Head Coach Glenn Thiel Takes Part in Spring Media Day
Feb. 11, 2009
University Park, Pa.; - Glenn Thiel, Head Coach
Let me just start out and give you an overview. Obviously we start at Robert Morris and then have three tough home games in a row, so we have a lot on our plate to start this season. We're very pleased with where we are now. We're excited. We're optimistic. We had a great preseason so far, highlighted by our scrimmage over the weekend against John Hopkins.
I thought we played very well and controlled a lot of parts of the game that I think we're going to have to control to be good. Hopkins is good. I'm not sure how good they are this year. They did lose a lot, but they're preseason ranked No. 5, so it was a good comparison for us to see where we are and how competitive we're going to be. We're excited and optimistic. I think we've had two great recruiting classes the last two years. Guy Van Arsdale, the recruiting coordinator, brought in some great kids, most of them Pennsylvania kids so that's kind of exciting, too.
The two freshmen, Jack Forster who's the red-shirt freshman and coming off ACL, is doing very well, given plenty of rest and he did a great job Saturday. Matthew Mackrides is going to be a great attack man for us I think in the future. I'm sure he's going to have ups and downs, as both of them will, but Robby Forster should be in the mix. He didn't play this past weekend, but he should be the mainstay inside of our offensive game.
On Midfield we have Chris Hogan back. He's a red shirt from last year. He's a keeper in lacrosse because he's 6'2", 215, fast and physical. He's the kind of guy who can dominate from restraining line to restraining line. We just like the athletes we have in the midfield and we think some kids have improved immensely. Billy Lloyd and Colton Vosburgh are two kids I think you're going to hear from. They're going to do a lot for us offensively this year.
On face-off, we're very lucky that the three kids we have haveve progressed to where they are. Joey Britt, Jordan Kolb, and Charley Henneghan are all good face-off kids. They dominated Hopkins in that phase of the game. So we think we can control the ball a little bit better than we have in the past and we're certainly playing that style of offense. A little bit more ball control, a little bit more selective on shots and so far it's been more productive.
Defensively, we have some experience there, but we're still a little unsure of our abilities and unsettled in some situations. So we're kind of working on that, controlling that, working on the off ball defense, working on the team defense. So, we think that's going to come along because we have much better depth than we've ever had defensively. We have the same three starters back from last year, John Stuckey, Matt Bernier, and Kevin Etter. Billy Davis is someone we really like as an incoming freshman. He gives us a good physical presence. We're certainly a lot deeper, more talented.
Then we have Drew Adams in the cage. Drew is as good a goalie as there is in the country. As good as we've ever had and we've had some great ones, with three of them playing in the pro league right now. With Drew, I think we can be very good. We can beat just about anybody. We were pleased with our start. We've only had one scrimmage this year, so we kind of geared everything to that. We're in a pretty good frame of mind as we go into the opener. So it should be exciting.
Q: Given that the Hopkins game was just a scrimmage and you don't really know what to expect with them this year, overall what can you take from how you guys performed in that game for the rest of the season?
Thiel: I think we can take a lot. I was very impressed with our ability to control the ball. Ground balls are key in the game of lacrosse and we had 20 more than they did. Anytime you can do that you're going to win the game. Especially with Drew in the cage and our offense was very precise, very good stick work, very good ball handling around the perimeter. And then when we dodged, I think we surprised ourselves. We certainly surprised Hopkins. We tended to beat their kid pretty easily, made them slide and they were trying not to slide early, so we kind of got them out of rhythm. I think we have some talented kids and some depth of talented kids. I think it'll be an exciting team to watch. There's really not that many weaknesses if we can keep improving and getting better. I think the other thing is that this is easy when you're up 8-2. It's easy to be excited. You're emotional and confident. Team spirit and chemistry and all that stuff. I really think this group is that way. They're very together. The leadership of Drew and Matt Warner has been very good. The senior class is a good, tight group on what they want to accomplish, so if we can do that when we find ourselves down 6-3 to still be as excited and emotional. We played with that kind of style Saturday and if we can do that when we're down, we'll be fine.
Q: How important is it to have that excitement on the field this week in practice going into the season opener?
