CUMBERLAND – They'll have a new head coach and they'll be participating in a new league.
But as far as the outlook for the upcoming season for Cumberland High, it will still be the same old goals.
“We just want to win as many games as possible and have some fun,” said first-year coach Matt Smalley. “We are just going to take it one game at a time and hopefully at the end of the season we'll be playing on championship day.”
Over the last two years, championship day has been a familiar place for the Clippers, who captured a Division III state title in 2009 and followed that with a runner-up finish last year. Based on their success, the Clippers have opted to move up to the more competitive Div. II, facing squads such as two-time defending champion Mount Hope and local rivals Lincoln and Mount St. Charles, the 2008 titlist.
While the Clippers have lost nine valuable seniors from last year's team that lost a heartbreaking 8-7 overtime thriller to Middletown (another newcomer to Div. II) in the state championship, Smalley doesn't expect his latest batch of quality players to miss a beat.
Cumberland will field its biggest team since it joined the league in 2006 with 78 players suiting up.
“Graduation was heavy, but we got a great group of guys,” Smalley said. “I think the word is getting around the school that lacrosse is fun. It's getting some interest.”
“I think, without hesitation, it was the right decision to move up,” he continued. “We had a lot of competitive games in Division III. But in terms of competition, I thought it made sense to make the move.”
The 25-year-old Smalley replaces Mark Notz as the Clippers' new boss, but he's certainly not new to the game of lacrosse. He served as an assistant under Notz last year and also plays the sport professionally as a midfielder for the Boston Cannons, a member of Major League Lacrosse (MLL).
Smalley grew up playing hockey. He started skating as a youth for the Northern R.I. Vikings and also continued the sport at Moses Brown and prep school in Connecticut.
Lacrosse turned out to be his true calling, a fast-action sport he began in sixth grade at Moses Brown and eventually earned a scholarship to Hobart College in upstate New York to continue his craft.
He played his first year for the Cannons last spring and will be back on the field in mid-May when the regular season begins against the Long Island Lizards.
“We start training camp in three weeks and our first game is on May 14,” he said.
Games for the Cannons are on the weekend with Smalley's high school schedule primarily during the week. Along with his full-time job working sales and marketing for Gibbs Lures, he will be quite busy this season.
“It's a lot of hustling back and forth,” Smalley said, “but it's worth it.”
Certainly his Clippers will make the hectic schedule worth it with another strong season. Smalley likes the prospects of that happening with a handful of returning veterans leading the way.
Among those players are a bevy of seniors, including attack/midfielder Evan Vargano, defender Derek Marshall, goalie Kyle Bradley, face-off specialist Mike Hayes, attack Ted Gettinger and midfielder Brandon Campbell.
According to Smalley, Vergano is the most versatile of his crew.
“He's a leader,” he said. “He's the pulse of the team. He plays attack and midfield and is a very good goal-scorer. He's the most talented player and a gifted ball-handler.”
During last year's season, Marshall led the team is ground balls and Gettinger was the top goal-scorer. Bradley returns between the posts where he was first-team all-division in 2010. Another player that Smalley expects to be big contributer is Campbell.
“He did a lot of work in the offseason,” the CHS coach said. “He should be one of my top midfielders.”
The Clippers begin the league season on April 5 when they host Lincoln at Tucker Field. The Lions were 4-6 in the six-team league last year. Div. II now includes 10 teams divided into two sub-divisions in the North and South.
The Mounties, a runner-up last year, will be among those talented teams in the North division.
“I think the stiff competition helps,” Smalley said. “It will help us grow as a team with the games being a lot closer. This will keep us in shape and require us to be a little more prepared. We are looking forward to it. We are looking forward to everyone putting it together.”
Smalley believes his squad learned a lot from last year when it compiled a 13-0 mark in Div. III-North before losing to the Islanders (11-2 in Div. III-South) in the title contest.
“Our goal this year is to learn from our biggest mistakes last year,” he said. “We have to be more disciplined with clearing the ball. We have to be more disciplined with penalties. We have to limit our self-destruction. If we do that, we'll be fine.”