By Todd McElwee
As defending Major League Lacrosse champions, the Bayhawks are in the crosshairs of the entire league and recognize they will have to fight off a slew of usurpers in order to retain their throne.
"We're not going to be able to hide this year," said Kelly, who also owns the team. "We have to play better than we did last year. It's going to be more of a challenge, but we're ready for it and excited about it."
On Aug. 22, 2010, Chesapeake hoisted the Steinfeld Cup after defeating Long Island, 13-9, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in the MLL title game. It was the organization's third championship and first since 2005. The Bayhawks finished at 8-6.
The celebration continued until well into winter. Championship rings were handed out during a ceremony in late January. Afterward, the party was over.
"That was a good icing on the cake," midfielder Ben Rubeor said. "We each got our rings, and it allowed us to refocus and start getting ready for this season. Last season is over and no matter what we did, it has no bearing on this year."
Chesapeake's title defense officially began May 14 with a visit to Annapolis from the Rochester Rattlers. Five days later, the Bayhawks were to cross the border to square off against the Hamilton Nationals.
Everyone is a contender in the six-team MLL. There's talent on every roster, and every team honestly thinks it's in the mix for a championship. Looking too far ahead can prove catastrophic.
"In this league, any team can win on any given day," Kelly said. "If you're not focused on the challenge in front of you, you'll get beat, no matter who you are."
Rubeor is one of many key contributors returning. Among those back are goaltender Chris Garrity; attackman Brian Carroll; midfielders Alex Smith, Michael Kimmel, Peet Poillon and Kyle Dixon; and defenseman Michael Evans. Evans, Poillon and Smith were All Stars last season. Poillon was named the league's Most Improved Player.
"I think we're more prepared going into this season than we were last season," Rubeor said. "Guys understand the way other guys on the team play. That sets us up well going into the season. That being said, it's not how you start, but how you finish. We need to continue to improve in order to give ourselves a chance to accomplish what we want to accomplish."
New additions include midfielders Steven Brooks, who Kelly said has one of the hardest shots in the league, and Salisbury alum Justin Smith, who scored during an exhibition against Denver. Georgetown defensemen Dan Hostetler and Barney Ehrmann were recent draftees.
In the front office, former Maryland and Loyola coach Dave Cottle has joined the Bayhawks as club president and assistant coach. Last July, he came onboard as a consultant.
Rubeor and Kelly said the public's reception to the championship had been tremendous. Ticket sales are up as interest in the club continues to grow.
Issue 161: May 2011