Thiel: It's always important. Practice isn't a whole lot of fun. Lacrosse practice can be fun. I wrestled all my life and wrestling practice is hell. Lacrosse tends to be fun, so if the guy next to you is up and emotional and confident that kind of is contagious and it makes practice go that much easier. The same way in the game if certain kids are loud and emotional that kind of can spread to the next guy so the whole team has the same attitude. If some of your best players are reserved, introverted guys it's kind of hard for them to be team leaders and be contagious to other people on the team. So, it can be a real key. No question.
Q: Last year, you guys had some fantastic defensive numbers, the lowest goals against average in the conference. I guess Drew had a lot to do with that. On the offensive end, you were kind of in the middle towards the later half of the conference. Can we expect a bit of a change in that for this year with the freshman we have coming in?
Thiel: Well, we sure hope so because you can't win too many games scoring as few times as we did last year. We had some really low scoring production numbers on offense. Our defense was pretty solid, but I think they can get better and Drew can certainly be better than he was last year. He's that kind of a talent, a leader in the cage. I think the offense should be much better. A lot of what happened the last two years was indicative of injuries. You get certain people hurt and they can't play, you go to the second guy and it's not the same. We don't have 85 scholarships, so the next guy isn't going to be the same kind of athlete. We're lucky enough now that we've kept everybody healthy. We've got a lot more experience from last year by kids who are backups, so if we have to go to them they can be real productive. Mike Toner had two goals on Saturday filling in for Robby. We wouldn't have gotten that last year and we didn't get that last year until the last game of the season when he scored a key goal for us, but that was his only goal. I think we have better depth because of the kids we had to play last year and the front line kids are certainly more talented, so we should be better on offense.
Q: How important is it to have a leader like Drew Adams and what does he do?
Thiel: Well, he's a great player. That's the best part of his leadership. He's a great person and he's a nice guy. He's not yelling and screaming because he's a goalie and he's down there doing that thing. If he were a midfielder or an attack man that's in there playing there all the time with everybody it's probably easier to be a leader. Matt Warner kind of takes that role and we have some other kids that are emotional, but they play off of Drew's ability to stop balls and make plays and get the team going into clearing games. We've had some great goalies. He's very, very good. They were all great goalies and Drew is certainly in that same mold and you want to build a defense around someone like that.
Q: With Drew and Matt and all the improvement expected on offense how dangerous can your team be this year?
Thiel: We can be very good. We have lots of talent and we have kids who can do things offensively that are difficult to handle by other defenses, so we could be good. It's just a matter of staying healthy, getting a little bit better in some positions, getting a little bit stronger. We can't have the rash of injuries that hit us at this time last year. It's just a different situation when you put the second guy to the third attack man into the game. We had games last year where we put midfielders on attack and attack man on midfield. That makes it a difficult scenario to actually score goals and we're not that good of a ball control team. We're better at that now and we would probably go to that more if we had to go down to the second or third guy, but we should be much better off. We can beat anybody. We showed that against Georgetown last year. Georgetown is as good as anybody in the country and if we play that kind of game week in, week out, we'll scare people to death. We tend to scare people to death anyway because people don't rate us very high, but once they play us they figure out we're pretty good.
Q: Is everyone back and ready to go injury wise going into the season opener, especially Jack?
Theil: Jack's not going to be the Jack that he'll be in a year. It's been a year and half off an ACL and he doesn't run that fast. It's kind of like me. I have a broken leg and I don't move too well either right now, but he has a torn ACL and a knee brace. He's just a good, smart lacrosse player and has great hands. He can make plays at about half speed. So in another year when he's full speed, Jack Forster will be very good. As far as health, Robby didn't play last week. We hope to have him this week. Max Van Arsdale, who had seven points in our Georgetown game last year, might be out all year. We don't know. It's a concussion syndrome situation. We'll see where he gets to. If we have him he's kind of an ace for us to make some plays. We're pretty solid with the kids that played on Saturday, that's for sure.
Q: If those guys aren't going to be able to play are you still confident that the depth of your team is going to be able to carry through?
Thiel: Yeah. I think so. We need Robby. Robby's better than the kids that filled in at the spot this past weekend. He's been our leading scorer for the last couple years, but he's the kind of guys who's on the inside and has the ability to find the holes and catch and shot quickly. So, he'll make his brother better and he'll make Mackrides better behind the cage. We're rotating him off the crease more. He'll play some off the crease as well as inside because we're doing more of a rotation system with those kids. If we have Max, great, but if we don't we'll have to cover for him. We like the kids we have.
