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Onondaga Howard njcaa champs 2017
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Junior College Report: Howard Week

Welcome to the SECOND pre-season edition of The Junior College Report!

What happened to the old “JuCo Report” name? I changed it. Why? It’s a good question, and I’ll get into that first, then switch the focus back to the preseason prep work, with the Howard CC Dragons. Check out my last Junior College post as well, where I focused more on the NJCAA in general and Onondaga.

Now It’s The Junior College Report

I have always had a tremendous amount of respect for NJCAA lacrosse. When I was growing up in Massachusetts, I heard a lot about the legendary teams at Herkimer, and when I was in college I always knew that Hofstra would get at least 1-2 unreal players from Nassau to transfer in each year. Names like Opie, Kisslinger, Esposito, Grant Jr, LaCrosse, Sowell, Thorpe, Polanco and so many others litter old rosters and halls of fame at various schools. This was “JuCo lacrosse”. I knew it by no other name, and it was something I respected greatly.

When I started writing this series 4 years ago I recalled all those memories of past legends, so calling it the JuCo Report made a lot of sense, and it was meant as a sign of respect, and nothing else. The NJCAA was getting little to no coverage, and yet players like Randy Staats, Jeremy Thompson, Josh Byrne, Tyson Bell, Warren Hill and so many others were coming out of the NJCAA ranks. The JuCo Report was born.

As the world turns, things change, and in recent years the NJCAA has decided that the term “JuCo” doesn’t showcase what the NJCAA truly is, and they would prefer that people don’t use it (other than NJCAA baseball, which still uses it for the championship). I want to be clear that the NJCAA has never contacted me about this, nor made any sort of request about it. BUT, through a new contact, I found out that they’re trying not to use “JuCo” anymore, so I’m on board. That’s the last time I’ll say it. I mean, why not? I really do like NJCAA lacrosse, so instead of make a stink, I’m changing the name proactively. Hopefully now the NJCAA will take notice and share these posts via social media (hint hint, wink wink!)

All right, welcome to ALL NEW (and yet totally the same) Junior College Report. We’re talking about the next potential giant of Junior College lacrosse –

A Look At The Howard Dragons

Last year Howard rocked the opposition and shocked a whole bunch of people when they almost took home the hardware. They’ve had great players before (Peet Poillon and Garrett Conoway, both MLL players come to mind) but this Howard team was different. They really were contenders and they have depth and talent from end to end. The Dragons almost won their first championship, but lost one heck of a game to Onondaga in the finals. Since I focused on the Lazers last time around, it’s time to look at the Dragons a little closer.

Nowhere in college lacrosse is it more important to reload than in the NJCAA. Each year half the team is literally GONE, and you almost start over… unless you have some depth, or a bunch of freshman playing big roles. So while Howard lost some talent (every top does, each and every year), the question is what do they have left, and who else is coming in?

Offensively, Howard should be really solid, and able to put up good numbers with a diverse set of scorers. Ian Decker and Chris Reinhardt are both back after phenomenal first year campaigns and it looks like Decker may be headed to UMBC next year. Reinhardt, along transfer Will Smith, don’t seem to be committed currently. Both are guys NCAA coaches should be watching and contacting.

Colin Wallace is another talented and available player starring in the midfield, and he will be joined by transfer Daniel Pirrone, which gives the Dragons a good 1-2 punch right away. If others continue to step up, this group gets more dangerous. Buoying the short stick group is returning LSM Matt Leone, and Nate Leisher transferring in gives Howard another great option with a longstick through the midfield. Jarred Thompson coming in provides good talent down low, adding the Howard’s already tough defense. I’m also interested to see how Grady Jackson-Fayle (U19 England captain) fares in the Howard system. He’s another guy to keep an eye on.

If 2017’s style of play is any indication, Howard will play a driving, physical brand of lacrosse and mix in high levels of skill wherever they have it. It’s a hounding style of play, and the Dragons show no fear, and are willing to take some risks. At the same time, this group had consistently shown good IQ last year and knew when to play it fast, or slow it down. I’d expect more of the same!

