Ever since Towson State became legitimate in the eyes of the lacrosse fraternity, coach Carl Runk has heard a familiar refrain.
How proud you must be of your team. High school stars must be clamoring to come to Towson State. Bet you can't wait for the season to open.
Runk hears this from parents of recruits, coaches and other lacrosse people. For nine months, since Towson State reached the NCAA tournament for only the second time and charged through it until stopped by North Carolina in the final, the word has been out.
"Our mission was to prove to people we were legitimate," Runk said as he prepared his team for today's opener against Delaware at Minnegan Stadium.
It still rankles that it took so long.
The Tigers had often been among the top 12 teams during the regular season, but were selected for the tournament only once, in 1989, when they lost to North Carolina in the first round. Weakness of schedule was what Runk kept hearing.
"But now, as a finalist, it has helped our acceptability," Runk said. "In the past, when we went out to see the top high school players, some wouldn't talk to us. Now they do.
"Now a kid knows Towson has top-notch lacrosse. And he knows can get a great education at a great price."
All of this would bode well for Towson this season were it not for some crippling and unexpected losses.
Runk thought seven starters would return. He has four -- attackman John Blatchley, midfielder Lindsay Dixon and defensemen Carl Beernink and Rich Regan.
Goalie Rich Betcher and defenseman Kyle Kernan, both starters, and reserve midfielder Travis Boone were declared academically ineligible. The cruelest blow, however, was the loss of defensive star Steve Kisslinger.
Towson's No. 2 man in ground balls (110) last season, Kisslinger was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. In one of his seasons at Herkimer (N.Y.) Community College, he played in two scrimmages, but missed the rest of the year because of a concussion and other injuries suffered in a skiing accident.
Towson thought Kisslinger would be granted a hardship year. The NCAA decreed otherwise.
"Steve is the best take-away defenseman I've seen in my 25 years here," Runk said. "He's to defense what the Gait brothers [ex-Syracuse and current pro indoor stars Gary and Paul] are to offense. He's an artist who adds another dimension to a team."
What, then, will become of the Tigers?
"We'll have to tighten our belt," Runk said. "Since we don't have all the individual talent we need, we'll have to rely and concentrate on team play. We won't depend on one guy for the big goal."
In a recent controlled scrimmage held at Rutgers, Towson lost to Yale, 12-9. The Tigers had 35 turnovers, and Runk said his players were complacent.
"The Bulldogs took a bite out of us, but it could be a blessing," Runk said. "It showed the team we have a lot of work to do."
In the goal, replacing Betcher, is Tim Colt, a sophomore who appeared in six games last season. Runk calls him a "bright point," noting that he's improving daily.
When he talks about making up for the loss of Kisslinger, Runk mentions several names -- Jay Walker, Jim Moore and Jason Scarborough, a transfer from Washington College.
"Jason has good field sense," Runk said. "He can identify a fast break and a broken play and react to them."
Yet, Runk mourns the loss of Kisslinger.
"I still believe we'll get to the NCAA tournament," Runk said. "With Steve, we'd definitely be in it."