In his mind, Tom Gravante envisions building a Mount St. Mary’s men’s lacrosse team that rapidly turns defensive stops into high-octane offensive chances with the big-picture objective of outracing opponents into submission.
Gravante got a glimpse of that dream — in the form of Robert Morris.
The No. 14 Colonials scored their first five goals on fast-break opportunities to overcome a 2-0 deficit and then blanketed the host Mountaineers in the second half to cement a 15-5 thumping before an announced 314 at Waldron Family Stadium on Saturday.
Robert Morris improved to 6-2 overall and 2-0 in the Northeast Conference, while Mount St. Mary’s dropped to 3-6 and 0-2. And Gravante was left with a lasting impression of how the Colonials’ style of play might soon be copied by many teams in Division I.
“When this game decides to move forward and chooses to have a shot clock, I think that blueprint is going to move forward with a lot of teams,” he said. “I think the Brown team in 2016 had that type of culture and approach. These guys have always had it with former head coach Bear Davis. … He left that blueprint there for Coach [Andrew] McMinn, and they just do it very well. And it’s not secret to anybody. It’s not a surprise. If you look at their scoring, they’re really deep in the roster in terms of how many people have scored goals because it is in transition.”
Robert Morris began to get a taste of success when last year’s team went 9-7 overall for the program’s first winning record since 2013. This season, the Colonials have already knocked off then-No. 15 Penn State and then-No. 18 Marquette, and are enjoying their highest ranking in a national poll in the program’s 14-year history.
One factor in Robert Morris’ surge has been an emphasis on accelerating the tempo of a game, especially switching from defense to offense. Whether junior goalkeeper Alex Heger is making saves as he did against the Mountaineers with a season-high 19 or the defense is causing turnovers as it did with 11, the players’ first instinct is to push the ball up the field and catch opponents at a disadvantage.
“That’s been our style of play for a long time,” McMinn said. “I’ve been at Robert Morris for 13 years now, and even when I was an assistant for Bear Davis, we always pushed transition, and that’s been our style. Right now, I just feel like we’re clicking on all cylinders with it.”
The Colonials opened the game in a 2-0 hole as redshirt sophomore attackman Stephano Mastro and junior attackman Chris DiPretoro scored in the first 3:07 for Mount St. Mary’s. But Robert Morris scored the next six goals in an 8:09 span, including the first five on fast breaks.
Redshirt junior attackman Matt Schmidt led all scorers with three goals and two assists, and senior attackman Adrian Torok-Orban added three goals. But as if proving Gravante’s note regarding a diversified scoring roster correct, the Colonials also got goals from senior long-stick midfielder Mitchell Wales, senior short-stick defensive midfielder Conner Yepsen, sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder James Scane and sophomore faceoff specialist Trey Arnold.
“We’re a fast-playing team,” said Schmidt, who had a goal and an assist during the 6-0 run. “It starts with the goalie and goes all the way up to our attack, which is awesome because we can share the ball throughout with those transition plays and just bury the ball.”
The closest the Mountaineers got to Robert Morris was a three-goal deficit at 8-5 after DiPretoro scored his third goal of the game off a feed from senior short-stick defensive midfielder C.J. Ciseran in the third quarter. But the offense never got another ball past Heger.
DiPretoro said the players began to lose their composure as Robert Morris began to build a sizable lead.
“For the rest of the game, I think we started panicking,” he said. “They went up a couple goals and then we weren’t hitting the back of the net, and I think that frustrated us and kind of took us out of our zone. We were just kind of all over the place today. What we did in practice didn’t [show up] on the field today.”
Robert Morris 7 1 3 4 — 15
Mount St. Mary’s 3 1 1 0 — 5
Goals: R—Schmidt 3, Torok-Orban 3, Arnold, Gibson, Kealey, Lynch, Mayfield, Scane, R.Smith, Wales, Yepsen; M—DiPretoro 3, Berg, Mastro. Assists: R—Gibson, Mayfield, McCulley, Schmidt, Perkins, D.Smith, E.Smith; M—Ciserano, Haggerty, Mangan. Saves: R—Heger 19; M—Mutterer 7, Furnback 3.