As we continue our senior salute series looking at the different winter and spring sports student-athletes at our service academies whose careers were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, we turn our attention to the Air Force Men’s Lacrosse team.
This group of a dozen seniors has been through it all.
They came in together in 2017 under previous head coach Eric Seremet and proceeded to turn in a 12-6 campaign that saw them go 6-1 in conference, win the Southern Conference Championship, and get a berth in the NCAA tournament. They were bounced in the first round by Denver, a team that would go onto the Final Four and lose by a single goal to the eventual National Champions in Maryland.
Then came the allegations of freshmen hazing practices that sparked an investigation into the lacrosse program, and caused Seremet to be suspended in October of 2017, before eventually they parted ways and Seremet headed to Rutgers.
In his interim, Bill Wilson took over the reins of the program, and as can be expected when you are facing challenging internal and external circumstances of this nature, the team struggled to a 5-10 record. However, Wilson clearly impressed the administration following his interim season and was given the full-time role of head coach for the 2018-2019 campaign.
This group of seniors, then juniors, turned things around significantly led by Trey Lervick and Matthew Schwartz, in particular, from the 2020 class. They improved to 10-5 and 6-1 in conference, but were ousted by Richmond in the semifinals of the SoCon tournament.
So far this year, they looked poised to continue to improve on last year’s success. A head scratching loss to Cleveland State aside, they were 4-3 on the young season, with a win over #5 Duke on their resume and their only other losses to top 10 opponents in Denver and defending National Champion Virginia.
There is every reason to believe they were on track to challenge for the Southern Conference championship and to get themselves back into the NCAA tournament following all the challenges they had overcome as a class.
Here’s our salute to each of the dozen seniors individually, with some of their stats and a look back at their careers:
Kevin is a Systems Engineering major with an Astronautical focus, who has earned Dean’s List and the AD’s List multiple times as well as being named to the SoCon Honor Roll.
He finishes his career having appeared in three games in his senior campaign, with totals over four years of 41 games played, including two starts in 2018, and 6 goals and 4 assists.
Kyle had gotten into four games this year, but had yet to tally any points. He closes his career with 42 games played, having started five games in 2018, and collecting three goals and two assists over the last two years.
Daniel seemed to be getting better as his career went along, including in the classroom, as he turned in Dean’s List, Commandant’s List, and AD’s List off the field last year, and saw action in eight games. He had played in all seven games this year, starting two of them, and ends his career with a goal and assist to go with 31 games played.
Lervick turned into a go-to player throughout his career, improving each season, as he ultimately led the team in goals, assists, and points as a junior. This included seven games in which he recorded a hat trick. He was named Second-Team All SoCon last year, and was well on his way to another terrific campaign as he had 12 goals and 7 assists through 7 games this year.
He finishes his Falcons’ career having played in 49 games including 30 starts, and was responsible for 96 points (65 goals and 31 assists). His presence will undoubtedly be missed next year.
Matthew ended up having a terrific career for the Falcons, playing significant minutes every year. He saw action in 48 games and started 44 of those throughout his playing time. He was second on the team last year in goals with 18, trailing only Lervick, and ends his career with 83 total points. This includes 48 goals and 35 assists. He was an All-Freshmen SoCon performer and two-time SoCon Offensive Player of the Week. He was a steady force for the Falcons each and every season, and just like Lervick, his production will be sorely missed next year.
Jake is another player who has seemingly gotten better and developed throughout his career. He has improved from no points to six his sophomore year and then ten last year, and would have certainly surpassed that in 2020. He had played in every game so far on the young season, and already had seven goals to go with two assists. He was clearly making an impact as a senior and was poised to be a big part of this season’s continued success.
Chet has seen action in each of his four seasons in Colorado Springs. After playing in 11 games as a freshman, and 14 games as a sophomore including five starts, he had seen the field in each of the team’s first seven games so far this season. He ends his career with 41 games played, 23 goals, and 8 assists.
Ryan saw action all four years as a faceoff specialist for the Falcons. He got more opportunities each year, culminating in two of his best performances of his career in recent weeks, winning all six faceoff opportunities against St. Bonaventure, and going 16-22 in what would be his last career game against Canisius. He ends his career 82-161 on faceoffs, using that last performance to push him above .500!
George saw limited action throughout his first three seasons with Air Force, getting into five contests and grabbing one assist. As has been the trend with this senior laden team, he was stepping into his own in 2020, already matching his total for game action his first three years getting into five contests on the young season.
As is the trend here, Coons also was seeing his hard work for four years pay off as he got into three games this year, which was more than the previous three combined, and was able to score his lone goal this season in the matchup against St. Bonaventure.
Szlachetka had a solid career for the Falcons as well, starting all 15 games as a sophomore before seeing his role reduced last year. The defensemen from Pittsburgh was off to a great start in 2020, seeing action in all seven games and scoring a goal in the win against #5 Duke to kickoff the campaign!
Last but certainly not least is Griffin Peene, a defensemen from New Jersey who is the 2020 team captain. Peene did not see much action his first two seasons before getting into 13 games with seven starts last year. He propelled that into a permanent starting role in 2020, getting the nod in all seven games and being entrusted with the leadership mantle that comes with being team captain.
It obviously stinks that the Falcons were unable to finish out the 2020 season, as they were on their way to making some noise in the Southern Conference, and were already seasoned with three ranked matchups, including the defeat of #5 Duke. But these young men are headed off to join the world’s greatest Air Force as Second Lieutenants, and we look forward to watching their careers as junior officers flourish the same way they did on and off the field at Air Force!