5/14/10 12:00 AM
Annapolis, MD - A new era of professional lacrosse will be unveiled Saturday night at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium when the Chesapeake Bayhawks host the Long Island Lizards. An Annapolis-based ownership group lead by team president Brendan Kelly has revamped the roster for a run at the Major League Lacrosse championship and rebuilt the fan base to give the Bayhawks a distinct home-field advantage.
General Manager Spencer Ford made numerous off-season moves to strengthen the team, executing multi-player trades with Toronto and Boston while also picking up some key free agent acquisitions.
“There is a lot of optimism surrounding the team this season and it all starts with the new ownership and management,” perennial All-Pro midfielder Kyle Dixon said. “Brendan and Spencer have done a lot of work behind the scenes to put the Bayhawks in a position to be successful and now it’s time for the players to step up and perform to prove we are a championship-caliber ballclub.”
This season marks the 10th anniversary of the Bayhawks, the all-time victories leader in MLL history. The Bayhawks have captured two MLL championships and four National Division crowns, but have not reached the playoffs since 2005. This year’s MLL Championship Weekend is being held at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and second-year head coach John Tucker expects host Chesapeake to be involved.
“All the parts are in place to have a winning season and hopefully contend for the championship,” Tucker said. “I feel we’re a little more balanced offensively and much stronger defensively. I definitely think we have the talent to be one of the best teams in the league.”
Michael Evans, coming off a tremendous rookie season, is the lone returning starter on close defense. The 2009 Schmeisser Award winner as the top defenseman in Division I has been joined by former Maryland teammates Ray Megill and Joe Cinosky, who were acquired in trades with Boston and Toronto, respectively. Early returns were favorable as the unit, which includes long stick midfielders P.T. Ricci and Kyle Hartzell, held high-scoring Denver to nine goals in an exhibition game last weekend.
“Defense wins championships and it looks like we’re much stronger back there,” Dixon said.
Dixon, who led the team in scoring with 23 goals and 10 assists last season, anchors the midfield. The former Virginia All-American possesses one of the hardest shots in pro lacrosse and annually ranks among the league leaders in 2-point goals.
Ben Hunt, who scored nine goals in eight games as a rookie after being drafted out of North Carolina, gives the Bayhawks another big, strong midfielder that can dodge from up top. Hunt is 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds while Dixon checks in at 6-4, 215.
“Hunt is a horse who demands defensive attention. Opponents can’t pole us both so they will need to pick their poison,” Dixon said.
Chesapeake has also retooled the attack with former Virginia teammates Danny Glading and Ben Rubeor assuming playmaking roles and eighth-year veteran Andrew “Buggs” Combs looking to re-assert himself as one of the league’s top finishers. The former University of Maryland standout led the Bayhawks with 34 goals in 2008.
The Bayhawks added another dynamic offensive player in John Christmas, who will play both attack and midfield. Christmas, who accumulated 109 points during a three-year stretch with Boston, is blessed with tremendous speed, quickness and moves.
“Christmas adds a different dimension with his ability to break down defenders. He is a very dangerous dodger,” Ford said.
Chesapeake also boasts the MLL’s top face-off specialist in Alex Smith along with a solid goaltending tandem in Chris Garrity and Mike Levin. Smith led the league in face-off wins and percentage last season while Garrity was the MLL Goalie of the Year in 2005.
Long Island, one of the original franchises in Major League Lacrosse along with the Bayhawks, finished 6-6 after falling to Denver in the first round of the playoffs last season. The Lizards are led by attackman Matt Danowski (team-high 35 points), midfielder Stephen Berger (28 points) and Team USA defenseman Nicky Polanco (6-4, 235).
“Long Island has always been one of our biggest rivals. They are loaded with Long Island guys while we have a bunch of Baltimore guys on the roster so there is a lot of pride on the line,” Dixon said.
Saturday night’s game will be preceded by the War on the Shore alumni game between former Washington College and Salisbury University players. Fans are encouraged to remain in their seats afterward for a spectacular post-game fireworks display.
“The support that we have received from sponsors, fans and the lacrosse community has been incredible. Myself, John Tucker, our coaches and players are all excited to get on the field Saturday and debut the Chesapeake Bayhawks,” Kelly said. “From the youth clinics, to the alumni game and post-game fireworks show, we are looking forward to providing fans with a first class, Bayhawks experience.”
They Bayhawks open their regular season tomorrow; May 15th at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium when they take on the Long Island Lizards at 7 PM. Ticket information is available at www.thebayhawks.com.
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