In the 22 years Tom Gravante has coached Mount St. Mary's, the team has opened a season in Emmitsburg just eight times. So you can understand why the coach is looking forward to playing Delaware at Waldron Family Stadium on Saturday at noon in what will be the first of four consecutive games at home.
"I'm very excited," he said Tuesday morning. "If you look at it, our first four games are at home. It's just how the schedule has played out in the last four or five years. … Hopefully, it will give us a definite home-field advantage."
The Mountaineers – whose only victory in a home season opener occurred on March 3, 1999 in an 8-7 win against Providence – will face a Blue Hens squad that dropped a 14-13 decision to Bucknell in its season opener on Saturday. Gravante said his team needed an extra week of practice after participating in scrimmages against Monmouth and Cornell, but acknowledged that he will be interested in seeing whether the players will look rusty.
"I guess you can always take that into consideration," he said. "You wonder how your guys are going to handle the pressure. In scrimmages, there's not really pressure. There's pressure on kids that are working to start in certain positions, but it's still a scrimmage. This is for real on Saturday, and obviously, we will prepare our guys both physically and mentally to understand that. Once we exit that locker room and enter that field, it's business and time to get going."
Mount St. Mary's should expected a motivated Delaware squad, especially after coach Bob Shillinglaw announced on Thursday that he will retire at season's end, his 39th with the Blue Hens and his 42nd overall. When Shillinglaw does step away, Gravante will be tied with Massachusetts' Greg Canella as the second-longest tenured coach (23 years) at the same Division I program, trailing only Notre Dame's Kevin Corrigan (31st).
Gravante, who said he was recruited by Shillinglaw before playing attack at Hobart, said he has no plans to stop coaching.
"I still think I have many – or several – good years in me, and I want to get back to those [Northeast] Conference playoffs and that [NCAA] tournament," he said. "We're in a rebuilding process with the addition of a second full-time assistant in the fall of 2014. There's been a definite uptick."