This is one of a series of boys’ previews on the Inter-Ac League
By Matt Chandik
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 3/12/20
Most schools with a relatively inexperienced group would ease their way into the season with a couple of winnable games before getting to the buzzsaw part of the schedule.
You can decidedly count Episcopal Academy among those who are going with the exact opposite approach. The Churchmen’s first three games read like a video game where you look to book the hardest possible schedule, with home dates with Inside Lacrosse’s No. 9 team in the country, Brunswick (CT) today, and its No. 2 St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) sandwiched around a road date with Virginia power St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes. They’ll close out March with Hun (NJ), so there are no freebies.
That’s totally fine with fourth-year head coach Chris Bates.
“We’re putting ourselves through the ringer,” Bates said. “We’ve built some depth in spots and have some work to do in others, but our overarching theme is, ‘what’s our next step?’ We’ve gotten to the (Inter-Ac League) semis every year, but we have to find a way to get a little further.”
Bates will lean heavily on a couple of very familiar faces at attack. His son, Nick Bates (Williams commit), and stepson Charlie Cunniffe (Lafayette), have seen playing time since they first stepped on campus. Cunniffe earned first-team All Inter-Ac honors a season ago, and he’s a tough, fiery attackman with a nice touch around the net. Nick Bates is a smart, heady attackman with excellent vision, and the ball will be in his stick a lot as he quarterbacks the offense.
“Charlie was a first-line midfielder as a freshman, so he’s logged a lot of minutes, and he should get teams’ No. 1 look,” Bates said. “Nick will mix and match and he continues to evolve, and I think he’s in line for a really good senior year.”
Fellow senior Jackson Tuma, who will also see time at midfield coming off a standout soccer campaign in the fall, is a skilled righty who can run by a lot of defenders and give the Churchmen’s offense an added dimension. Lucas Sinon (Denison), who missed his junior campaign with a torn ACL, is a big, strong lefty who can finish inside.
Bates will have an abundance of options to test out as he tries to establish the midfield pecking order. Junior Riley Dugan (Villanova) certainly looks the part of a big-time Inter-Ac midfielder, and he’ll be a primary option after missing much of his sophomore season with an injury. Max Strid was an all-league performer on the defensive line for EA’s Inter-Ac winning football team, and Bates loves his ability to score goals. Sophomore Tristan Whitaker earned playing time last year as a freshman and figures to see his role expand significantly, while junior Billy Adams – another all-league football standout, will see his impact felt all over the field.
“We also have guys like Mikel Zahralddin and Sam Malloy who are really good defensive midfielder-types and both of their motors are always running,” Bates said. “Mikel is incredibly tough and Sam started for the basketball team, so he’s got the athleticism to get up and down the field.”
The Churchmen have perhaps the best underclassman faceoff midfielder in the league with sophomore Andrew McMeekin, a big, athletic type with a good stick who’s drawn rave reviews and has all the makings of a major recruit this September. He’s backed up by John McCormick, a converted midfielder who adds toughness and can also handle the ball well.
Defensive guru and assistant coach Will Gibbs will get creative as always with the looks that he presents to opposing offenses, and he’s got some nice returning pieces to work with. Junior LSM Will Delaney excels between the lines, and he covers a ton of ground and does well in the clearing game. Sophomore defenseman Matt McCarthy, like McMeekin, projects as a top-level prospect in the class of 2022 after starting for the Churchmen as a sophomore. He’s tall, rangy, competitive and athletic, and he moves to close defense this year.
Bates lauded senior Brendan Voelker, the son of Drexel coach Brian Voelker, for his intelligence and athleticism, and Voelker figures to hold down a starting spot for the Churchmen. Seniors CJ Kelly and Max Pasternack add depth, and junior Dom Piselli is another high-motor type who can contribute at both short stick defensive midfield and LSM.
Of course, it always helps to have a consistent presence in the cage, and EA will rely on senior Matt Chess for the third straight year. The Army commit brings a calm, steady influence to the Churchmen’s net, and he’ll be relied upon more than ever to spearhead the defense. Sophomore Nash Womack slots in as Chess’ backup with an eye on starting for two years after Chess heads to West Point.
“Matt’s a quality individual and leader, and he’s pretty good in the cage,” Bates said. “We need his leadership in addition to him stopping the ball, and we’re very confident with him back there.”
It won’t be easy to get to Bates’ stated next step of reaching the Inter-Ac Invitational final, particularly as the league reverts to having all six teams face each other twice apiece prior to the playoff.
The Churchmen, though, are due.
Tags: Episcopal Academy