Panthers build lacrosse from scratch

Feb. 01, 2013 @ 12:06 AM

Officially, Jon Torpey carries the title of men’s lacrosse head coach at High Point University.

For the past two years, he could have unofficially had the titles architect and project foreman while designing and building the Panthers program from scratch.

At 1 on Saturday afternoon, the foundation that Torpey has put together will be on public display in the program’s first official game ever as the Panthers take on highly regarded Delaware at Vert Stadium in what will also be the first game in NCAA Division I this season.

“It’s been a long journey, but it has been fun,” Torpey, who was hired in November of 2010, said on Tuesday. “It was a lot of work putting it together. I liked the timeline we had. We were behind a little bit on recruiting to start, but we got some good kids in the 2011 class and then again in the 2012 class. Just having guys on campus last year allowed us to build the foundation we have now in terms of results on the field and off the field.”

The foundation that Torpey shaped is loaded with underclassmen as he chose to build for the long haul instead of bringing in underclassmen transfers for short-term gains.

Of the 40 players on the roster, 38 are freshmen and sophomores. The other two are juniors.

“We’re young and inexperienced,” Torpey said. “What they lack in junior and senior leadership they make up for in enthusiasm and effort every day. Every time we’ve given them a challenge, they’ve done everything above what we’ve asked them to do.”

Torpey believes the Panthers’ biggest strength is the three candidates at goalie – Anthony Porchetta, Austin Geisler and Western Guilford grad Matt Siegmund.

The junior captains are midfielder Bucky Smith and defenseman Garrett Swaim. Smith played at Navy while Swaim played at Jacksonville. Matt Thistle, a sophomore transfer from Manhattan College, is among the attackers.

With such a young team, player development is Torpey’s top priority. 

“We keep it simple,” Torpey said. “We’ve had a mission statement to get better every day as athletes, students and people. We don’t want to get too far ahead. I talked to guys who were in the same position as I am starting a program, and I think that they looked too far ahead into the future and lost sight that their guys needed to get better and acclimated to the speed of the game. So for us, with a young group of guys who live in the moment, we’ve got to keep it simple. We’ve put an emphasis on individual skill development and  that’s been at the heart of everything we’ve done.

“To watch these guys from day one to where they are now is remarkable. It’s changed the way we do things. It used to be more scheme-driven plays, but now we’ve developed guys who can control matchups on the ball and control the ball on faceoffs. If we can hone that every day, we can play more of a freelance motion and defense.”

Starting out as the coach of an independent program, Torpey didn’t take the easy route in putting together his schedule this year. Not only do the Panthers open with a Delaware team that received votes in preseason lacrosse polls, they will play preseason top 25 teams in North Carolina and Duke on the road plus two more schools that received preseason poll votes, Brown (at home) and Drexel (on the road).

Other teams that will visit Vert Stadium are Towson, Air Force, Michigan, Lafayette and Marquette.

Torpey has no goals as far as what would be considered as successful season in terms of wins and losses.

“I don’t like to talk about the word win and the word loss,” Torpey said. “I’m more concerned about our development. If we are trying to get better every day, we’ve got enough pieces of the puzzle with some of our talent that we can do some good things and be a successful first-year program. As long as our guys are competing and focusing and staying organized within our systems, I feel like all the rest of the stuff is going to take care of itself.”