As if being the oldest player on UMBC men's lacrosse team wasn't enough, 22-year-old Matt Gregoire is battling an early onset of gray hair and is affectionately referred to by his teammates as "the team Dad."
"I'm called the team dad every once in a while by some of the guys because I'm the oldest," the Crofton native and South River graduate said with a grin. "I do catch a lot of flak for the gray hairs, but that's just the genetics that I have. I don't mind. I think it's fun."
A redshirt senior attackman, Gregoire's longevity may be a target for ribbing, but it's also a valuable resource for the Retrievers (2-1), who play host to No. 3 Johns Hopkins (4-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Retrievers Stadium in Catonsville.
UMBC opened the season with three new starters on offense, which struggled in a 14-3 loss to current No. 1 Maryland on Feb. 15. Since then, the team has outscored Monmouth and Richmond by a combined 24-13.
Gregoire leads the Retrievers in both goals (nine) and points (10), and his proficiency at scoring goals in the heart of opposing defenses makes him a focus for any opponent, including the Blue Jays.
"Certainly a big deal is the kid Gregoire," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said when asked to identify keys for Saturday's contest. "He is a presence inside. You look at him like basketball. When you've got a guy that is filling up the inside, it tends to force the defense to collapse which opens up things on the perimeter for guys like [senior midfielder Zach] Linkous who can shoot the ball and guys like [sophomore midfielder] Pat Young and [sophomore attackman Nate] Lewnes. Those guys can all shoot the ball and because of Gregoire, he puts so much stress on a defense to find him and get custody of him, it does allow the guys on the perimeter to do a little bit more. And then if you give all of your attention to those guys, a guy like him is terrific in the gray areas. He finds seams, he finds slots, he's got very good hands. I think they've developed a nice inside-outside game because of him."
Gregoire's development has been a gradual process. After being a ball-carrying attackman at South River where he led the school to the Class 4A-3A state championship in 2009, he changed his game to fit the talents of former attackmen Scott Jones and Joe Lustgarten and occupy more of an inside role.
Gregoire conceded that the transition was difficult at first.
"You're kind of used to how you played in high school and then you come here and things change a little bit," he said. "I think playing with a guy like Scott Jones for so many years who was used to doing that from playing box, I learned a lot from him. And guys before him like Matt Latham helped me grow a little bit."
Gregoire also battled a pair of serious injuries. He broke his leg in his freshman year and missed the entire 2010 campaign. The following season, he played in just nine games after a piece of a shattered stick slipped through the grill of his helmet and pierced his eye, causing vision problems and leading to surgery.
"The eye injury was very scary just because I couldn't see out of my eye," Gregoire recalled. "I think it was two days and then I was wearing an eye patch when I was sleeping. But the leg injury was a lot more frustrating for me because it lasted so long and I wasn't able to play. I dressed for the Delaware game my freshman year and then after that, I didn't dress for the rest of the season."
Gregoire has scored 57 goals and assisted on eight others in four years at UMBC, and his experience has been a boon for coach Don Zimmerman.
"He's playing with a sophomore and a freshman [on attack] right now," Zimmerman pointed out. "The first midfield is two sophomores and a junior. So our top offensive unit is relatively young, and he's a fifth-year and two-time captain who kind of anchors the unit. And it's not always easy to do when you're an inside player. A lot of times, the leaders are guys who have the ball in their sticks. That's not his role. So he's able to do it in somewhat of a non-traditional sense."
Junior long-stick midfielder Seth Mackin has known Gregoire since the former was a freshman at South River and the latter was a junior there and the two were locker partners on the team. Mackin said Gregoire is the same person he was back in high school.
"Honestly, I haven't seen anything change," Mackin said. "I've seen nothing but success for him, and it's exciting to watch him grow more and more."
Gregoire, who earned a bachelor's degree in political science last spring and is working toward a second degree in sociology, understands that the weight of the offense may lean on him. But he insisted that the responsibility is shared by he and his teammates.
"I feel like I have to do a good job out there and make sure that we're in the right sets and we're running the right things," he said. "But I don't feel the pressure is all on my shoulders. We spread the ball around a lot and guys get their looks. Even though we have a lot of young guys on offense, I feel like the young guys have a lot of experience, a lot of game experience. So I don't feel too much pressure. I just try to be a leader out there when I can."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun