The schedule for the Ohio State men's lacrosse team includes games against six opponents that qualified for last season's NCAA tournament and seven teams ranked in The Baltimore Sun's Top 20 poll.
The school's toughest challenge, however, occurred eight months ago.
In the span of about two months beginning in May, the Buckeyes bid farewell to a talent-laden senior class, absorbed the departure of the most successful head coach in the program's history and watched an honorable-mention All-America midfielder transfer to another Division I school.
That's why the act of playing lacrosse is a refreshing change of pace for No. 15 Ohio State (1-0), which will meet No. 10 Navy (1-0) at noon today at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
"We all battled the adversity," said senior defenseman Scott Matthews, a team co-captain and Boys' Latin graduate. "I'm sure other teams have been through it, but until it happens to yourself, you really don't know what it's like. Now we're looking at this year as another year for us. We're moving forward, and the past is the past."
The upheaval began May 18, when the unseeded Buckeyes fell to top seed Duke in a 21-10 rout in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal, which ended the college careers of attackman Kevin Buchanan, a second-team All-American; goalie Stefan Schroder, an honorable mention All-American; and eight other teammates.
In June, coach Joe Breschi, whose 92 wins in 11 seasons ranked first in school history, left to coach North Carolina, his alma mater. A month later, midfielder Peet Poillon, an honorable-mention All-American, transferred to UMBC.
During that turbulent time, the players who remained were scattered throughout North America, enjoying summer vacation at their homes. But they stayed connected via e-mail and phone calls.
"We just let each other know that whatever the situation was going to be, we were going to be fine this season," said senior attackman Joel Dalgarno, the other co-captain. "Everyone just kept in touch with each other. No one really had a certain role to play. It's a testament to how close our teammates were to each other because we knew we wanted to stay together and keep our chemistry together."
Their resilience was rewarded when Ohio State promoted assistant Nick Myers to head coach, a move heavily endorsed by the current class of seniors.
While he has kept several elements of Breschi's coaching tools and strategies, including an emphasis on a transition-oriented offense that seeks to take advantage of turnovers, Myers has also left his own imprint. He crafted a playbook modeled after Buckeyes football coach Jim Tressel's The Winners Manual, organized weekly workouts in a sand pit in the fall and created a lacrosse combine that recognizes the top five marks in categories such as bench press, pull-ups and the 40-yard dash.
"From Day One, we've talked about this being the 2009 team and that we have to make our own identity and that we make our own breaks," Myers said. "We've raised the bar here at Ohio State. I think that bar is high, and that's the exciting thing about working here at Ohio State. I think the pressure is something we embrace, and we all look forward to the challenge that lies ahead with each week."
Breschi has been busy molding the Tar Heels, but he said the Buckeyes are in good hands with his former assistant.
"Nick Myers is a terrific competitor, a workhorse," Breschi said. "He will not be outhustled. ... I think the rest of the country should watch out because that team will prove the naysayers wrong."
Breschi is one of the few who believe that way about Ohio State, which has fallen out of the top 10 in many preseason polls. Matthews said that was fine with the players.
"It doesn't bother us," he said. "Everyone is completely focused on this year and what we have. We have the talent, but people don't know until we get out on the field and play and prove ourselves, and that's what we're looking to do. I think we're going to shock some people."
NO. 15 OHIO STATE (1-0) @ NO. 10 NAVY (1-0)
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