Howard Gear – Helmets First

Just look at these beautiful pieces of hard headwear. It’s tough! junior college lacrosse

What’s Coach Saying?

It’s always important to give the coaches a voice, and Coach Foust kept it honest, short, and sweet. He gets right to the point. I like that!

Head Coach Erik Foust on Howard 2018:

“I am excited to have the opportunity to lead these young men in my 5th year as the Head Coach at Howard CC. We plan to compete each and every day that we are together. Getting a taste of the semifinals and championship in 2017 isn’t completely satisfying – this group is hungry.”

Good stuff! What else did you expect?

Before I cut off this week’s Junior College Report (more to come in the next weeks and months!), I also want to share Brian Witmer’s take on the Howard Dragons program. Brian travels the world and he plays, coaches, and writes his way through his trips, but when he took in the NJCAA’s men’s lacrosse championship weekend last year, it was his first time really watching NJCAA lacrosse. This is what first time fans see, and it’s a great perspective and look into what Howard is in the process of building.

I Knew As Much As the Next Guy – Brian Witmer

I did something the other day that I haven’t done in quite a long time. Honestly, maybe ever. This might have been a first for me. I went out and watched a NJCAA lacrosse game. A Howard Dragons game. Who? I’ll ramp up to that.

I didn’t go to a junior college, (a five digit student loan bill for a five year party I’ve already been to makes me wish I had) but I’d say I have a basic understanding of how the NJCAA season and tournament have gone the past decade or so.

Onondaga Community College kills everybody. Suffolk or Nassau (sadly, I don’t know the difference) usually gives them the biggest resistance. Programs like Monroe and Herkimer have hot-then-not-then-hot type years. The past few years, Genesee has been a rising power, even winning the NJCAA last year and dethroning the decade of Lazer championships. Besides that, I can barely even name four more programs. Some of that might not even be right. I really had no idea.

Neat… Good Luck!

So six months ago, I’m down in D.C. and I’m helping my college buddy, Nate, move an egregious amount of crap between apartments. He tells me he’s got an offensive coordinator/assistant coach gig at a local community college. I say congrats, of course, that’s a college gig, who’s the team? He tells me it’s Howard County Community College. I say, neat… good luck!

I had never heard of Howard County Community College before then, but he goes on to tell me that the team is looking really good, and they’ve got a great coaching staff and they’re shooting for a National Championship. I say, neat… good luck!

These Stories Always Involve A Phone Call

Sure enough, I get a call from my buddy Nate the day I get back to the US from Prague. He says they’re playing in the semis against Genesee. He tells me there’s a link to watch the games online. I tell him I’ll do him one better and I’ll be there to watch the Howard Dragons take on the Genesee Cougars right after Onondaga and Nassau.

Championship lacrosse. It really doesn’t matter who’s playing. Once you get to playoffs, it’s really about who shows up to play. On a beautiful Saturday in Upstate, New York (read: miserable) I got to the game in time to see the waning minutes of a 21-10 domination of Suffolk by the Lazers. This pretty much confirmed what I’ve always known, OCC is very, very, very good at putting a lacrosse ball into a lacrosse goal.

What I Drove Here For

Dragons versus Cougars. Let’s do this. Nate and I had been freshmen together at Brockport, and so I got to know the clan very well. I sat with Nate’s Mom, Mimi, as well as the rest of the cohort from Cortland who knew nothing about Howard County Community College other than Nate was coaching.

But I became a fan right away.

Not because of Nate. No, I’m still not over that moving fiasco in D.C., but because these kids were absolutely selling out their bodies and souls on every single play and they were earning their place in this game. Truth be told I hadn’t seen such a tight lacrosse game like this in person in years.

There must have been ten lead changes, and that is not an exaggeration. Scoring a go-ahead goal was almost a guarantee the opposition was going to score the next two. I found myself on my feet and my fists in the sky every time Howard scored.

