These are heady times for the Mount St. Mary’s lacrosse programs.
The men’s team is 7-5 overall this spring and 3-0 in the Northeast Conference for the first time since 2011. The squad owns sole possession of first place in the league, has won its past four games and received votes in the Inside Lacrosse Top 20 media poll Monday.
The women’s team is 10-2 for the first time in program history, and its seven-game winning streak is the school’s longest since 2007. The squad is 2-0 in the Northeast and is tied with Wagner (9-2) and Bryant (6-5) for first place in the conference.
The Mountaineers’ success can be attributed to myriad factors, but both teams have benefitted from the return of an injured starter: redshirt senior defender Emily Dees for the women and sophomore midfielder Luke Frankeny for the men.
Dees, a Baltimore resident and John Carroll graduate, has rebounded from a torn ACL in her right knee suffered during player introductions before the start of the 2018 season opener.
“I jumped up to high-five a teammate and just came down and heard a pop,” Dees said. “Pretty unfortunate way to do it, but there are worse ways.”
Two weeks later after the swelling had subsided, Dees learned that her season was over before it even began.
“It was a pretty hard pill to swallow for me,” she said. “I had worked that hard for four years, and to see it kind of all collapse before the first game of my senior year, I had a lot of goals for myself that I wanted to accomplish last year. It was difficult to watch from the sideline, but I learned so much, and I’m really excited to be back this year, and I’m so excited that we’re doing as well as we are.”
Dees’ five caused turnovers and four ground balls might not seem noteworthy, but coach Lauren Skellchock said Dees bears the responsibility of organizing the defense.
“She’s been here as long as I have, and what she says in the locker room or on the field is exactly what we’ve said over the course of five years now,” Skellchock said. “Emily has lived it not only as an experienced player, but as someone who’s been able to see it from the sideline last year. She’s a player-coach. She’s just a tremendous leader on and off the field.”
Skellchock and Dees were relieved that the defender escaped the opener against Presbyterian on Feb. 9 without a setback.
“It’s just a light jog or maybe a slow run,” Dees said of her pregame introductions. “No jumping.”
Frankeny started the first eight games of last season, totaling 13 goals and one assist. But intensifying pain in his right foot revealed a stress fracture that sidelined him for the remaining six games.
“In warmups in the middle of the season last year, I would kind of feel it, but I was just like, ‘I’ll just take some Advil or something,’ ” he said. “And then further on, it just got worse and worse. And then it was the Bryant game when I had to pull myself out because I could barely walk on it.”
Frankeny has rebounded emphatically. He ranks second among the Mountaineers in goals with 20 and is tied for second with junior attackman Joe Bethke in points with 25, but is quick to deflect credit to teammates such as Bethke, senior attackman Chris DiPretoro (team-leading 36 points) and junior attackman/midfielder Brenden McCarthy (21 points).
“I would say it’s the rest of my team,” he said. “I’m doing it for them, and they’re doing things for me. Everyone is playing for somebody else. We all have different roles on the field, and I’m just kind of doing my role.”
Coach Tom Gravante said Frankeny has begun to use his 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame to his advantage against opponents’ long-stick midfielders.
“I told him in the fall, ‘You’re not a secret anymore and therefore you’re going to draw the pole, but you’ve still got to get yours. We’ll run some interference, but you still have to make plays.’ And he has,” Gravante said. “Pole or no pole, he’s still got to dodge hard and get to the cage, and I think part of that is a little bit mental to him. … But I think he had big potential to have even a better season in his sophomore year.”
Frankeny said he has noticed that defenses are sliding to him early to help support their long-stick midfielders. He could be frustrated by the extra attention, but said he has tried to exploit the strategy.
“I just try to move it forward, and that will open up opportunities for the other players,” he said. “It definitely is a sign of respect, and it kind of motivates me to do better on the field. And it makes me a better player.”
Both teams have a chance to host the Northeast Conference tournament, which hasn’t unfolded at one site since 2011. While joking that such a scenario would wreak havoc with the Mount St. Mary’s athletic department, Skellchock said such an opportunity would be immensely rewarding.
“It would be absolutely incredible,” the Century and Johns Hopkins graduate said. “It’s certainly the top goal for both of the teams. I talked to Coach Gravante about it the other day about how neat it would be to host both tournaments here, and we would be excited and honored to do that.”