BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Birmingham-Southern men's lacrosse team is gearing up for the 2019 season, one that the Panthers hope will culminate in a Southern Athletic Association championship.
Coming off an 11-6 (3-3 SAA) 2018 season, which ended in a conference semifinal overtime loss to Rhodes, the Panthers are looking to improve on last season's performance in 2019.
"Last season we really came together as a team and played well," said head coach Casey Kear, now in his sixth season. "We have a lot of guys returning from that team and so we're hoping to build on that progress from last season and adding to it."
The returners from the 2018 squad will play a big role in accomplishing the team's goals this season. Some of those returners include two-time First Team All-SAA selection Davis Thompson (Mountain Lakes, N.J./Mountain Lakes HS) and senior captain Greg Wallace (Fairhope, Ala./Bayside Academy).
"(Thompson) is undoubtedly the leader of our team, both on and off the field," Kear said. "Greg is another guy that really leads by example and when (Thompson and Wallace) are both playing well, we're really tough to beat."
"John Oates is our defensive captain and he's been playing well for all four years and should be an all-conference player this year," Kear said. "And with Matt Quill, we're looking for his best season yet out of him. He's got a lot of potential that he hasn't quite tapped all the way into yet and he can do that this season."
Kear also mentioned senior Peyton Taylor (Vestavia Hills, Ala./Vestavia Hills HS), the team's leading scorer from last season with 46 goals, as a key contributor the Panthers will be relying on again this season.
"We're really looking for a good season for all of those guys this year," Kear added.
Even with the wealth of returning talent and experience, the Panthers head coach says his team will still be looking for other players to contribute, as well.
"Blake Callahan (Gulf Breeze, Fla./Gulf Breeze HS) is a senior who hasn't played a lot in the past but has earned a starting spot in our defense," Kear said. "He's worked really hard for a long time to earn that starting role, and we expect a lot from him this year."
Other newer faces looking to make an impact include freshmen Carter McAlpin (Trussville, Ala./Hewitt-Trussville HS), Josh Knight (Melbourne, Fla./Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy) and Corey Lankford (Memphis, Tenn./Briarcrest Christian HS).
"(McAlpin) is starting at attack and is really slick and talented," Kear said. "He should have a good year once he figures out where he is in the offense and where he fits in with everyone else."
The Panthers will start the 2019 season on the road at Brevard before facing Southwestern in their home opener on Friday, Feb. 15.
"We kind of have a rivalry going with Southwestern, and they are our home opener, so we're pretty pumped for that game," Kear said. "It should be a good one."
BSC will face a slate of other non-conference opponents early in the season including Bridgewater, Southern Virginia, Huntingdon and Wabash.
"We are also playing Nichols College at Mercer University and they're a good program out of Massachusetts," Kear said. "And another good test for us will be Carthage College, who is coming here. They're tough and that'll be a good game."
The Panthers will start SAA play on March 20 when they travel to Rhodes.
Kear predicts that the battle for the conference crown will be tough, as usual.
"Conference play is always a dog fight," he said. "Rhodes, Berry and Sewanee have always been the top three in this conference and we're looking to crack into that this year."
A big goal for Kear's Panthers will be to make an appearance in the conference championship game.
"We've lost in the semifinals every year I've been here, so I really want to make the conference championship," he said. "Two of the (semifinal) losses have been in overtime, so we were right there and were close. Getting to the conference championship would be a good next step for this program, for sure."
If BSC can get over the SAA semifinal hump this season, Kear believes his team has the ability to win it all.
"The goal is to win the championship and that's a realistic goal for us this year," he said. "It's really tough to do with Rhodes, Berry, Sewanee and us, but I think all four teams are pretty close to each other, so it'll probably come down to just a couple of goals here or there to see who comes out on top."
Birmingham-Southern begins its 2019 campaign on Saturday, Feb. 9 at Brevard College.
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