Late in the game, and the Howard boys are down. GCC had scored man-up with two minutes remaining, and they regained possession after the face-off. The ball heads down to one of the big box players Genesee has had so much success with. I can’t see this kid coughing up the ball to a field player. Long-stick or not, I see this one as over.

Sure enough we see a forced turnover, and the boys come right on down and score with :32 left on the clock. Flag on the play. Howard will be man up the remainder of regulation and :28 seconds into OT, should we need it…

Spoiler, they didn’t need overtime.

Chris Reinhart wheels up the left alley to his strong right hand and looks to make the skip pass. He’s so bent on making that skip pass, he temporarily overlooks the fact that the Cougars haven’t anyone to stop Reinhart from scoring. One step, two step, and an underhand low-to-low shot buries under the Genesee goalie with 1.8 remaining on the clock.

Championship Contenders

Howard County Community College is moving on to play the Onondaga Lazers in the National Championship.

If you had said that over the winter, I would’ve given you the same look I gave Nate when he called that they’d be in the hunt for the championship this year.

Honestly, I expected a thumping.

These are the Onondaga Lazers we’re talking about here. They’ve been raking in rings since before I graduated high school. Austin Staats. Russ Oakes. Players from all over including Vermont, Missouri, Idaho, AUSTRALIA, AND JAPAN!

What I saw, was not a thumping. OCC played their game – high speed and quick in transition, but Howard wasn’t rolling over. Howard fought tooth and nail, and used long possessions of two, three, even five minute possessions to counter Onondaga’s thirteen-second clinics on “how to play transition offense.”

Howard’s goalie Mark Bowser recorded 11 saves on the day. If I didn’t have the power of the Google machine, I would’ve guessed 20. Standing on his head in the first quarter gave the Dragons the ability to at one point take a 6-2 lead over the Lazers, but OCC is OCC and, they weren’t going to be held to 2 goals for very long. Usually they’ve got two goals before the referees get out of their cars.

At half, Onondaga and Howard were tied at 6. That right there is worth note and caps off to the Dragons. I had never heard of you, and you were right there. I’ll have to admit, that even with a tied score at half, I gave up on you at that point.

I thought you boys had played great, but I didn’t think that the level of intensity and skill that you guys were playing at was sustainable for another half. Not against the Lazers. And this is my favorite part of the Howard Dragons: I haven’t been right about them yet.

OCC went up 11-8 in the third, and I thought that this is where it all goes south. Wrong again. A back-and-forth fourth quarter shootout led us to a 14-14 tie with four minutes left. Two straight goals from Kevin Curcio had tied the game for the Dragons and the upset was in sight. It was right there.

Onondaga was battling Howard hard, and they weren’t about to drop the program’s tenth title in twelve years just because the new guys deserved a ring. Jake McNabb scored on a beautiful assist from a hobbling Austin Staats with 2:21 remaining, and that would do it for the Dragons.

OCC Onondaga Community College Lazers Lacrosse 2017 National Champions Howard Dragons

Chuck Wilbur’s Lazers got their championship, ensuring the tradition that none of the two year players leave without a ring. Hats off to the Lazers, and I’m always elated to see the trophies come home to Central New York, but damn it if I don’t have a new favorite junior college team.

Following suit, the Howard Dragons women’s team took home second place in the JuCo Championships the same day. The Tribunes out of Monroe County took home their EIGHTY-SECOND CONSECUTIVE WIN to bring home their FIFTH STRAIGHT title!

Junior Colleges have rosters that turn over faster than your traditional four year programs, obviously. While Howard will undoubtedly lose a solid section of its roster as players transfer on to four year schools, I have high hopes for these Dragons in the future. The Junior College gatekeepers to the South will undoubtedly have a spike in recruits in the coming years. I won’t be shocked when I get a call in May next year from Nate telling me the game is at 3:30 and I should come watch.

I’ll be back with NJCAA Lacrosse info as the season gets closer and closer!