As many teams in Major League Lacrosse have worked hard to get younger, the Bayhawks have built a championship team by relying on the core of veterans they've had since Day One.
And with a three-year record of 30-13 entering today's 5 p.m. semifinal game against the New Jersey Pride at Villanova Stadium, it would be hard to argue the fact that the Bayhawks have done things right.
"I think it's no secret that we like veterans," said Bayhawks part-owner Gordon Boone, whose team is gunning for a third straight berth in the MLL title game and a second straight title. "The veterans have been there, they can turn it on and off quicker."
The Bayhawks' formula is hardly complicated: find impact players in the inaugural draft - Tom Marechek, Paul Cantabene, Brian Reese and Mark Frye were among their picks - make an occasional trade if a weakness appears - the Bayhawks acquired shutdown defender Jamie Hanford from Bridgeport after Rob Doerr left the team to go to the police academy - and fill out the supporting cast with veterans.
There has been some good fortune, too, as attackman Mark Millon, midfielder Josh Sims and goalie Greg Cattrano were granted to the team as player allocations.
Millon, 32, has been the league's best attackman and Cattrano, 28, its best goalie. Sims, 25, gives the Bayhawks one of the game's most dynamic midfielders.
Then, there was the surprise acquisition of Gary Gait, who led Long Island to a title in 2001 before joining Baltimore as an offensive coordinator under Brian Voelker. But Voelker, whom Boone credited for putting together the team's nucleus, resigned and Gait scrapped his plans to play in the 2002 world games to become the Bayhawks' player-coach.
Gait's 30 goals and 13 assists this season prove that the 36-year-old can still dazzle on the field, but he has also been forced to mull over personnel decisions.
"We're younger veterans, not all old and ancient," joked the gray-haired Gait before the Bayhawks practice Wednesday. "I've tried to get a good mix and the successful teams tend to keep their players together."
Indeed, the Bayhawks have 11 players remaining from the inaugural 2000 team, far more than any other franchise. The Long Island Lizards also have held on to many of their players, but the glaring difference is Long Island's constant activity on the trade front, where it has shaken up its nucleus by acquiring several proven veterans.
"It is difficult for guys to come into this league and be successful right away," said Lizards coach John DeTommaso, whose team plays Boston tonight in the other semifinal. "I have more belief in the guys that have played club lacrosse and are more established."
On the other other side of the spectrum is Boston, which gets significant minutes from seven players drafted in either 2002 or 2003. The Cannons' top gun is former St. Paul's and Virginia star Conor Gill, who hadn't set foot in high school when Millon, Gait and Marechek had long graduated to the post-college club circuit.
Cannons coach Scott Hiller said that his team targets players just out of college because they are normally less established socially and economically and usually more willing to move to a new city.
"We're not going to get the Gary Gaits and Mark Millons to relocate to Boston," said Hiller. "But we've been fortunate to find some guys who are very committed and investing a huge amount of time to travel."
The average age of a Bayhawks player is 28, a full year older than the next most veteran team. In contrast, the average age on the Bridgeport roster is little more than 24. The Barrage already has two winners of the Tewaaraton Trophy, college lacrosse's top honor, and are anticipating the chance to draft a third in Syracuse attackman Michael Powell, whose college eligibility is up this May.
The Rochester roster averages 25 years and includes rookies Kevin Cassese, Adam Doneger and Mike Mollot, who made a name for themselves as the "Kiddie Middies."
Cast aside the inaugural college draft in 2001, where the Bayhawks nabbed defender Shawn Nadelen and midfielder Jeff Sonke, and the team's roster includes only one other college draftee: former Maryland midfielder Ryan Moran, who has seen spot action in five games.
"Between Cattrano, Gait, Marechek and Millon, they have a huge core group and their philosophy is to build around them," said Hiller. "I think [their age] will catch up to them, but if those guys like Gait and Millon keep working as hard as they do, maybe it won't for another couple of years."
Said the Bayhawks' Millon: "Right now, I don't think age is a factor, but I do think we need to start getting a little younger."
That, however, is a task for another year.
"I think it's pretty obvious that we're not interested in building for three years from now," said Boone. "We expect to win the championship now."
At a glance
What: MLL Championship Weekend
Site: Villanova (Pa.) Stadium.
Today's first semifinal: Bayhawks (7-4) vs. New Jersey Pride (7-5), 5 p.m.
Today's second semifinal: Boston Cannons (7-5) vs. Long Island Lizards (8-3), 8 p.m.
Sunday's final: Semifinal winners, 4 p.m.