Spring Break Preview
East Lansing, Mich. - The Michigan State lacrosse team officially opens their season this week as they depart to Atlanta, Georgia to take on the second ranked team in the country in Georgia Tech. The Spartans will play four games over the span of nine days, with other opponents including Auburn, Virginia Tech (#6), and Liberty University (#17).
MSU has yet to face an opponent while Georgia Tech enters the contest riding a six game winning streak. This is the third straight year the team has played an opponent ranked in the top three during the season’s opening week, with the most notable victory coming against then number one-ranked Colorado Buffs in Boulder.
While in Atlanta, the team is also working with local elementary schools, helping coach youth players as young as eight years old.
MichiganStateLacrosse.Com caught up with the head coach Cam Holding and assistant coach Zach Palmer, a Johns Hopkins alum, to preview the team’s spring break trip and the season ahead:
Upcoming Spring Break Trip:
Coach Holding, what challenges does opening your team’s season with GT, the #2 ranked team in the country present to your staff and players? What’s been the key to your preparation?
A huge challenge is that they’ve already played six games this year, so they have had a chance to get the wheels in motion and gain chemistry – instead of practicing against themselves. To our advantage, we haven’t had to prepare for playing five different teams; this has been the only game we have had to focus on thus far. Coming off a rough finish to the season last year, our guys are hungry to get back on the field.
MSU has about 20 new guys on the team this year, many playing their first collegiate game and none having played in big games so far. How do you prepare those guys for this moment?
As far as preparing, we did a good job in our fall scrimmages against Western Michigan and Grand Valley (GVSU) in executing our game plan. We also got a chance to scrimmage the Hill Academy, a terrific prep school out of Toronto, which allowed our guys to see a different style of play. For our younger guys, it’s a matter of being in the spotlight and executing and forgetting the pressure of who your opponent is. Just play.
Talk about the importance of this trip. What are your team’s goals for the week?
The team goal is to focus on one game at a time and not overlook any opponents. Each game is huge. Overall, this eats up about a third of our schedule in 6 days. The end of the trip can either put us in a hole or propel us forward for the year.
Coach Palmer, you’ve been on some terrific teams during your time at Johns Hopkins, what do you see in this MSU team that you think will make them successful this trip, and this year?
This team has a lot of good leadership, especially at the attack unit with [senior] Mitch Newton. As a coaching staff, we’re able to put in sets and they can go out and execute. There is a great trust between the coaches and the players. When we make adjustments on the fly, the team is able to respond which makes a big difference in games like these.
You mentioned team leadership, talk about your team’s leadership and the role it’s played so far this year.
Leadership has been huge. Our captains have played a big role in relaying messages to the team, setting an example both on and off the field, and trusting in the coaching staff. Even some younger returners like [sophomore defenseman] Patrick Donovan have really stepped up, embracing a leadership role. When you have older guys who really buy in to what we want to accomplish, it makes a big impact on the rest of the team.
Not only do we have a great group on the field but off the field as well. We have a solid foundation and an amazing set of parents that allow the team to focus solely on lacrosse. The program is extremely appreciative of what they provide; not many teams have that luxury.
The Season as a Whole:
Michigan State enters their season opener ranked #14 in the Under Armour MCLA Polls for Division I. Their game against Georgia Tech will be the first for new head coach Cam Holding and his staff, which brings not only great knowledge of the game, but also plenty of lacrosse experience at high levels.
The last time the Spartans took the field resulted in a season-ending loss to Chapman in the MCLA tournament. It was a season riddled with injuries to key players at multiple positions, and ultimately resulted in the team parting ways with former coach Brandon Schwind and his staff. Holding was brought in this past summer and has hit the ground running, rounding out his own staff which includes the aforementioned Zach Palmer, former GVSU coach Dan Catzere, Nate Small, and strength coach Justin Hartig. Also helping with the team are recent MSU alums and multiple time MCLA All-Americans Joe Mikkelson and Mac Ensley.
The Spartans plan to put on a prospect day along with a youth camp this summer in late July and early August, respectively. As Holding says, his goal is to help build the program, but also contribute to the development of the game in the Mid-Michigan area. However, outside Mid-Michigan, Holding is utilizing his vast lacrosse network by traveling with the team to Toronto, ON to compete once again against the Hill Academy at the Jammer Classic. The tournament is in its eighth year, and is a dedication to former Hill alum Jamieson Kuhlmann. Holding added, “We have a great relationship with Brodie [Merrill] and the Hill. Being able to travel and play a team with such tremendous talent really adds a dynamic to our team and program as a whole. Plus, it’s for a great cause and something Michigan State is honored to be a part of.”
The club will host its annual golf outing at Centennial Akers on October 3rd.