PROVIDENCE, RI -- Last season was a historic one the Johnson & Wales University men's lacrosse program as they captured their first GNAC Championship in just their fifth season as a varsity program. The Wildcats begin the road to repeat as champions Sunday as they take on Piedmont College at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla. at 12:30 pm.
The league coaches think the Wildcats will be in the mix again for the title as they received two first-place votes and were picked third in the coaches poll at 62 points. Norwich University, whom the Wildcats conquered in last year's championship game 9-5, was tabbed by the coaches to return to the championship game as they received four first-place votes for 71 points and the top spot in the preseason poll. The Lasers of Lasell College received three first-place votes for 69 points with Saint Joseph's of Maine a point behind JWU in fourth.
After graduating the top three scorers in program history, seniors Ben Farrell and Thomas Lyons will pick up where last year's seniors left off. Farrell is coming off his second First-Team All-GNAC selection in the midfield after ranking eighth in the league with 58 points. Lyons and senior attacker Erik Lindaas will help take over the scoring load after being hampered by injuries last season.
Defensively, the Wildcats return their defensive backbone with juniors Josh Gassner and Thomas O'Donahue. Gassner was second on the team last season with 29 caused turnovers.
For the third season in a row, Bradley Morris will be between the pipes for Johnson & Wales. Morris started all 21 games last season and ranked second in the conference in both saves (273) and wins (nine). Freshman Kyle Mangan will look to push Morris throughout the season as he will be the backup for Coach Coppola's squad.
The Wildcats have another strong nonconference schedule, starting with the home opener versus Wheaton College. The Lyons were selected sixth in the NEWMAC preseason poll. The Ocean State Cup will continue this season as the Wildcats travel to Roger Williams on March 9th and Salve Regina will travel to Providence on March 20th.
GNAC play kicks off at home with a rematch of last year's championship game against Norwich on Saturday, March 16th. JWU gave Norwich its lone regular season loss last year in Northfield, 14-13 in overtime. Johnson & Wales will close out the season on the road versus Lasell. The last time these teams met was in the semifinals with the Wildcats coming out victorious, 11-10, also in overtime.