Q: Thinking about all the injuries you had at this point last year are you doing anything different this year to prevent injuries?
Theil: Yeah, we've really cut back on what we do. We still work hard on all the fundamentals and skills, shooting, footwork of the defensive kids and technique with the face off guys. We haven't scrimmaged anywhere near as much. I've been coaching 42 years and scrimmaging was how you learned the game. We had kids that weren't that experienced. Now, with more experienced kids you don't have to scrimmage as much. We might scrimmage for 15 to 20 minutes on different days. We're limiting those situations where kids tend to get hurt. Maybe that's why. I don't know for sure. I know there's some teams in the country that say they don't even let their first stringers get hit. It's like they all have red cross shirts on and the backup kids aren't physically allowed to go after them in practice. That's a little extreme I think. I would never go to that, but we've cut out the amount of scrimmaging we do. Some of the kids are hungry I think and they're ready to go. They did it on Saturday.
Q: Is there a single injury to Max Van Arsdale that spurred the concussion?
Theil: He got nicked in the fall. He's just had trouble recovering from it. All the concussion testing we do, those are scary things sometimes. It'll be touch and go to see what happens. Even when he starts jogging and doing a little shooting he starts getting headaches again, so until that goes away we'll see what happens.
Q: Is there anything specific you're looking forward to working on going into Robert Morris this weekend?
Thiel: The clearing game. That's been our bug-a-boo. We have to spend a lot of time on that. Team defense and off ball work on defense, those two things I think are the keys for Robert Morris and then beyond to Notre Dame the next week. We'll be tested pretty much in those first three home games. Clearing will be crucial. We can't throw it away as often as we did Saturday.
Q: Is controlling turnovers going to be important?
Thiel: Yeah, that's always important, but we haven't been that much of a turnover team. The key thing is clearing the ball a high percentage of the time. That's where the turnover come into play, when your defense gets spread out 40 or 50 yards from the goal and you lose the ball. Then they got a long way to recover to get back into their defense. We do a better job in the clearing game. If we had cleared the ball well Saturday, Hopkins wouldn't have had 4 goals. That's such a key factor in the game, if you can control your stick handling skills up and down. We controlled the ball on offense. We controlled the ground balls. We controlled the face offs. If we hadn't turned it over in the clearing game they wouldn't have had many possessions at all. That's how well we dominated that game. Hopefully it's something we can do every time.
Q: Are there any drills you could do in practice to work on your clearing game this week?
Thiel: It's mostly mental. Repetition is repetition. We work on it all the time. It's just that we haven't scrimmaged that much so we haven't had particular guys to clear, so we need to get more specific on who's on the field for that and we'll get better at it. We have a whole different formation we can go to and we'll be much better. We wanted to try this formation and have the defense make the decision.
Q: How's your leg been?
Thiel: As long as I can sit down I'm ok. I'm getting close. Six weeks out, I see the doctor next week. Maybe another week or so in this boot and I'll be walking around semi-normal. It made for a crummy Christmas, that's for sure.
Q: Are there any games on the schedule this year that you're looking forward to specifically?
Thiel: The league games in the ECAC, for tournament participation, the idea is to win your league. Each league game, Loyola's the first one of those and then Fairfield, UMass, St. John's, Georgetown obviously at the end and Rutgers, are all important. Those are the ones you earmark, put a little more emphasis on. Sometimes in the past maybe we haven't earmarked those as much. We won the league two or three years ago, that's what you want to do. The other thing that's interesting is we are leaving that league. Next year we go to the Colonial Athletic Association, so that'll be a whole new adventure for us with competition. I think the kids are excited to try to be the ECAC winners this year and get the automatic bid and then switch to the new league.
Q: Are you looking to make that one final powerful stride in the conference?
Thiel: Yeah, I think that's what they have in mind and what they want to do. That's why we're putting more emphasis on games. Notre Dame's tough and Ohio State is tough as is Bucknell. They're all big games and very good teams, but for the NCAA tournament the important thing is to win the ECAC.