When Brian Voelker took the men's lacrosse head coaching job in 2002, he joined a losing program that had seen two head coaches come and go in the previous two years.
Voelker described the team's initial goal as simply finishing the year with a winning record.
There was no talk of the postseason or of securing big wins.
Things have really changed.
Last season, in just his third at the Quakers helm, Voelker led Penn into its first NCAA Tournament in 15 years.
The euphoric feeling that Voelker experienced when Penn clinched its NCAA berth is deeply ingrained in his memory, and it is the driving force behind his goals for the coming year.
"I'll never forget being in the room, when the announcement was made," Voelker said. "For us, there was some relief as a coaching staff."
"Some things just worked out for us."
It was more than things just "working out," though.
He realized what was necessary for the program to succeed -- "a tough schedule, and getting big wins" -- and revamped the program accordingly.
"Two seasons ago, our season ended pretty early and I wasn't sure what to do; I wasn't used to that as a coach," said Voelker, who spent a total of nine seasons as a player and assistant coach at Johns Hopkins -- one of the nation's most historic lacrosse programs.
"Obviously getting back to the tournament is a goal for this coming season, which is something new for this program," he added. "Since I got here three years ago, the attitude of this program has changed."
This year, Penn will be the host institution for the semifinals and finals of the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Tournament, which will be held at Lincoln Financial Field.
Despite having lost five highly talented players to graduation, including two All-Americans -- goalkeeper Ryan Kelly and the Quakers' go-to-guy on offense, Will Phillips -- Voelker hopes his team will have a shot to compete in their hometown.
The good news, though, is that Penn returns 20 of its 25 players from last season.
"The five guys that graduated were really an integral part of our success, not only leadership-wise but ability-wise," he said. "Hopefully they set the tone."
Penn senior co-captain Brian Amen mirrored his coach's sentiments.
"Anytime you lose guys like that, it's a huge loss," he said. "But we have young guys that are going to step up."
Penn boasts 11 freshmen on its roster, among whom three -- Max Mauro, Garrett Blomquist, and Glenn Goebels -- have a chance of seeing major minutes this season.
Mauro, a defenseman, will probably be Penn's first longstick midfielder off the bench. Voelker sees great upside in the defenseman from Pound Ridge, N.Y.
Blomquist, listed as a midfielder, will be a great player "if he learns to shoot the ball a little bit," Voelker said.
Goebels' success in practice has come as a bit of a surprise to the Quakers coaching staff. A native of Coronado, Calif. -- which is not exactly a traditional lacrosse hotbed -- has adjusted to the East Coast style of play much quicker than Voelker anticipated, and he may see some time on attack this season.
Penn's three captains -- senior Zandy Reich, junior D.J. Andrzejewski and Amen -- hope to fill the leadership void left by the departed seniors.
While Andrzejewski played alongside Reich at midfield last season, he has converted into an attackman for this coming season.
It's quite rare for Voelker to select a junior to be a captain. But Andrzejewski is a special player and a leader by example.
"D.J.'s our most talented offensive player," Voelker said. "We're going to count on him to score a lot of goals and be an offensive leader.
"If you sat down and talked to D.J., I'm not sure he would say two words to you," he added. "But his work ethic, and the example he sets, will make him a great captain."
Reich is a veteran who has "been through the wars," Voelker said, and he will be asked to do a lot of different things on the field for Penn this season.
"He's our jack of all trades," Voelker said. "There will be moments this year when he'll be tired but I'll tell him to go in anyway."
That is the type of tone that Voelker is trying to set among the Quakers this season.
Penn is no longer a program looking for a winning season. It is a program hoping to win in the postseason.Comments powered by Disqus
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