NCAAs two of the last three years. What has that done for the program, on and off the field?
“Being in the NCAAs has helped us in many ways. Our players now know that we can compete with anyone, and that we should go into every game expecting to win. They know that the hard work they put in throughout the year can be rewarded. They believe in each other and the system we have. Off the field, our success has greatly improved our recruiting; we have strung together three extremely talented classes that will help us immensely this year and in the very near future. I also feel our success has gotten our alumni more involved, which helps us in so many ways.”
A lot of preseason publications are picking you guys in their national polls. How does a young, inexperienced team deal with the expectations?
“I am not a coach that puts any validity in preseason polls. All those polls mean is we had a good year last year. Last year was great, but it’s over. I am sure our players have seen things, but it is not something we focus on. We need to create our own identity, work hard, and do what it takes to win games. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
What will the strengths of this team be?
“We have a lot of guys who have played quality minutes over the last few seasons. There will be a lot of competition for starting jobs and playing time. We have an experienced defensive unit, and a lot talent on the offensive end.”
You won four games in the Ivy League last year. Is this program ready to challenge for the title?
“Our league sent four teams to the NCAAs last year, and I expect it to be one of the toughest in the country again this season. One of our goals this season is to win the Ivies, but it will be a difficult task.”
Talk about your attack for 2007
“We are expecting Alex Weber, Casey O'Rourke, and Craig Andrzejewski to lead our attack. Alex started every game last year as a freshman, while Casey played in every game and scored some big goals. Craig moves from the midfield, and adds a lot of skill and athleticism to the unit. Alex Salihi, a senior who has played a lot the last three years, will compete with the three sophomores for playing time. Freshman Chris Harms impressed us in the fall and could see significant time this spring.”
Talk about the midfield for 2007
“David Cornbrooks will anchor the midfield; he is coming off an All-Ivy season, and we will count on him to provide a consistent scoring threat. J.J. Lian and Drew Collins both played significant roles last year as freshmen, and will be counted on to step up their games. Garrett Blomquist, Garvey Heiderman, Tim Hlavin, Greg Sih, Ryan Bailey and Brian Jackson will all compete for spots on the first two units. Drew Lassiter and Glenn Goebels should also compete for playing time.”
Talk about the defense for 2007
“Seniors Matt Kelleher and Mark Haase will be counted on to provide leadership and experience to the defense. Max Mauro is expected to move from long-pole middie to close defense. Michael Glynn, Tom Dodge, Brett Hughes, Joe Kelly and Brendan Saxon will all compete for playing time at close defense and long-pole. Senior Alex Staffier and sophomore Brian Weiss will start the season as our short-stick defensive middies.”
Talk about the goalie situation for 2007
“Greg Klossner started every game last year, and will go into the season as our starter. Greg Murray, Noah Aptekar, and Chris Casey all played well this fall. We feel the competition between these four will help us tremendously.”
You’ve put together another tough schedule!
“I have always believed in challenging our players with a difficult schedule -- to be the best, you have to play the best. Our league is always a dogfight, and always has top-ranked teams in it. Playing Villanova, Lehigh, Robert Morris, Bucknell, UMBC, Maryland and Denver will give us numerous opportunities to play highly ranked teams and help us get wins for the NCAA Tournament.”