Mount St. Mary's men's lacrosse coach Tom Gravante has no regrets.
Although no one would confuse the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference with counterparts such as the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Patriot League, Gravante has ensured that the Mountaineers match up against teams from those powerhouse leagues.
This season, Mount St. Mary's has tangled with three top-six opponents in then-No. 2 Virginia, then-No. 5 Maryland and then-No. 6 Navy. Add yesterday's contest against No. 7 Georgetown, and the Mountaineers have played against four top 10 teams in their first seven games.
"I could schedule some teams of lesser competition," Gravante said. "But I would rather let our kids have an opportunity to run with the big dogs. Our guys have been told from the start that it's not about winning or losing. It's about developing a skill level and playing at that skill level when we go back to our conference [after completing the non-conference schedule]."
Gravante's penchant for lining up tough opponents has been a worthwhile recruiting tool. Senior attackman Joe Derwent said he chose Mount St. Mary's rather than a Division III school for the opportunity to play at -- among other venues -- Johns Hopkins' Homewood Field, which is the site of the Mountaineers' regular-season finale.
"I saw the schedule, and my eyes got big," said Derwent, a Glenelg graduate. "I was saying to myself, 'I get a chance at these teams?' It's a huge selling point. You would rather play the Georgetowns, Marylands and Virginias than cupcake teams because if I can beat ... Georgetown or Virginia, I can bring that mindset to our own conference."
In the fall, Washington College coach J.B. Clarke sat down with his starting attack unit -- seniors Chris Read and Kolyn Kirby and junior Jimmy Kielek -- and told them that until the team could develop a defense to replace the graduation of three starters and the injury loss of an expected starter, the season rested on their shoulders.
The group has not disappointed. Read, Kirby and Kielek (Archbishop Curley) have combined to produce 122 of the team's 202 points (60.4 percent) en route to compiling the program's third 9-0 start in 67 seasons.
"I think we came off a pretty good record last year and knew what we were capable of," said Read, a Baltimore native and Boys' Latin graduate.
Buchanan, a Cockeysville native and a Calvert Hall graduate, said he called Blue Hens coach Bob Shillinglaw about four years ago to explore committing to Delaware. But Shillinglaw did not answer Buchanan's call, and the Buckeyes swept up Buchanan.
"One unanswered call and here I sit," said Buchanan, who is tied with Colgate junior Brandon Corp for the most goals among midfielders this season (22). "It's a funny story because I could have been a Blue Hen. ... But I think we have a complete and amazing program here, and I'm very proud to be a part of it."
MacDonnell can take a hit
Cooper MacDonnell's background in ice hockey has paid dividends in lacrosse.
The sophomore attackman leads No. 19 Loyola with 16 goals, and he has often endured some violent whacks before and after scoring. But he said he doesn't mind the beatings.
"I play with that fearless mentality when I go to the net," said MacDonnell, a native of Darien, Conn., who was named the ECAC co-Offensive Player of the Week for scoring four goals against then-No. 6 Syracuse. "After so many times of getting hit, you expect it. You just put your head down and take it."