Copelan raved about Reilly’s ability in camp, saying that he put up a real fight against second-year specialist Zac Tucci. A 2022 UNC grad, Tucci was with the team last season, starting four games to earn a 43% win rate. And with last year’s starter Jake Withers on holdout to finish up the World Games, Tucci and Reilly are the team’s only two faceoff guys until further notice.
Copelan will decide who gets the nod on a weekly basis, but Tucci will start in week 1 due to his familiarity with the team. However, it wasn’t an easy call.
“Tucci obviously was with us last year, so there’s kind of that loyalty side, but then there’s the side that James came off an unbelievable career at Georgetown,” Copelan said. “That one of all the decisions really weighed on quite a bit.”
Reilly made the reserve roster, along with fellow rookie Kyle Borda, but Georgetown’s all-time faceoff wins and ground balls leader will get his shot soon.
Same offense, different leadership
The Waterdogs’ offense will look remarkably similar to last season. Three-of-four attackmen and all four midfielders are the same as they were in last year’s championship game.
At attack, Jake Carraway replaced former captain Ryan Brown, who retired last offseason. Copelan brought Carraway in because of his two-point proclivity, but Kieran McArdle will step up into the offensive captain role. Brown and McArdle have very different personalities, but they both embrace accountability and preach leadership by committee.
“They’re both high-IQ playmakers… But Brown is a Baltimore guy, kind of has a little of that Baltimore cerebral style,” Copelan said. “And you got McArdle who’s a little bit of a more edgy Long Island guy.”
Barring injury, there won’t be many openings in this roster at attack or midfield, especially when first-round pick Thomas McConvey is added to the fold. So, Borda will compete with another UVA midfielder, Jeff Conner, for a regular spot with the reserves.
Copelan has known Borda since he recruited the midfielder to Fairfield College, but added that Connor’s versatility makes him a great fit for the team.
Three Penn State No. 16’s on the Waterdogs
“Wearing No. 16 for Penn State tells you everything you need to know about a player,” Copelan said. “They’re really high-character guys who know how to work and know how to win.”
The Waterdogs now roster three players who wore No. 16 for Penn State, which is reserved for the team’s leader: Chris Sabia, Nick Cardile and rookie Jack Traynor. But with Sabia and Traynor dealing with injuries, none of them will play on Sunday.
Sabia, who was a staple for the defense last season and helped shut down Chris Cloutier in the championship game, has no timetable for return. That opened up a spot for rookie Alex Mazzone in the lineup, making him and Carraway the only fresh faces on the 19-man roster.
Cardile is a third-year player who has yet to take the field on game day, but the coaches liked his production in training camp. He will compete to stay on the squad with rookie defenders Mazzone and Chris Fake, who is still abroad after winning his second national title.
Copelan said that Cardile and Mazzone have both “put themselves in the position to potentially earn active roster spots.”
Traynor, meanwhile, dealt with a sprained AC joint during his quarterfinals run with the Nittany Lions. Unable to practice, Traynor was simply toughing it out on game day, which “tells you an awful lot about the young man,” Copelan said.
All the new guys came to play, and only one got sent home. That means Copelan and his staff still have a ton of decisions to make as they start adding key players back on the roster. As those dominoes start to fall, the team’s optimal lineup will become clear.