Tourney Snub Fueling Kennesaw State

October 05, 2010

This article is originally from Lacrosse Magazine.

By Jac Coyne

The members of the Kennesaw State men's lacrosse team were not happy last May.

This isn't a terribly surprising revelation. Most programs that find themselves just outside the tournament field when the selections are announced aren't typically in the best of moods.

But, by any measure, the Kennesaw State players had a beef.

The Owls posted a 14-4 record, advanced to the championship game of the SELC tourney, and defeated SCAD in the semifinals. But when the bids were unveiled, there was SCAD among the chosen with KSU in the discarded pile.

Ken Byers, the Owls' head coach, stayed on a more even keel.

"To tell you the truth, the players took it a lot harder than I did," said Byers. "I know that these things happen. Kids get disappointed; they're kind of fragile. They live and die with each game. We were just hoping a third team from the SELC would get in there."

The five months since the tournament may have softened the memories for the coach, but Byers is a 28-year veteran of the Atlanta Fire Department and an Assistant Fire Chief, so his job mandates that he keep things in perspective.

However, that doesn't mean he won't use last year's near-miss as a motivational tool for his squad in 2011.

"Our motto this year is: 'Win it to be in it,'" said Byers, a Long Island native who played at Kutztown State during the school's varsity years in the late '70s. "In the long range of things, we had a terrific season last year. For us to make the SELC championship, that was certainly a highlight for our program. But now we know we have to win the SELC if we want to guarantee a seat at the table."

Even with the graduation of five starters, there should be enough returning to make another run at grabbing that seat. They have senior All-American Scott Schulze (61g, 35a) back on attack and junior Tom Mudrak, also an All-American, to guide the defense. Throw in a pair of experienced goalies and a handful of dangerous middies, and the expectations will be high again for the Owls.

Byers understands that the expectations will rise for him in 2011, as well, especially in regards to the scheduling. The goal is to snag the league automatic qualifier, but a stronger slate should keep Kennesaw State alive in the at-large discussions if it comes to that.

"Maybe my strength of schedule wasn't as strong as it could have been," admitted Byers. "I've been here for six years and I'm still learning, too."

Byers is still piecing his team together this fall in preparation for the spring, but with the knowledge gained by last year's disappointment – and the motivation it can provide – the Owls expect to be a lot happier this May.


Team: Kennesaw (Ga.) State

2010 Record: 14-4 (4-1 SELC)

2010 In Review: Kennesaw State had a break-out season, earning a spot in the SELC tournament and upending eventual MCLA tournament qualifier SCAD in the league semifinals. With no other signature wins, the Owls were left just outside of the 16-team field for Denver.

Goodbye... Charles Roland. A three-time all-conference midfielder for the Owls, Roland could score (23g) and dish (15a), depending on what the situation called for. "He had a motor that wouldn't stop," said Byers. "He was also a solid face-off guy. He'll be hard to replace."

Hello... Brad Jones. Under Byers, a Long Island native, the Owls aren't just looking for players in the Southeast. Jones is a prime example. Coming out of Onondaga (N.Y.) Community College, Jones joins the Kennesaw State program with huge potential. "He's a great feeder and his field instincts are very strong," said Byers. "He's going to be an impact guy."

Offseason Developments: The Kennesaw State team was able to get a glimpse of what it means to be dedicated to lacrosse. Jack East, a freshman midfielder last year, suffered a grisly compound fracture of his leg during the second day of practice. Undaunted, East stayed active in the sport, albeit not on the field. "Even though he had a busted leg, he stayed involved in the program and even coached a local high school," said Byers. "He lives and breathes lacrosse. It's contagious the way he operates." East is expected to be back this year in his role as a supporting middie, but his loyalty to his team and the sport is sending a strong message to the rest of the Owls.

Big Question: The starters will provide plenty of punch for Kennesaw State, but will there be enough talent on the secondary midfield lines to push the Owls through to the MCLA tournament? "I'll have a good attack, a good first line of middies, and a good defense," said Byers. "But will I have the depth and maturity in the midfield for these guys to handle the close games we'll get into?" KSU is expecting to carry 40 players this spring, so there should be enough players to choose from.

Fall Schedule: The Owls have a six week fall schedule, culminating with the Clemson Tournament on Nov. 12-13, which will feature the likes of Virginia Tech, SCAD, Emory and West Virginia. Kennesaw State will also participate in a men's club tourney in Atlanta and host an alumni game on Oct. 30. The following day, KSU will join Middle Tennessee State, Memphis and UT-Chattanooga for a Halloween four-way play day.