Kennesaw State Pulls Off Stunner

January 31, 2012

This article is originally from Lacrosse Magazine.

By Jac Coyne

Anthony Grizanti still remembers the looks on the players faces. It was 2008 and Grizanti was a member of the Utica College team that defeated Division III power Nazareth – a program that won three games against ranked teams that season – by a score of 11-9. The sight of those grim countenances on the Flyers' sideline will always remain with him.

Grizanti, now the head coach at MCLA Division II Kennesaw (Ga.) State, had flashbacks to that game last Saturday as time wound down on the Owls stunning 9-2 victory over MCLA Division I Georgia Tech.

"I remember looking over a couple of times at [Tech's] sideline and seeing the demoralized looks, and I know that feeling because I've been on that type of sideline before," Grizanti said. "That just pure shock of, 'What just happened?' When we beat Nazareth my senior year, I remember looking at their sideline and those guys were just totally drained. It was similar."

The Owls' victory over the Yellow Jackets was thorough. KSU had enough goals for the win after the first quarter when it raced out to a 3-0 lead, and senior goalie Andrew Flood closed the door with 16 saves and just two goals against. Junior middie Casey Newton scored four goals and sophomore middie William DeKeyser added a hat trick to give Kennesaw more than enough scoring.

Tech's inability to hang with KSU, which is ranked No. 20 in MCLA-II, was the product of a couple of issues. First, the Ramblin' Wreck probably thought they were playing a team in disarray.

Ken Byers, who led Kennesaw to the cusp of the MCLA tournament during the past two seasons, suddenly stepped down after the end of the 2011 season. This elevated Grizanti to the head spot.

"Coach Byers felt the program had matured and it was time for a change," Grizanti said. "Coach Byers has done so much for the program and got it to the point where it is now. I was able to take over and have the foundation for a successful season."

The seamlessness of the change wasn't as evident to those outside the program. Grizanti received multiple emails asking whether the Owls were going to have a team this season, or whether they'd have enough players to play Tech in the opener. As such, when the Yellow Jackets showed up at Kennesaw, they didn't exactly have the eye of the tiger.

"Just talking with them before the game and kind of watching the body posture of the players and how they were warming up, I don't think they thought we were going to give them the fight that we did," Grizanti said. "Everybody seemed like, 'O.K., yeah, we're playing Kennesaw and it's going to be a win.'"

Secondly, Tech probably didn't understand the type of drive this edition of the Owls has. Frankly, Grizanti didn't understand it. After fall ball, the new coach wasn't sure how the team would handle a beefed up schedule, but two weeks ago Grizanti started to see a desire that has never been seen with the KSU program. Some of it was due simply to a young team maturing, but there is also the lingering snub that the players have been hanging onto for two years now.

At the conclusion of the 2010 season, Kennesaw knocked off SCAD in the SELC semifinals and then lost by two to Elon in the championship game, only to watch both of those teams earn bids to the national tournament.

"We felt we should have gotten that nod to nationals over SCAD," Grizanti said. "That has always burned the kids a little bit and it has burned me a little bit. It adds a lot of drive and motivation. We are the team that deserved that bid and it's been a driving force ever since."

While wins over Division I teams don't technically hold more weight in the selection criteria, it's always good to show your attributes against the chair of the MCLA selection committee (Georgia Tech head coach Ken Lovic). So in that way, the Owls are off to a good start on their quest to make their first appearance at nationals. A better schedule, including a trip to the Midwest, will help as well.

The next step will come on Sunday when the Owls host another in-state Division I foe: the University of Georgia. If the Dawgs walk off the field with the same looks as Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State may just have the team to finally make it to Greenville.