If there’s a word to describe what a lacrosse defense needs, it is unity.
In almost any team-oriented sport, it is difficult to win if the team is not playing with unity on the defensive side of the ball. While one player might be able to carry the load offensively at times, an out-of-sync defense usually spells disaster.
Unity is one thing that the Ohio State men’s lacrosse defense has prided itself on this year.
After losing two of the top three goal scorers from last year in Jesse King and David Planning, OSU coach Nick Myers said the players on defense knew they would have to rely on each other in order to help an offense with a lot a fresh faces.
“I think it’s big … anytime that you have relationships that you can lean on, that you have confidence in each other,” Myers said. “A lot of defense, and a lot of high-level defense, is trust and communication.”
OSU’s scoring defense currently ranks in the top 20 in the nation, only allowing nine goals per game. Senior defensive midfielder and co-captain Kacy Kapinos said he and his teammates have a special relationship that allows them to find their best stuff.
“We have that comfort level with each other where we play together, and we can also push each other,” Kapinos said.
The starters that make up the defensive side of the ball — seniors Robby Haus and Chris Mahoney, sophomore Erik Evans and redshirt junior goalie Tom Carey — have had the opportunity to play together for more than a year now, helping to create that unity every defense needs.
”It’s really beneficial for us. I think me and Chris have been there for the longest amount of time, so we have a really good relationship. Then Tommy came in and we hit it off immediately,” Haus said. “Erik is a young guy, but he acts a lot older than he is, and I think being around some of these seniors and redshirt juniors has helped him a lot.
“Our chemistry is awesome.”
Carey continued, elaborating on what experience playing with each other means as opposed to playing with freshmen on the team.
“I think the relationships we have with one another — (Robby) and I, and Chris and Evans, too — (they) just allow us to hold each other to a little bit different standard than the first-year guys,” Carey said.
Those first-year guys, like freshmen midfielders Logan Maccani and Noah Best, have had a great mentor in Kapinos, Haus said.
“I know we’re trying to develop some young faces at the defensive midfield, and he’s done a really good job bringing them in and building chemistry with them,” Haus said.
Communication has been essential in the OSU defense’s success this year. Lacrosse is a sport that involves a lot of switching, commonly referred to as sliding.
If an on-ball defender lets his man get past him, the defender has to be ready to slide in order to double team the ball-carrier. Then the whole defense has to slide in order to cover the now-open man. It’s a complicated process, one that would result in allowing a goal without constant communication, Kapinos said.
“It’s just keeping everybody on the same page so that we’re all organized and making sure that we’re all doing the same thing,” Kapinos said. “You can’t have one guy doing one thing and five guys doing the other.”
A lot of what the defense does is communicated by the goalie, and Kapinos said Carey is excellent at his job.
“It helps with Tommy in the goal,” Kapinos said. “Tommy gives us a lot of communication and kind of quarterbacks the defense.”
The Buckeyes are set to commence Big Ten play on Sunday. They’re scheduled to face a No. 18 Penn State team that ranks 12th in the nation with 12.67 goals per game.
The team will be trying to sever its four-game losing streak, including a 15-6 loss to No. 1 Denver in which OSU gave up eight fourth-quarter goals after only being down 7-5 heading into the final period.
Carey said he blames himself for the fourth quarter meltdown but said the defense as a unit cannot be making so many mistakes.
“I think a lot of that falls back on me, and at the same time we play as a unit,” Carey said. “So, I’ve got to be a lot better, but we have to be better as a whole unit in stopping shots, getting the ball up and out in transition and … getting back to the basics and getting better every single day.”
With the chances of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament dwindling, the Scarlet and Gray will need to turn things around quickly in order to be invited to the Big Ten tournament. A Big Ten championship would give the Buckeyes an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
However, it will take the whole defense, and, really, the whole team, in order to make this happen.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” Haus said.