It's fall ball season. Hope springs eternal. Everyone is 0-0 and in the hunt for the natty.
As such, we're checking in with programs across the country and divisions to see what's happening. We're continuing with Dayton and its senior goalie, Tucker Hoffmann.
What was the mood of the team after getting swept by GVSU and NDSU, putting Dayton at 2-3 on March 25? Was there a team meeting? Any kind of key moment where the team figured things out?
Tucker Hoffmann: The mood after the Michigan trip was bleak, to say the least. There was a sense of urgency after those two losses, especially the way in which we lost those games. We needed to get ourselves in order.
Our executive team called a meeting and reset the tone going into the second stretch of the year and it motivated us to hold ourselves to a higher standard. After our sweep of games in North Carolina the following weekend, the Flyers saw the possibility of competing for a national championship.
We also reinstated a sense of self-governance and group accountability. To the high school or transfer player, any league that isn’t NCAA is seemingly recreational and unserious. This is not the case at UD, nor is the MCLA any sort of common men's league.
If you want to be the best, you have to show up and own it. That meeting on a dreary Thursday night expressed that message in a meaningful capacity.
What type of coach is Joe Venturella? What's his leadership style? How does he get the most out of the players?
TH: “Play Hard, Play Fast, Have Fun.”
Those are the words Coach V says before every single practice and game. He coaches with the utmost trust in our guys to do the correct things at the correct times. He is clear that the lines in which our players play – first line middies, second line, etc. – are not reflections of their overall abilities as players, but how their skill sets gel with the other guys on that specific line.
In other words, we don't have starters. Rather, we have guys whose talents are compatible with other guys' talents.
This trust and deep understanding of technical lacrosse is showcased in the numbers of the tournament games. Every single person on our offensive units were threats to score during every game. A great example comes from our game against a very talented Air Force team. Eleven goals scored, seven goal-scorers. That’s by design.
Your individual play at nationals was arguably the biggest key to the Flyers winning the championship. Did you just get on a hot streak? Seeing the ball? Defense playing better in front of you? What would you chalk it up to?
TH: I want to make this absolutely clear: every position at the University of Dayton is a unit. Even the goalies.
The goalie position is a highly political assignment, as there can only be one in the cage at a time. This can lead to a lot of infighting on a squad where two terrific goalies are vying for playing time or clout amongst team members. This phenomenon did not happen in the 2023 season. Iron sharpened iron all year long as I, Aidan Kelly and Henry Wilke pushed each other to become better goalies.
UD is a defensive team. Plain and simple. During our tournament run, that was quite obviously showcased. But during the regular season, I feel as if our defense was the strongest part of our game. Without that long standing defensive cohesion, I don't think we would have had the success that we had.
Though I had the hot hand at the right time, though I am a talented player and though I was humbled to my core to earn tournament MVP, All-American and all-conference, it would have never been possible with Aidan and Henry behind me with every minute in the cage and the best defense in the league out front.
For reasons somewhat out of the players control, Dayton missed out on nationals in 2022. Did you guys just set that behind you or did the players use it as a catalyst heading into the 2023 season?
TH: The loss of the 2022 postseason put us on a warpath for the 2023 campaign. Not only did it leave a massive chip on our shoulder, it forced the team to deeply evaluate how we carried ourselves into games and seasons.
UD is a perennial powerhouse, historically speaking, but in many ways, I believe that we forgot that it's the personnel that made us who we are.
One of the major themes for this year in the locker room is “A legacy of success.” Too often we forget that the powerhouses of the MCLA are not stagnant. One program might see a national championship berth one year and not qualify for the next. But the foundation left by the guys who did it first never really goes away.
It's our job as the players of today to carry it on. The legacy of the 2015 Dayton Flyers has as much influence over how we carry ourselves as much as legacy of the 2023 Dayton Flyers do.
Who are the players you think are going to shine this year and why?
TH: As I said before, everyone is a threat and should be treated as such when we step on the field. What is most exciting this year is the return of a majority of our 2023 roster.
The team cohesion is there for our players coming back, and we've got a lot of talented players in our freshman class who have bought into the vision of success. If the Flyers play Flyer lacrosse all season long, those freshmen will have just as much of an impact as the older players.
From an offensive perspective, “sparkplug player” Jonathan Abbarno is leading our team in a major way. He has always been the guy with the most intensity on the field and that isn’t going to change in our 2024 campaign. Weapons like Pat Shanahan, Andrew Galle and Kyle Collett should all be making their presences known on the scorecard as well.
From a defensive standpoint, we are the same champion-caliber defense as we were in previous years. Tyler Lennon and Ben Wilch are the two poles who are commanders outside the cage. Our two-way middies, such as Grady Bartlett and Nick Kairys, are excited to get in the mix and create unsettled situations for our opponents.
[Want to participate in the "Fall Check In" series as a coach or player? Email [email protected] to request your five questions]