As expected of a first-year program, much of the team is devised of freshmen. In fact, junior goalie Mason Cook (Hollywood, Md./Wingate) and junior midfielder Matt Durand (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y./Suffolk CC) are the only two Panthers listed as a sophomore or higher on the roster. Despite the inexperience, FIT showed a glimpse of its talent and potential at the inaugural Battle at the Beach exhibition tournament last November.
“I couldn’t ask for a better first-year class to build a program on,” McAleavey said. “They’re a very hardworking, no non-sense group. They want to succeed, they want to do well, they want to make a name for themselves. One factor that outweighs their athletic ability is they’re great kids – yes-sir, no-sir type of kids.”
McAleavey recruited several highly touted high school standouts, including Ryan Bailey (Lancaster, Pa./Hempfield HS), Andrew Conley (Orlando, Fla./Boone HS), Nick Francis (Trumbull, Conn./St. Joseph HS), Christian Isola (Holmdel, N.J./Holmdel HS) and Michael Marshner (Glen Rock, Pa./Susquehannock HS).
Following his senior season last spring, Bailey ranked among the top high school lacrosse players in the nation in assists (88), points (112) and points per game (5.09) as an attackman. His 88 assists were second-most by only one. Conley, a midfielder, totaled 74 points and 113 ground balls en route to US Lacrosse All-American honors last year.
Francis steered his high school team to two Class S State Championships with the last coming in 2011. He was named second team all-state as a defenseman. Isola, another all-state selection, guided his high school to a conference semifinal berth his senior season. Marsher, an attackman, accumulated 28 goals and 62 assists his senior season in 2010. He was also tabbed a US Lacrosse All-American in addition to being named all-state and The York Daily Record/Sunday News Player of the Year.
“They want to win and they want to push each other,” McAleavey said. “It all comes from Andrew Conley. He’s one of the best kids I’ve recruited from all the places I’ve been. We had four student-athletes sign NLIs during the early signing period in the fall. I feel those kids are an extension of the first class.”
Joining Conley from Florida is Patrick Manning (Boca Raton, Fla./Boca Raton HS), Conley’s former high school teammate Billy McClellan (Orlando, Fla./Boone HS), Frank Schornagle (Orlando, Fla./University HS) and Ian Spek (Apopka, Fla./Apopka HS).
After helping the men’s soccer team post a second-place finish in the Sunshine State Conference last fall, TJ Peplinski (Maple Grove, Minn./Maple Grove Senior HS) will be a member of the first-year lacrosse program.
Although they’re about to begin their inaugural season, McAleavey and the Panthers have high expectations for 2012 and beyond.
“If I didn’t expect to win every game, I would be doing an injustice to the kids,” McAleavey added. “They’ve worked hard thus far and showed a non-stop work ethic to get better. If I set goals like let’s win four games, I’d be selling them short. We want to win a national championship whether it comes this year, next year, five, 10, 15 years from now. It’s a goal all of us have on our minds and that’s what we’re going to try to achieve. I tell them to shoot for the stars and if we land on the moon, we’re going in the right direction.”