For a young team, getting that elusive first win can prove tough. It's almost a Catch-22 situation. Winning takes confidence but to gain confidence, you have to taste success.
Going into this season, the Neshaminy boys lacrosse team certainly bore the mantel of youth. With 16 seniors from last year's 8-10 team going the cap and gown route, second-year coach Len Quici faced a classic rebuilding season. Among the missing were goalie Austin Marshal, who was heading to Cabrini College, and Jake Kitchenman, who would be displaying his talents at York College.Cale Kitchenman, Jake's younger brother and starting middie for Neshaminy, knew the task facing this year's squad was challenging. "We graduated 16 kids and have two of those guys in top Division 3 schools. One of them had been the starting goalie for us for four years. It's hard to adapt. You've played so long with that goalie who was outstanding. Then you have to adjust to a new goalie.'
The adjustment period saw Neshaminy suffer seven straight losses before taking on Methacton, a strong non-league opponent. Cale knew this could be a key matchup for the inexperienced squad.
"It was very a very important game. They were a playoff team last year. We knew that if we beat this team, we could partially turn our season around. They were very good and had a great record. We went in there thinking if we do this, we could get some recognition. We went out and played our hardest.'
The effort paid off as Neshaminy came away with a 7-3 victory, a win that proved infectious as they downed Harry Truman by a 13-1 margin and then suffered a close 6-5 loss to archrival Pennsbury.
"That was a back and forth game. I don't think there was a two-goal difference the whole time. It was very close. They got a lot of penalties and we only capitalized on one of them.'
Having started playing lacrosse in eighth grade, Cale has proven a calming force for Neshaminy during this learning period. His true love of the game is undoubtedly contagious. "What I like best is that there is always something happening in lacrosse. There's never any down time. It's on the fly. It's so exciting.'
Cale also values that all the fast action has to be part of a harmonious whole. "I also like having a team as opposed to an individual sport. It's hard to do anything by yourself; you have to have the help of your team around you.'
Having played every position but goalie, Cale now mans the middie position for Neshaminy. He sees his main responsibility as handling the all-important draws. "I play faceoff for my team, which is a big responsibility. This is my first year taking faceoffs. You could say I'm new to the world of faceoffs.'
Any novice has to learn the important technique. "There are some great guys out there. You just have to get the hang of it. Some guys are predictable the way they lean over the ball or the way they put pressure on the stick. You can kind of guess sometimes.'
You also have to recognize the varying styles with which players approach the draw. "There are tons of different styles. There's one called the clamp, where you get the ball in the stick and throw it behind you. There's the pitch-and-pop guys. You get guys who body off the ball, big strong guys. Then, there are guys who push through.'
As for himself, Cale adjusts according to his opponent. "It depends on what the guy against me is doing. If I'm getting beat, I'll start to double-cross on his stick and try to power him off. If he's a quick clamp guy, I focus on not letting him get it. I try to vary my style so I don't become predictable.'
Cale will get plenty of chances to experiment as Neshaminy takes on both Council Rock teams the second half of the season before another showdown with Pennsbury.
"They're very good teams, maybe playoff-bound. Our goal is to come out and not get upset. We have to play our hardest and play for the name on our chest.'
Win, lose or draw, Cale' s enthusiasm will remain strong. "It's not about myself; it's about my team. They're great players around me and we're good friends. It's really about playing the game I love with the people I want to play with.'
That attitude should definitely help Neshaminy survive this rebuilding year.