The Richard Stockton College lacrosse team improved greatly from 2011 to 2012.
The Ospreys went from 3-11 to 7-9 and reached the semifinals of the Skyline Conference playoffs. They hope to exceed those accomplishments this year. They are 2-1 heading into today's home opener against Ursinus College.
"The main thing is to stay focused," coach Kevin Zulauf said Thursday night. "For us, we need to understand that although we made improvements last year, that doesn't do anything for us this year. We have to prove again that we have the ability to continue to improve and get better every day."
In 2012, Stockton topped the league in ground balls per game (43.00), faceoff percentage (.660), man-up goals (2.12 per game) and penalty kill percentage (.829). The Ospreys also finished second in goals (11.62), assists (6.81) and points per game (18.44).
"We had a good season, but it still wasn't necessarily everything that we wanted," junior captain Drew Wright said. "It's definitely motivational, though. We worked so hard last year, and we're ready to get it done this year and win."
The team's defense welcomed back a solid core in seniors Alex Kasprowicz, Danny Haviland and Zach Wilkins, and junior Dan Lamela. They helped lower the team's goals-against average by more than two goals per game from 2011 to 2012.
Lamela led the Ospreys with 17 caused turnovers, and Kasprowicz and Beck had 32 ground balls apiece.
Zulauf said the talent and readiness he saw in his starting freshman goalkeeper, Kevin Eipel, should also help the team continue to improve this season. Eipel has 36 saves in three games, and the coach expects him to only get better.
"Our leadership will really play a key role for us. We need the captains and older guys to take the team and guide them in the right direction every single day," said Zulauf. "They need to make sure the younger guys fit in and quickly.""
Offensively, sophomores Nick Bologno and Eugene Isola are coming off nice seasons.
Bologno led the squad in goals (31), assists (24) and points (55) despite missing the last four games. He finished first in the conference and 14th in the county in Division III in points per game (4.5).
Isola is known for his outstanding abilities in faceoff opportunities. He led the Skyline in faceoffs won with 245, a .692 faceoff percentage and with 11.67 ground balls per game. Nationally, he ranked second in faceoff percentage and third in ground balls.
"The fact that they now have a year of experience from last season will definitely help them," Zulauf said. "They have better players around them, which also helps the offense play better. And if they keep playing at this level, it really helps all the guys around them. We need to play smart and continue to work off each other."
Wright's leadership and understanding of the game should help lead the offense. The midfielder finished second among returnees with 12 goals and 13 assists.
Seniors Robert Krais and Vinny Gencarelli also are expected to contribute offensively, and freshmen James O'Donnell and Guy Loggi have joined the line as starters at midfield.
"I think the difference between a top-caliber team and a bottom-caliber team is how much work and time the guys put into it," Wright said. "Everything they do, they're working their hardest and that's what I'm trying to get through to the guys. Everything we do we need to do it 100 percent."
They'll try to continue that approach when they host Ursinus this afternoon.
"We're really excited for the rest of the year," Wright said. "For a lack of a better word, we're hungry. We want to win it and we want to be the best, and I think the younger guys ... will start to see what it is we're trying to do here with the program."
Contact Nyssa Dougherty: