Robert Morris lacrosse flying high under former assistant coach
May 4, 2012 4:00 AM
Robert Morris University
Senior midfielder Kiel Matisz, left, has helped lead the Robert Morris lacrosse team to a national ranking this season. The Colonials are playing host to the Northeast Conference tournament, which begins today.
By Sam Werner Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Seven years ago, Robert Morris went 0-13 in its first season of fielding a Division I men's lacrosse team.
Over the next few years, the numbers in the "W" column slowly increased. First it was one, then three, four, nine, 10 and, this year, 11. So far.
The Colonials capped the best regular season in program history last weekend with a 13-12 victory against then-No. 20 Bryant. The win gave Robert Morris its first Northeast Conference regular-season title and the right to be host to the four-team NEC tournament at Joe Walton Stadium this weekend.
"Obviously we've had a little bit of success in past weeks," senior midfielder Kiel Matisz said. "That's all well and done, but we're still looking forward to the future."
The immediate future, Matisz and his teammates hope, includes two wins and an NEC tournament championship. The Colonials (11-3, 5-0) will face Mount St. Mary's in the semifinal today, and with a win would play Bryant or Quinnipiac in the championship Sunday.
The Colonials were picked to finish third in the NEC before the season, likely because they have a first-year head coach.
Drew McMinn took over in September for former coach Bear Davis, who left after seven seasons to take a job as boys lacrosse coach and associate athletic director at Archbishop Spalding High School in Maryland.
In September, Matisz said players interviewed two potential coaching candidates. One of them was McMinn, a Mt. Lebanon native who had been an assistant on the coaching staff for six seasons and Davis' associate head coach in 2005.
"It was a unanimous decision that we wanted our current coaching staff and our current core values in place," Matisz said. "We thought we'd be the best possible thing with these guys at the helm still."
That continuity has paid dividends, as the Colonials have stuck with the philosophies that boosted the program.
On offense, that means scoring plenty of goals. Robert Morris leads Division I with 14.29 goals per game. The Colonials led Division I in scoring in 2010 and '11 as well.
This year, a lot of that scoring responsibility has fallen to Matisz, who is tied with junior attackman Jake Hayes for the team lead with 58 points on the season. Last week, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Matisz was named one of 25 semifinalists for the Tewaaraton Award, college lacrosse's version of the Heisman Trophy.
"People pay a lot of attention to his size and the fact that that's obviously an advantage for him, but we see it as if he were a foot shorter and 50 pounds lighter, he'd probably still be doing the exact same thing," McMinn said.
Because the NEC is in just its second year sponsoring men's lacrosse, the Colonials cannot earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The NCAA requires a two-year waiting period before league's can apply for an automatic bid.
This week, though, the Colonials crept into the national rankings, at No. 20 in the Nike/Inside Lacrosse Media Poll. Two wins this weekend could be enough for an at-large bid to the tournament. In addition to running the table in the NEC, Robert Morris has an impressive non-conference victory against No. 18 Ohio State.
"Hopefully, if all things go our way and we play the best that we can, then somebody in the country is going to want to give us that recognition and put us in the tournament," McMinn said.
Midfielder Mike Meagher took a slightly simpler approach:
"We're just going to play lacrosse until we can't play it any longer."