GRANTHAM, PA. — The fans, many wearing gray "Messiah Lacrosse" sweat shirts, were still arriving Wednesday afternoon when senior Terry Howard went high to beat the Kutztown goalie and give the home team an early 1-0 lead.
Just a year ago, the Messiah College club team lost big to the Kutztown squad -- 23-6 was the final. It was the second season for Messiah lacrosse, and they finished with a respectable 5-5 mark.
In its inaugural campaign in the spring of 1990, Messiah was 1-8.
On a good day, 15 players would dress in Messiah blue -- only half had ever played the sport before.
"Some of the guys were pretty clueless -- having never picked up a stick before," said senior Mike Wheeler, a North Carroll grad. "Some have stayed with it and come a long way -- it's kind of a shame they hadn't played the game before."
Wheeler and Howard, a Carroll Christian grad, are two of four Carroll players who have been at Messiah through the long haul. Junior Brad Clendaniel, who played at Westminster, and John Bassoff, from Liberty, are the others.
None of the four knew each other before they met at Messiah. All four have contributed greatly in making the program what it is today.
"We started by setting up a charter with the student government and applied for a budget," Clendaniel said.
"The first year, they gave us $300, and now our budget is roughly $1,200," he said.
The club also raised money by forming a booster club and selling sweat shirts and T-shirts. The Messiah athletic departmenthas done its share, providing practice time and having the field lined.
"We've had a lot of help along the way, and it's great to see people contribute to the team," Howard said. "It shows we really havesomething here and that we've been noticed."
The program got a big boost last year when it joined the National Collegiate Lacrosse League. The league consists of five divisions of roughly 30 college clubteams from Pennsylvania to North Carolina.
Another boost came this season when Messiah hired an official coach, Bob Bartels. Howard and Wheeler did most of the organizing and instructing in the earlier days.
"Terry and Mike did a great job organizing things and persevered in keeping it together," said Bartels, who played on the team itsfirst season. "Both are great team leaders but aren't the 'rah, rah'type."
On the field, all four have unique qualities. But they have one thing in common -- they all love the game.
Clendaniel, who began playing lacrosse in his backyard in the first grade, anchors thedefense.
"I played midfield from eighth to 11th grade and then moved back on defense my last year (at Westminster High)," he said.
"Defense is a more intense position; you watch things develop and always have to be thinking," he said.
Bassoff is a scrappy player wholikes to be everywhere, hustling for ground balls and making things happen. He's pleased with the way the sport has caught on at Messiah.
"I think people really enjoy the contact of the sport. Without football, it's the closest thing we've got here," he said. "I also feela lot of people have caught on to the sport because of the perseverance we've shown in being self-supportive."
Two more Carroll products have joined the team as freshmen this season. Dave Foster and Scott Bruce, both from North Carroll, have brought the Carroll connectionto six.
Foster would have a big day on Wednesday, scoring four goals to compliment Howard's five-goal effort.
It wouldn't be enough, however, as Kutztown -- one of the strongest teams in the league --got by Messiah, 14-13. The loss sets Messiah back to 5-3 on the season, but the solid effort did show they can compete with anybody in the league.
The original Carroll four believe men's lacrosse will soon become a varsity sport at Messiah. Economic and administrative reasons are the only things holding it back now.
One thing's for certain when it does happen -- they all plan to be there.
"It'll be a great feeling," Howard said.
"I can picture us walking around campus as alumni and watching Messiah win a national championship and saying 'I remember playing that first game.' I'm gonna be there -- that's for sure."