When the Bayhawks take on the Denver Outlaws on Saturday night, it will be more than a battle for playoff positioning.
The showdown will also mark the return of all four former UMBC players currently in the MLL: Terry Kimener, Peet Poillon, Brendan Mundorf (Mount St. Joseph) and Drew Westervelt (John Carroll). While Kiemener, Poillon, Mundorf and Westervelt are currently starring in the Mile High City, each made a name for himself while playing for coach Don Zimmerman at UMBC.
Now, the veteran coach has a unique opportunity to see his players reaping the rewards of his fundamentals-first approach.
"They mean everything to the program," Zimmerman said of the UMBC quartet. "They are the program. The guys that get on the field and work hard and practice every day and lay it on the line, that's the program."
Known for his focus on the fundamentals, Zimmerman said it's the sport's little things that make a big difference — picking up a ground ball with two hands, shooting overhand rather than from the hip, carrying a stick correctly before feeding.
Zimmerman credits UMBC's success — the Retrievers won five straight conference titles from 2005-2009, in that time earning four NCAA tournament berths — to hard work off the field. Players described the program as "blue collar," and Zimmerman takes pride in the team's work ethic.
"I've always believed in working hard," Zimmerman said. "You gotta invest. You gotta put in the time, the blood, sweat and tears, and do what you can to make sure you and your teammates are ready to compete on Saturday
By teaching the fundamentals at UMBC, Zimmerman is providing his players with a solid foundation that eases their transition to the professional game.
"When you focus on fundamentals, it applies to whatever different schemes or systems you play under — that's one of the keys," Zimmerman said. "These guys continue to develop [the fundamentals] and they can carry them with them no matter where they go."
One transition for which Zimmerman didn't prepare his players was that of moving from Baltimore to Denver. While lacrosse is one of the more established sports in Baltimore, in Denver it's still in its nascent stages. But that doesn't mean there's no support for the game. The Outlaws, who play at Mile High Stadium, consistently lead the league in attendance. Denver regularly draws around 15,000 fans for home games, and earlier this season the Outlaws set a new MLL attendance record when 27,184 fans came out for a game against Boston.
For Westervelt, who still lives in Baltimore and works in project management for PG&E, playing in Denver provides a nice change of pace.
"People's lifestyle in Colorado is different. Everyone's extremely active," Westervelt said. "It's a great sports town. It doesn't surprise [me] that [lacrosse] is doing so well. I live in Baltimore but I love to travel out there every weekend because it's an unbelievable atmosphere to play in."
Westervelt is having a career year for the Outlaws. He ranks second on the team with 29 points on 21 goals and seven assists. In July the Bel Air native was named to the All-Star squad along with Mundorf and Poillon. Together, the attack trio of Westervelt, Mundorf and Poillon has accounted for 64 of Denver's 135 goals.
"It's pretty cool when you get to play with three guys that went to your school. It's easy to fall back into your tendencies of college," Mundorf said. "You have a pretty special bond after playing in college together, and it's fun to get back out there and compete at a high level together."