Bryant Looks to Return to NCAAs, Go for NEC Three-Peat

SMITHFIELD, R.I. Bryant University has a lot of titles to defend as the Bulldogs get set to enter the 2014 season.

After earning the first Division I NCAA tournament bid in Bryant University history and the first-ever automatic qualification in men's lacrosse in Northeast Conference history, the reigning regular-season and league tournament champs have a lot to live up to in their quest for a three-peat.

But eighth-year head coach Mike Pressler and his revamped and reloaded Bulldog squad are ready for the challenge.

And the road to their third-straight NEC crown and return trip to the national stage starts Saturday, as the Bulldogs kick off the 2014 campaign in Hamilton, N.Y., against a familiar foe in Colgate University (1:00 p.m.).

The Bulldogs and Raiders clash in the opener for the third-straight season, and the Black and Gold are on the hunt for their first victory over Colgate after falling in overtime, 14-13, to the then-ranked Raiders a year ago.

Colgate, picked to finish fifth in an overhauled Patriot League, saw senior midfielder Jimmy Ryan (15 goals, eight assists in 2013) tapped to the league's preseason all-conference list, and the Raiders will also count on the likes of returning starters Ryan Walsh (37g, 11a), Brendon McCann (20g, 8a) and Matt Clarkson to pick up the offensive slack left by the departure of leading scorer Peter Baum.

The Bulldogs, who went 8-11 in 2013, have some gaps to fill as well, but also have key strongholds returning to the Bryant locker room, starting with the team's stalwart leader between the pipes.

Goal

After solidifying his spot in the starting rotation midway through the 2013 season, now-sophomore Gunnar Waldt (Freeland, Md.) returns to the goal stronger than ever. Waldt, who finished the season with a 7-5 record to earn All-NEC Second Team honors, ranked in the nation's top 20 in both goals against average (9.21) and save percentage (.562) a season ago.

"With the conclusion of our preseason practices here in 2014, we truly feel that we have an elite Division I goaltender in Gunnar Waldt," said Pressler. "He has picked up where he left off last year in the NCAA tournament and is truly better in every category, from his play in the goal to his clearing skills not to mention what an outstanding leader he is for us in the defensive end."

Behind Waldt wait a pair of upperclassmen in senior Niko Dutra (Danville, Calif.) and junior Ethan Kibrick (Manalapan, N.J.).

"Niko and Ethan are two of our best character guys," said Pressler. "They will be ready to back up Gunnar at any time if needed."

Close Defense

Led by returning All-NEC First Teamer and senior captain Matt MacGrotty (New Westminster, British Columbia), Bryant's close defense features a mix of experience and youth and is a group loaded with talent and depth.

Four different players are competing to flank MacGrotty on the backline, including 2013 linemate Connor Dent (Havertown, Pa.). He will be vying for a spot against three new faces, starting with 6-foot-4 sophomore Zack Micciche (Voorhees, N.J.). Two freshmen 6-footers Kyle Mummau (Carlsbad, Calif.) and Chas South (Ridgefield, Conn.) also join the mix.

"Chas and Kyle improve our athleticism on close defense," said Pressler. "They have proven to be two outstanding one-on-one cover guys, and, for freshmen, have demonstrated a great feel for the defensive end of the field. They have vaulted themselves into an opportunity to compete for a spot on the first defensive unit this weekend against Colgate."

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2014-02-08



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