Jan. 27, marked the beginning of a crucial period of time in the men’s lacrosse program at Wheaton College. It was the start of preseason. Over the course of this three-week stretch, head coach Kyle Hart, in his fourth year of coaching the Lyons, must systematically integrate, develop, and prepare his squad for the physically demanding season ahead.
In the case of the 2018-19 squad, this task involved introducing a host of 15 first-year players into the collegiate level of men’s lacrosse. This was no easy task for both the coach and the incoming players. But while some might be daunted by the challenge, Hart expressed excitement about both the quantity and the quality of the incoming players. “We expect a couple of those guys to be playing key roles this year,” said Hart. “We feel like the numbers are a positive thing, because now we have a lot more depth in a lot of different areas.”
The 15 first-year players are replacing only five seniors from the year before, including Scott Whear ‘18, who scored 77 goals for the Lyons in his 45 career appearances. However, the first-year players are joining a loaded senior class comprised of nine players, including four team-elected captains. “They’re all great,” said Hart. “We have strong players and athletes from front to back.”
With a squad brimming with talent and experience, much of preseason comes down to integration. “It’s definitely a process,” Hart laughed. However, it is a process well-under way, according to team captain Matthew Morgan ‘19. “At first, [the first-year players] were pretty quiet, so it was hard to get to know them,” Morgan explained, “but after a couple weeks of practice, they started opening up, and I have been able to form some really solid relationships.” In the end, Hart finished, “A big part of it comes down to the culture you create.”
Another piece of the integration process includes getting incoming players up to speed for playing at the college level, which is why the preseason focused on keeping things simple and efficient. With so many new faces, Hart puts an emphasis on keeping things basic, but also detail-oriented.
“Overall, we want to play fast,” said Hart. “We want to play an upbeat, up-tempo style.” In order to do that, everything in practice must be done at speed. “Everything—from the most basic drill to something on the full field—has to be done at the fastest pace you can possibly go at.”
Hart has coupled this high-speed training with the importance of having a next-man-up mentality when it comes to injuries. “We actually talk to our guys about this a lot,” Hart said. “If we do get hit by a couple injuries, then that next guy—he has got to step in and do the best job he can do in that role.”
Hart and his 40-man roster have their eyes set on Wheaton’s first ever NEWMAC championship in program history, and with a squad packed with talent, depth and experience, they have a strong shot at it. “Ultimately,” said Hart, “we just want to take things one day at a time, and try to be the best that we can be in that moment.”