MONMOUTH, Ill. – Ready to build on the successes of their inaugural season last spring, the Monmouth College men’s lacrosse team is looking forward to continuing the growth of the program under new head coach Chris Klaiber.
Klaiber took the reins last fall and is quickly implementing his brand of play. The outlook is bright as he reloads both ends of the field with a solid core of returners and promising newcomers.
“The guys have been very receptive to my style and philosophy,” reported Klaiber. “They’ve bought in and stepped their games up a notch. Going into the second year of the program, everyone is excited to elevate our level of play. Practices have been very good. We’re looking forward to the first game.”
The Scots begin their second season with a notable change in goal as sophomore Chase Cranford (Wauconda, Ill./Mundelein Consolidated) – who does double duty as a member of the men’s soccer team in the fall – moves back to his natural position. After playing the field as a freshman, Cranford returns to the cage – a position he has played throughout his career.
“Chase is very comfortable in goal and will be a rock for us,” predicted Klaiber. “It’s really not a transition for him, just a return to his most experienced position. His soccer experience also comes into play. He’s used to directing the defense as a center back in soccer. Chase is a good communicator and is taking ownership. I feel very good about him in goal.”
Cranford should get plenty of reps in practice as four of the Scots’ top five scorers from their rookie campaign return, led by leading scorer Thomas Van Alstine (McHenry, Ill./West), who punched in 21 goals a season ago. Add in 6-foot-3, 250-pound Croy Seagren (Hampshire, Ill./Hampshire) – the Scots’ No. 3 goal scorer last year – and the Scots pack a powerful 1-2 punch.
“Thomas will carry a big load on the offensive end,” said Klaiber. “Of course, he’s not the only offensive threat. Croy is simply a good athlete and that’s a big plus. Keep in mind, we’re still really young with all but one of our guys freshmen and sophomores. We’ll have a new offensive look and will have to adapt game-by-game early in the season, but I’m excited about our offensive potential.”
Monmouth’s defense returns a host of players who netted plenty of minutes last season. Connor Armstrong (Star, Idaho/Eagle) led the team with 25 caused turnovers as a freshman while starting in all but one game. Defenders Shane Herkert (Verona, Wis./Verona) and Ian Moles (Elmhurst, Ill./York) saw action in all 14 games, with Herkert starting in all 14.
“We expect Shane to take more of a leadership role on the field,” said a confident Klaiber. “We’ve got a good mix of talent in the freshmen and sophomore classes and Shane’s experience will help in that area. We’re going to learn and grow as the season progresses.”
The Scots would also like to see their faceoff opportunities grow. Armstrong and Cameron Cochrane (Bloomington, Ind./North) led the team in faceoffs last season, but it was Noah Barnard (Pekin, Ill./Pekin) who turned in a team-high .632 success rate after joining the team following his swim season. Barnard opted to become a one-sport athlete this season, giving the sport he picked up a year ago his full attention.
“Noah is still growing, learning and progressing as a lacrosse student-athlete,” reported Klaiber. “He definitely has a big upside. He was good in faceoffs last year, but we’ll probably go with a faceoff-by-committee approach, at least in the early going. We’re a young program and won’t have what you’d call a ‘specialist’ at this point.”
What the Scots do have is a talented freshman class that could make an impact sooner rather than later. Midfielder Jeff Knapp (Nolensville, Tenn./Ravenwood), defender/long stick midfielder Nick Thomas (Elmhurst, Ill./York) and attacker Mitch Perez (Glen Ellyn, Ill./Glenbard West) are among the newcomers who will give Klaiber new faces at all three levels of the field.
The Scots will open the 2018 season with the same team that helped the fledgling team usher in the program a year ago – Carroll University.
“We’re all in the same boat,” warned Klaiber of the early season games. “We’re all struggling with getting on the field for practice due to the harsh winter weather. It’s a challenge to put a lot of offensive or defensive sets in when you’re in a confined space indoors.”
While the Scots might not have installed everything they would have liked just yet, they still know the keys to success can be found in the early going.
“With the installation of a new system, discipline and challenging ourselves to grow every game will be critical,” said Klaiber. “We don’t have a specific number of wins in mind as a goal. We’re still a young program and the goal should be to compete at a high level in most if not all our games. I want them to battle for every second of every game. If we can improve on the win total from last year, that’s a bonus. Right now, it’s all about growing and improving as players and a program.”