All week, Howard Community College men’s lacrosse coach Erik Foust has had to cross the line where reality becomes euphoric.
Last Saturday, the then-No. 2 Dragons stunned No. 1 Nassau, 21-9, in a game that was nearly over in the third quarter after Howard took a 10-goal lead.
This week, taking first place in the National Junior College Athletic Association’s poll, Howard became the school’s first No. 1-ranked team in any sport since the athletic department opened in 1977.
“It feels good,” said midfielder Chase Noah, the team’s best player with 17 goals and 16 assists. “It’s unbelievable, I’m out of work. We went into this game thinking it was going to be a battle, but we smoked them.
Foust just smiles.
As well as playing and visiting Harford No 2 on Saturday, Foust must guard against the “big head” disease, where a team becomes overconfident too soon.
In his 10th season, Foust led the Dragons to three Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference titles and two Region 20 championships. His teams appeared in the NJCAA Tournament three times, including two appearances in the last four and a second place in 2017.
But this Howard team might be his best. The Dragons beat No. 5 and consistent national power Onondaga, 13-12, and No. 4 Essex, 16-8, before crushing Nassau.
Yet this is why Foust is trying to slow down. The Dragons are just 5-1 with five games left in the regular season.
The championships are not won at the beginning of April.
“Actually, I told them not to pay attention to it [the rankings]said Foust. “It’s great but it’s not the end of the year. I think they understand that they have accomplished a lot, but there is still a lot to accomplish.
Part of the reason Foust is so cautious is that he remembers some of the problems with COVID-19 over the past couple of seasons, especially last year when the Dragons weren’t able to play outside. state and begin training before the first week of March.
They finished 4-3 but had 16 returning players this year. They were also able to bring in several new players. Before social media, many gamers went to community colleges to improve their grades before heading to a bigger school.
Now, community college is an affordable option for the astronomical cost of four-year schools. Howard has players on his roster from Michigan, Washington, California, Texas and even Canada.
The location of the campus in Columbia is also an attraction.
“The game is growing like crazy,” Foust said. “Western players are overlooked. Some of them want to keep playing and want to play at a high level, and they see community college as an opportunity to get into the NCAA.
This year, there are 21 former Howard players on NCAA rosters.
“I’m not in the position where I can fly to California to recruit or scout, but the internet and social media have made it easier. We have outstanding scholars here and our campus is beautiful, larger than many Division II and III schools. Columbia is considered the safest city in America and one of the top 10 places to live in the country.
The Dragons outscored their opponents 92-62, and they’re big and athletic on defense. Starting defenseman Connor Gladstone is 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds while fellow starter Jackson Loftis is 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds. The other two top defensemen are Jimmy Conner and Aaron Rubeling, both of whom are at least 6-foot-170.
On offense, forward Zane Dalpe has 23 goals and four assists to team up with Chase to give the Dragons a solid scoring tandem. Brian Zajac has seven goals and two assists and fellow striker Caleb Tatum has nine goals and nine assists.
Perhaps the most underrated player among starters is goaltender Chris Peterson, who has a .617 save percentage, the second-best in the nation.
“I can’t take credit for all my points, the guys I play with are phenomenal, they catch everything I throw at them and we play as a unit,” Chase said. “Our movement off the ball and our shot selection was good and we finished well. We still make mistakes, all teams do, but overall we are playing well.
A key turning point for Howard came early in the season when they lost, 18-7, in Game 1 to Army Prep. It hurt, and combined with the fallout from a year ago, the Dragons were in a lot of pain.
A loss to Harford would also hurt, especially after reaching such a high.
“Harford beat us the last three times we played each other,” Foust said. “They are well organized on offense and defense and they have possibly the best faceoff player in the country. Last year we tried to get into a groove, tried to gel, but we needed and wanted to play more, and we certainly weren’t satisfied.
“This group really likes to compete and hang out with each other. I wasn’t surprised that we beat Nassau; I was surprised at how hard but our kids work and our assistant coaches are two of the best. But I don’t want to say that we are there yet. We can improve every game and there is plenty of room to grow. Let’s see where we finish this season.
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