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Owl Laxmen Set for Showdown against Eastern Connecticut

KEENE, N.H. 4/18/07 - The date has been circled on the Keene State men’s lacrosse calendar since February 5th, when they began spring practices on the frigid turf at Owl Athletic Complex. Every hard sprint, every tedious drill, and every bone-crushing hit was done with one game in mind; Saturday’s showdown against Eastern Conn. State University.

“That’s what we talked about,” said KSC Coach Mark Theriault. “We questioned if we were working as hard as Eastern and if we have the desire to reclaim the Little East championship?”

The answer to those questions will be answered Saturday at 1p.m. when the two rivals hook up at Owl Athletic Complex in what has become “the game” to decide LEC supremacy.

After being embarrassed by Eastern Conn. in their Division III infancy (KSC lost the first five game in the series by a combined score of 107-13), the Owls finally came of age in 2005 when they defeated the Warriors twice, including an 11-4 victory to capture their first-ever LEC title and NCAA berth.

Since 2003, the two teams have met in all four LEC finals. Claiming the title on three occasions, Eastern turned the tables on a young KSC team last season, winning 8-7 during the regular season and 14-12 in the championship game.

Returning a line-up virtually intact, Theriault feels this year’s Owl team is a lot older and wiser. “It’s the same team but with a ton of experience,” said Theriault. “We achieved every goal we’ve set and have two left: we want to beat Eastern on Saturday and go undefeated in the regular season.”

With a win on Saturday, KSC (10-0, 4-0 LEC) is almost assured of making it a clean sweep when it comes to fulfilling its wish list. But it won’t be easy.

Although the Warriors (6-6, 4-0 LEC) are undefeated in conference play, their victories haven’t been impressive. ECSU had all it could handle to post one- goal victories over Western Conn. (15-14) and Plymouth State (12-11), two teams KSC handily defeated.

“Don’t read too much into it,” Theriault warns. “When Keene State and Eastern get together all bets are off. It’s not just another game.”

However, Keene State, ranked 25th in this week’s national poll, appears to have a decided edge. Goalie Matt Johnson tops all Division III goalies with a .723 save percentage and is third in goals against average (4.90). A stingy backfield comprised of Ronnie Ward, Mike Wood, and Kevin McCarthy and defensive midfielders Easton Kezer and Riley Alvord has allowed just 49 goals, third best in the country.

The KSC defense will have to keep a close eye on ECSU senior attackman Dave Carpenter. Carpenter, who shared LEC offensive player of the year honors with the Owls’ Sean Panora last season, leads Division III in assists (36) and is fifth in scoring (57 points.).

“We usually do a good job on him,” Theriault said. “He’s dangerous, but I think we have players who will step up to the challenge against him.”

Finding a way to cover Keene State’s multiple offensive weapons will be a problem for Nicholas Smith, the Warriors third-year coach. Pick your poison. All three KSC attack players, Tony Santa Fe (21-24-45), Peter Lauranzano (16-13-29), and Panora (24-10-34) have the ability to take over a game. “We have five or six players who are deadly,” said Theriault. “If they decide to mark one guy, we just go to the next player.”

“That’s why we’ve had so much success,” he added. “This team has so much depth. When someone isn’t having a good day, another player will slide in and we don’t miss a beat”

“As a coach you’re thrilled to share a season with these guys,” Theriault said. “We’ve been pretty close to perfect. Nationally, teams see us as a team to be reckoned with and not another LEC team that’s just all right.”

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