Freshman midfielder Nick Racine (91) looks to attack the Kennesaw State defense March 14 on Stuart Field. The Flyers won the matchup 17-4. The win gave the Flyers their sixth straight victory to open the season. CHRIS SANTUCCI/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
By: Chris Bendel – Asst. Sports Editor
When the final horn sounded Saturday, March 29, the No. 1 team in the nation had fallen to the Flyers, but this particular matchup wasn’t in primetime or affiliated with the NCAA.
University of Dayton fans know the tale all too well as the men’s basketball team’s magical run in the NCAA tournament ended abruptly with a 62-52 loss at the hands of the top ranked team in the country, the University of Florida.
However, a No. 1 team did fall that same Saturday as the Dayton men’s club lacrosse team defeated St. John’s University of Minn. 9-8 in a thrilling quadruple overtime victory to push the team’s record to 10-1 this season. It created a small buzz on campus, according to senior goalie and team captain John Young.
UD competes in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, which is a collection of non-NCAA, college lacrosse programs.
The Flyers play at Division-II level within the MCLA, and are grouped in the Central Collegiate Lacrosse Association’s South Division, which includes teams from Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.
In the most recent Division-II coaches’ poll released April 1, the Flyers ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation out of 108 eligible squads in the poll, gaining 15 out of 24 first place votes and jumping up two spots from last week.
Unlike some club sports at UD, lacrosse is not offered at the varsity level, eliminating the need to distinguish between the two levels of play.
“We don’t really view it as a club sport because there’s no varsity team here,” senior attackmen Danny Winland said.
“We’re just the Dayton men’s lacrosse team.”
Winland returned to the lacrosse field this season after not playing his junior year, in large part because of the new coaching staff’s run and gun offense. Junior midfielder Cody Topp also returns. He has produced 17 points this season. Winland has scored 17 goals and recorded eight assists this season.
The Flyers are led offensively by junior attackman Adam Henlein, who has recorded 27 goals and 16 assists this season, putting him at just under four points per game.
After a disappointing 4-5 record last year, the program has set its sights on a return to their league’s national tournament, which the team last made in 2012 and this year is hosted in Irvine, Calif., May 12 to May 17.
“I think it’s important that people realize the club team has been pretty successful for quite some time,” said head coach Joe Venturella.
Since 2007, the Flyers have advanced to the MCLA D-II Final Four five times.
Venturella also said he understands the delicate balance between playing a sport at the club level and to put it simply, being a college student.
“I don’t want it to be a job for them,” Venturella said. “Even though they’re working hard and doing the things they need to do to win, it’s not a job.”
He was introduced to lacrosse while growing up in Baltimore, one of the hot-bed regions of the rapidly expanding sport and one densely populated with athletes that proceed to play at the collegiate level. He then went on to play four years of varsity lacrosse at Division-III Lynchburg College in Virginia.
“There are a lot of guys that play sports in high school that really enjoy the competition of the game. I think club sports offer that type of outlet,” Venturella said.
As Venturella points out based on his own experience, during the brunt of the season, lacrosse-related activities for a varsity athlete can take up to 30 to 40 hours per week of a student-athletes time.
“I enjoy being a competitor,” Young said. “That’s why I still do it. Being able to play a great sport for UD is pretty awesome.”
Young said a theme of what makes playing a club sport attractive for students across the country involves athletes taking pride in representing their school in competition, regardless of the club or varsity distinction. Young said he and his teammates proudly wear the UD insignia on their jerseys and helmets.
A big part of the team’s success this season, Venturella labeled Young a top-five goalie in the nation. A solid save percentage by lacrosse standards, Young’s .640 mark has helped UD keep games close, with the team’s last three games decided by just one goal.
UD went 2-1 in those games, defeating No. 5 North Dakota State University Friday, March 28, as well as St. John’s. UD fell to No. 2 University of St. Thomas of Minn. March 22 for its only loss this season.
Venturella also pegs senior faceoff specialist J.P. Hewitt as one of the best in the nation at his respective postion. Hewitt’s 71 percent success rate in the faceoff circle adds crucial possesions for the Flyer atack.
Senior close defensemen and club president Mike Dickey said he enjoys the camaraderie of the team and the alumni network of the club program. During the team’s most recent trip to Chicago a group of alumni showed their support for the Flyers and spoke with the team after their victory over St. John’s.
“You build such strong bonds with the people that you play with,” Dickey said. “That’s been a huge factor of my mentality with the team.”
The Dayton men’s lacrosse team will face a pair of conference opponents to finish its 14-game regular season. UD takes on No. 4 Grove City College of Penn. Saturday, April 5, at 7 p.m., and the Flyers host No. 14 Lourdes University of Ohio Wednesday, April 9, at 7 p.m. at Stuart Field.