Coach Robert Friske has led his team to four home victories, including wins over Nazareth College and Robert Wesleyan, resulting in the program’s best start since 1996.
Although Friske is happy with this season’s successful start, he still has high expectations for the team.
“We have been at the bottom of the conference,” Friske said. “Now we’re in the middle. I don’t want to be in the middle any longer.” Entering his seventh season with the Lakers, Friske has led his team to the SUNYAC playoffs four out of the last six seasons. In 2006, the Lakers went 11-9-1 and pushed their way into the SUNYAC finals before losing to SUNY Geneseo.
“Our goals have always been the same every year: to go undefeated at home, to win the conference and to make the NCAA tournament,” Friske said.
However, following last season’s 5-10-1 season, which included zero road victories, it was unknown what kind of product would be on the field this season for the Lakers.
“Last year was supposed to be the year we took the next step (as a program) and we didn’t,” Friske said. “This puts a lot of pressure on the young guys this season to play like upperclassmen.”
“Our goals are just like every team’s goals should be, we want to be the best team we can be,” freshman midfielder Brandon Comden said, who leads the Lakers with five points this season. “Anything less than that and I know our team will be disappointed.”
Comden heads an impressive freshman class of 17 into the Laker program, a number that’s big enough to humble any head coach.
“Even if I put in all my upperclassmen, we’d still have three or four underclassmen on the field. We have a lot of freshman getting game experience early,” Friske said.
The energy of the freshmen class has propelled the Lakers over the likes of two big time opponents already this season.
After beating Nazareth College last week, the Lakers improved to 3-1 on the season and were able to gain back the momentum relinquished from the stunning loss at SUNY Canton earlier in the season.
“We lost to a team in SUNY Canton team that we are supposed to beat,” senior captain German Collazo said. “That’s what can happen if you lose your mind for just a second. Now, every game is a championship for us.”
Collazo is suffereing from what appears to be a season sending injury. This is the second consecutive season he will miss due to injury.
The Lakers dug deep and came back with a fury against Nazareth, netting positive results, particularly on the defensive side of the field.
Four-year defenseman for the Lakers, and senior captain Bryan Pacchiana helped hold Nazareth scoreless.
“Nazareth is such a strong program. We were pumped up after that win,” he said.
Assistant coach Anthony Greene attributes the improvement in the Nazareth game to the rapid maturity and urgency of the program.
“We matured a lot between games three and four,” he said. “The pressure is good for them because it keeps emotions in line. We don’t need another reality check like SUNY Canton. Our job as coaches is to help instill the discipline necessary to keep our players at their highest level.”
According to Friske, one of the biggest reasons for this maturation process is the dedication of his assistant coach and captains.
“Having guys like coach Green and captains like Bryan (Pacchiana) and German (Collazo) is important so I can help these 17 freshman get ready for college and for the season,” he said. “I try to find ways to develop leaders throughout the program. This is the most mature combination of an assistant coach and captains I’ve ever had.”
Tuesday evening the Lakers hosted Roberts Wesleyan, a program that is taking their talents up to the Division II ranks next season. It was a pivotal moment for the young Lakers to knock off a big time opponent in the non-conference schedule.
“There truly isn’t an easy game left on our schedule,” Friske said. “It doesn’t matter who we play, we aren’t going to change our style. We have to play our game and make them change how they play.”
The Lakers stuck to their game plan and, for the second straight contest, posted a 1-0 shutout victory behind their junior goalie, P.J. Goodwin. Goodwin has held his opponents to one goal or less in all but one game this season.
Goodwin has played every minute of the season so far for the Lakers. He has recorded 16 saves and has a cumulative .800 save percentage.
In addition to the strong defense, the Laker freshmen continued to make a huge difference. Freshman midfielder Zack Saccocio recorded his team-leading second assist of the season against Roberts Wesleyan when he booted a 30-yard pass to freshman Ryan Purdy for his team-leading second goal of the season.
With a 4-1-0 record, the Lakers are growing with confidence and are showing no signs of slowing down.
“We have a great team from top to bottom and we would be crazy if we didn’t think we could win (the SUNYAC),” Comden said.
“I want this freshman class to run the table now,” Friske said. “I don’t want them to wait until senior year.”
“It’s not going to be an easy season, particularly for these freshmen,” Green said. “For six weeks straight, we have to play Friday and Saturday, back to back. We have to be able to come back and play hard the next day. It’s a skill that you don’t get in high school. Pushing success on these freshmen over the course of this season is going to help us now and in the future.”