hen you sit down with Ryan Polley, head coach of the Boston University men’s lacrosse team, “evolution” is a buzzword that often surfaces.

"> Is This the Year for BU's Big Breakthrough? | USA Lacrosse Magazine


Faceoff specialist Sam Talkow leads a deep and talented senior class at BU. The Terriers' fourth season commences Saturday at Providence.

Is This the Year for BU's Big Breakthrough?


hen you sit down with Ryan Polley, head coach of the Boston University men’s lacrosse team, “evolution” is a buzzword that often surfaces.

It’s an apt descriptor, too, for a program that finished 2-12 in its inaugural NCAA season in 2014, then 6-8 in 2015 and 8-7 in 2016. Add in myriad other layers – a new turf surface on Nickerson Field, the Terriers’ own locker room and program-defining wins over the likes of Colgate, Bucknell, Harvard and Navy – and the trend becomes all the more evident.

BU is surging upwards in the college lacrosse world, and the question begs answering: Will 2017 mark when the Terriers finally emerge as a serious contender in the Patriot League?

“I remember our first day back during preseason, we had a meeting in the locker room and Coach Polley was talking about how we're going to get over this hump, how are we going to change what's happened to us the past three years,” junior attackman Jack Wilson said. “It all comes down to the fact that we have four classes, so we're following the lead of our seniors. That's been our focus.”

As Wilson alluded to, there’s a lot to unpack ahead of BU’s fourth season, which gets underway Saturday at Providence. This is the same point at which Marquette enjoyed its breakthrough season, winning the 2016 Big East championship and hosting North Carolina in the NCAA tournament. But there are hurdles.

For one, the Terriers have yet to make the Patriot League tournament, with their hopes crushed against Holy Cross in their final conference game each of the last two seasons. Last year, the Terriers started 8-2 and were nationally ranked before losing their final five games.

The lesson learned from those experiences, Polley said, is simple: Consistency is a must.

Christian Carson-Banister, a senior and BU’s likely starting goalie, agreed, pointing to how the Terriers at long last boast four recruiting classes. In the early days, it was often freshmen and sophomores taking on All-Americans, and the experience just wasn’t there. When injuries came about, he added, they proved fatal, even in simply having enough bodies for practice.

“Sometimes we couldn't even do two sides efficiently,” Carson-Banister said. “Now I’m looking over and the other side is going at a fast tempo and we’re going at a great tempo, too. That’s a really special moment for this program to finally have that depth.”

“‘If you come here, you'll be a winner. If you go to BU, you'll be a loser.’ I think of that as a challenge." – Adam Schaal, senior attackman/midfielder

Those moments also emerge in conversation with Adam Schaal, a senior attackman/midfielder for BU. He points back to a 10-7 loss at home to Lehigh during his freshman season, a result he felt showed the Terriers could compete with the Patriot League’s best. It was more of a moral victory, Carson-Banister added, and now speaks to a cultural shift where such a performance would leave BU furious and disappointed.

Each tale also is packed with motivation, especially for Schaal, who was steadfast that BU is slowly building something special in the heart of Beantown.

“In my recruiting phase, one of the last coaches I was down to besides BU – I'm not going to name who it was – said, ‘You went to a high school where you won a lot of games and won a state championship,’” said Schaal, a Philadelphia area product who played at La Salle. “‘If you come here, you'll be a winner. If you go to BU, you'll be a loser.’ That's something that's always stuck out to me and stuck with me. I think of that as a challenge and really speaks to how hard we've worked to become a respected program.”

That element of respect is something Polley takes to heart, noting the strides forward haven’t always been easy. The university has always supported him with a full allotment of resources, he said, but there were times when selling his vision to recruits was challenging.

After all, BU’s senior class arrived on campus way back in the fall of 2013 as a bunch of late bloomers. Now it features the likes of faceoff specialist Sam Talkow, midfielder Cal Dearth and longstick midfielder Greg Wozniak, who were All-Patriot League honorees in 2016.

They’re several of BU’s on-field leaders now, but Polley said the telltale signs weren’t always there.

“They're better people than they are lacrosse players, and we've worked very hard at that as a staff,” Polley said. “It's not that they weren't great people when they got here, they just didn't know any better. … They've done a tremendous job, with the turning point sophomore year when they realized, ‘We really need to start being better people on campus.’”

That mental switch, Polley said, is now the bedrock of a senior class that’s expected to lead BU through 2017’s trials and tribulations.

Wilson stressed how crucial the seniors’ example has been, especially for the younger players. For the juniors, that takes form with Wilson, attackman Ryan Hilburn and midfielder Greg Farris; with sophomores, attackman James Burr, midfielder Brendan Homire and defenseman Quintin Germain; and among freshman, midfielder John MacLean, attack Conor Muldoon and defenseman Chase Levesque.

If all goes to plan, they’ll enjoy prominent roles in 2017 and help vault BU past the proverbial hurdle: the Patriot League tournament. The key, though, Polley said, is the bevy of experienced seniors.

“You have one group that’s like, ‘This is our last shot,’ and that's kind of driving the ship for us,” Polley said. “We just haven't had that. We haven't had a group that has kind of realized that this is their last shot to do something special. They've done a great job, they've done it for three years, but certainly it feels a little bit different this year.”


Coach Ryan Polley, introduced in July 2012, hopes to build on BU's first winning season.

All things considered, BU knows following in the footsteps of Marquette as a fourth-year program is no easy task.

The Patriot League, in Polley’s words, is “as deep a conference as there is and every game is just a battle.”  Loyola, ranked No. 4 in the Nike/US Lacrosse Preseason Top 20, is the breadwinner. But Navy also is nationally ranked, and there’s not much separating Army, Bucknell, BU, Lehigh, Colgate, Holy Cross and Lafayette — the predicted order of finish according to the league’s preseason coaches poll.

But there’s a collective belief around Nickerson Field this winter, a well-founded belief that all the pieces are coming together.

Perhaps more than anyone, it’s a thought Carson-Banister – the goalie that has bore the brunt of every up and down – asserts. He feel BU’s breakthrough is imminent, not just in 2017 but for years to come.

“It was interesting. Coach brought us together, just the seniors, near the end of last year and he made a comment to us,” Carson-Banister said. “He was like, ‘I've actually never brought you guys together, and we should be doing this more.’ … The meeting was about, what is your legacy going to be? What are you going to be leaving behind for this team? What do you want to be remembered as? I don't think a lot of us really thought of that prior.

“You get so caught up with the season and with the next game that you don't really think about that,” Carson-Banister added. “This year, we've really embraced what we're going to leave behind and what we want to be remembered as. We want to push this program into the future when we leave.”

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