Warmer days are right around the corner, and that can only mean one thing: Winter sports are now in the rearview mirror, and spring sports are about to be in full swing. Among the many teams that have been practicing for a couple of weeks now is the men’s lacrosse team.

Highlighted by NEILA preseason honorees Joe Amendola ’16 and Grey Bradshaw-Mack ’17, this year’s talented group of Cardinals will look to build upon a disappointing conclusion to their 2015 season. Amendola was honored as a second team member on defense, along with two Tufts Jumbos. Bradshaw-Mack was the lone long stick midfielder recognized with an honorable mention. Together, the pair anchors a defense that ranked second in the NESCAC in total goals allowed last season, with 152, and third in goals against average, at 9.44 goals per game. The stout Redbird defense also forced 132 turnovers a year ago, good for fourth best in the NESCAC.

On the other side of the ball, Matt Prezioso ’15, in addition to Harry Stanton ’18, led the Cardinals offensive attack a season ago. Prezioso was first on the team, scoring with a total of 51 points, a combination of his 34 goals and 17 assists. The team will surely miss the output from its second team all-NESCACs standout, but the squad believes the younger members will be able to fill in for Prezioso. Stanton, now in his second year with the Red and Black, finished second on the team in points, with 46 during a special rookie campaign. His efforts, which included 29 goals and 17 assists, garnered him NESCAC Rookie of the Year honors a year ago.

Stanton compared his experience he had during his rookie year with the efforts he plans to make in the upcoming season.

“Last year, as a freshman, I was able to surprise a bunch of teams because there wasn’t any film on me from the year before, but this year will be much more difficult because I have been scouted much more,” Stanton said. “I have worked hard in the weight room, I’ve hit the wall to better my stick skills, and I’ve watched a lot of film to understand other teams’ defenses.”

Stanton also predicted a bright future for the team as a whole.

“This year is very exciting on attack because we got arguably the best attackman in the NESCAC, Quentin DellaFera [’16], back after a season away,” he said.“Teams aren’t going to be able to cover both of us if we are constantly moving and dodging. Our middies are so strong, our defense is lock-down. Ted Bergman [’17] is a brick wall in net.”

Looking forward to his sophomore campaign, Stanton set some goals for himself and for his team.

“My goals individually are to perform better than last year,” Stanton said. “Last year, it was an incredible honor to receive NESCAC and ECAC Rookie of the Year, but I am definitely not complacent. We are in hands down the hardest division in Division III lacrosse and defenses are just getting better and better. So I am looking to be one piece of this puzzle we are trying to put together this year to compete for a NESCAC championship and get a NCAA national tourney bid.”

Despite its defensive prowess and strong play from the front lines, Wesleyan fell in the first round of the NESCAC playoffs last season. Their efforts during the regular season earned the Cardinals the fourth seed in the tournament in addition to a home game, but the Bates Bobcats were able to upset the home team at Jackson Field. The loss gave Wesleyan a final record of 9-7 on the 2014-15 campaign, a mark the team will attempt to improve this year.

The loss last year gave Stanton the itch to get back on the field as soon as possible.

“I’m looking forward to every single game this year because every matchup is a battle,” Stanton said. “We don’t take any games for granted and we know that [we] have the ability to go far this year if we work together and show up every game day. We have the pieces this year to make a serious run towards the end of the year.”

Starting goaltender Ted Bergman reiterated the team’s aspirations for the upcoming year.

“Coach [John] Raba does a fantastic job recruiting incredible players from all around the country,” Bergman said. “We as a team love one another on and off of the field, and we know that we have the potential to have a special season. As a team, our main goal is to win the NESCAC and make the NCAA tournament. Personally, I just try to focus on making the next save, and I constantly aim to reward my incredible defense for playing so well in front of me.”

The team has been eager to return to the field ever since the loss to Bates at the end of last year. Bergman reflected on the loss.

“Our playoff loss to Bates last year certainly lef­­­t a sour taste in our mouth, a taste that hasn’t left since that day,” he said. “Our seniors have done a tremendous job preparing us all fall, and after months of preparation and focus, it’s exciting that we can finally go against another school and show the country what we have been working on all year here in Middletown.”

Bergman, who has earned the full-time starting role for the first time, is excited for what lies ahead.

“Stepping into a new role this year, I could not be luckier to play with the teammates that I do day in and day out,” he said. “Team defense wins championships, and as a goalie I work very hard to make the saves my team needs me to make.”

Bergman also described what he believes will be the key to the team’s success.

“For us to be successful this year, we need to handle the highs and lows that a NESCAC lacrosse season will undoubtedly throw our way,” Bergman said. “In the most talented league in the NCAA, we will certainly be put in positions that test our mental toughness. I would not want to step on the field with anyone else.  I love this team, and if we play and compete together, we will be successful.”

The Cardinals kick off the season this Saturday, March 5, in the same manner their season ended a year ago: a home game against Bates. The Bobcats come to town as the ninth-ranked team in the country, but have no doubt: The Redbirds will be looking for revenge.

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