April 25, 2013 - Major League Lacrosse (MLL) - Chesapeake Bayhawks
Annapolis, MD - Most of the front-line players on the Chesapeake Bayhawks' 2013 roster are familiar to fans. Midfielder Kyle Dixon, defenseman Michael Evans and attackman Ben Rubeor headline a strong contingent of returning talent.
However, there are several new faces that figure to make an impact for the Bayhawks this season. Head coach Dave Cottle thinks the team's loyal season ticket holders and others that attend home games at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium will come away impressed with the play of newcomers such as short stick defensive midfielder Danny Burns, rookie attackman Grant Kaleikau and 2013 first round draft choice Jesse Bernhardt.
Cottle believes that careful mix of veterans and newcomers gives Chesapeake a good chance to repeat as Major League Lacrosse champions. The Bayhawks return all the key players from last year's team that hoisted the Steinfeld Trophy and have added a few parts that should make the overall machine run even smoother.
"I think we have a great core group of players. I believe we have the nucleus in place to make a run at another championship," Cottle said. "That being said, if you stay the same you get worse. We wanted to improve the team during the offseason and I think we have done that. We have made some subtle moves that will make us better."
Chesapeake selected Kaleikau with the 27th overall pick in the 2012 MLL Collegiate Draft and he spent last season on the practice squad. The lightning-fast 5-foot-7, 170-pounder totaled 149 points on 58 goals and 91 assists and was a two-time All-Colonial Athletic Association choice while at the University of Delaware.
Kaleikau, whom Cottle called "an outstanding feeder," will start Saturday night's season opener against the Rochester Rattlers, which is being held at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla. Rubeor and second-year professional Matt Mackrides round out the attack unit for the opener. The Bayhawks will be without four attackmen that are involved with the National Lacrosse League playoffs.
Rubeor is coming off a typically impressive campaign, having scoring 24 goals while working at both attack and midfield. The sixth-year pro out of Virginia was named Bud Light Most Valuable Player of MLL Championship Weekend after exploding for eight goals in two games.
Mackrides, a Penn State product who was the 26th overall pick of the 2012 Collegiate Draft, played in nine games and scored five goals for the Bayhawks last season. He will likely move to midfield when Chesapeake's complement of NLL players becomes available.
Returning starters Drew Westervelt and John Grant, Jr. are among the attackmen still playing for the indoor professional league. Grant made a huge impact for Chesapeake in 2012, scoring 24 goals and dishing off 13 assists while playing in just 12 of 16 games. Westervelt, who worked as a midfielder toward season's end, finished with 24 goals and 12 assists.
Cottle has plenty of options on attack after acquiring MLL veterans Casey Powell, Jay Card and Jamie Lincoln during the offseason. Powell, the MLL Offensive Player of the Year in 2005, is the most intriguing of the group. The former four-time All-American at Syracuse is the all-time leading scorer in Major League Lacrosse with 399 career points. Cottle said Powell, who appeared in just five games for the Hamilton Nationals the previous two seasons, has committed to play a limited schedule with the Bayhawks.
"Our starting group may change from game-to-game, but no matter the personnel I am confident we will field a very potent attack," Cottle said. "John Grant is a great asset because when things break down, he can dodge and beat defenders one-on-one. Ben Rubeor is a smart off-ball player, a great hustler and rider. You plug either Drew Westervelt or Casey Powell in with those two and that is a very dynamic, extremely potent unit."
Chesapeake returns its top four offensive midfielders in Steven Brooks, Kyle Dixon, Ben Hunt and Michael Kimmel. Dixon led the team in scoring with 24 goals and 13 assists and was named All-MLL by Lacrosse.com last season. The powerful 6-foot-4, 214-pounder fired in 17 two-point goals in 2012 and is now the MLL record holder in that department with 47 in six seasons. Brooks totaled 40 points (25 goals, 12 assists) while Kimmel contributed 38 (23 goals, 12 assists) in 2012. Hunt totaled six points in the championship game victory over the Denver Outlaws and finished with 28 for the season.
"Our four core middies all have good size and can really shoot the ball," Cottle said. "They are all coming off great seasons and we are very fortunate that this will be their third year together. They know each other well and are getting better at working together."
The Bayhawks boast a bruising close defense comprised of seasoned veterans Michael Evans, Brian Spallina and Nicky Polanco. Evans, who was named All-MLL by Lacrosse.com last season, is dominant in man-to-man coverage. Spallina is a hard-hitting crease defender and a superb communicator and the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Polanco is also strong in coverage while great at getting the ball off the ground, Cottle said.
Michael Simon (6'-5", 230lbs.), who came on strong toward the end of his first full season with the Bayhawks, will be the top long stick defensive midfielder. Georgetown graduates Barney Ehrmann (6'-6", 230 lbs.) and Dan Hostetler (6'-4", 215 lbs.) will also see time in that role, although both have the flexibility to also play with the close unit.
"Our poles all have tremendous size while the group as a whole is very mean and tough," Cottle said.
Danny Burns, acquired in a trade with the Hamilton Nationals, will bolster a short stick defensive midfield that has been led the past four years by Matt Abbott and Jeff Reynolds.
Kip Turner started 13 games in goal last season and compiled a 9-4 record while stopping 54 percent of shots. The former University of Virginia standout now has NCAA and MLL championships under his belt.
"Winning a championship certainly helped Kip. He looked very confident down the stretch and was a big part of our success," Cottle said.
Turner works as an assistant coach for Brown University and thus was only able to attend one of three training camp weekends. He is not available for the opener and Cottle will decide between Tyler Fiorito and TC DiBartolo as the starting net keeper for Saturday's contest. DiBartolo started two games (both wins) and stopped 56 percent of shots as a rookie for Chesapeake. Fiorito, the team's 10th overall pick in the 2012 Collegiate Draft, was a four-time All-American at Princeton University.
Adam Rand returns as the primary face-off specialist after enjoying a breakout campaign in 2012, capturing 185 of 345 (54 percent) draws during the regular season. Alex Smith, who ranks third in MLL history with 1,034 career face-off wins, is under contract with Chesapeake and will make an appearance at some point this season.
You can catch all the action on Saturday, April 27th live at 7:30 PM on ESPN3.com or on tape delay on Saturday, April 28th at 2pm on Comcast SportsNet.
The 2013 home opener is Saturday, May 4th against the New York Lizards at 7:00 PM at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Fireworks will be held after the game and will be presented by G&G Outfitters. 2013 Bayhawks Season Tickets are also on sale and going fast, so don't miss your opportunity to get in on the action. Season ticket packages start at just $99.00 and can be purchased online at www.thebayhawks.com or over the phone by calling the box office 866-99-HAWKS (42957). Reserve your seat today and see the 2012 MLL Champions defend their title at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium this summer.