The Mississippi State lacrosse team continued its solid start to the season with two more wins over the weekend.
With victories over UAB (12-2) and Morehouse (14-5) on Sunday, the Bulldogs are off to a 4-1 start, which included a 12-9 win over Southeastern Louisiana and an 8-7 win over Tennessee-Chattanooga earlier in the season. According to first-year head coach Jake Gabriele, the team even showed some potential in an 11-5 loss to Tennessee.
“Even our loss to Tennessee showed a lot about our team’s mental toughness and identity,” said Gabriele, a Baltimore native who played goalie at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va. “I think we really saw what kind of team we’re going to be this year and gelled together during that Tennessee game. It’s been exciting to open up the tempo and pace of our offense with the personnel we have, so we’re looking to play a fast brand of lacrosse combined with an experienced, physical defense that has the ability to get downfield and contribute to that fast-paced offense.”
With the personnel the team has this year, there’s a lot of positive energy within the program. It’s a young team, with most of the contributors on offense being freshmen and sophomores. The offense is very attack-oriented this year, led by sophomores Will Mauro and Reese Barnhill and freshman Will Bowen. According to Gabriele, those guys have a ton of chemistry and are playing great as a unit right now.
The defensive unit is looking solid as well, thanks to seniority. Seniors AJ Kelley and Martin Wood along with sophomore Harlan Stokes are all physical guys with great lacrosse IQ who fit perfectly into the brand of lacrosse the team will be putting on the field this year. A rotation of three long stick midfielders, all with the talent to be the starter, along with old-school two-way senior middie Luke Sims connect everything and allows the Bulldogs to really implement the throwback style of wide-open lacrosse they want to play.
“There’s an incredible amount of excitement and energy surrounding the program right now, with the amount of young talent that we have contributing and the style of lacrosse we’re putting on the field,”Gabriele said. “Getting off to a hot start certainly contributed to that, and after fighting through the weather delays the last few weeks, we’re looking forward to rekindling that energy and really getting into the thick of the season.”
The coming weeks include games with Alabama, Kentucky and Ohio. Gabriele feels the win over UT-Chattanooga gave the team confidence that it can roll into the Deep South tournament on April 4 with a chance to claim the title. The April 18 meeting with Ole Miss in Oxford is circled on the team’s calendar, and Gabriele feels the Bulldogs can win that rivalry game if they simply play their brand of lacrosse.
-Bob Hough, Staff Writer for the NCLL.