By Blake Moore
ADA — For the first time in school history, the Ohio Northern men's lacrosse program reached the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament title game and battled for a postseason league title during the 2019 campaign under fourth-year head coach Nat St. Laurent.
"The whole OAC Tournament experience was special," St. Laurent stated. "As a program, we have learned a valuable lesson that you just need to make the tournament because our league is extremely competitive and anyone can beat anybody on any given day."
This season, the Polar Bears posted their fourth consecutive winning season with a 13-5 overall record and a 6-3 mark against conference opposition. ONU found themselves in a three-way tie for third place in the final league standings, but secured a tiebreaker to take the No. 4 seed into this year's conference tournament.
In the OAC Tournament semifinals, Northern slipped past top-seeded Capital 10-9, who claimed the OAC Regular Season title with an undefeated 9-0 record. The Polar Bears went on to make their first OAC Tournament finals appearance, dropping the contest 13-5 to third-seeded John Carroll.
"We liked our matchup against Capital," St. Laurent explained. "We knew they were strong and had a great season. To go over there and win, it was a great feeling and it gave our young men confidence. It was a special opportunity for our athletes to understand and experience what it takes to reach a conference championship this season. We may have fell short, but it was another first for our program."
After landing a school-record nine players on the All-OAC honors list last season, the Polar Bears continued receiving league-wide recognition with seven all-conference honorees in 2019.
Seniors Drew Fox (Solon), Mitch Groves (Fishers, Ind./Bishop Chatard), and Anthony Pavone (Bainbridge/Kenston) each garnered First-Team All-OAC kudos. Meanwhile, senior Jackson Pfister (Upper Arlington) and junior Cameron Marous (Brecksville) brought home Second-Team accolades, and juniors Patrick Moran (Austin, Tex./Bowie) and Javon Smith (Baltimore, Md./Dulaney) received Honorable Mention status.
Fox and Pavone each became four-time All-OAC honorees following the announcement; Marous earned his third all-conference accolade; and Groves, Pfister, and Smith each garnered their second awards.
Fox previously garnered First-Team honors in 2018 and Second-Team kudos during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. He was also named Honorable Mention All-West Region as a junior in 2018.
The defenseman was a four-year starter, having started 62 contests in 64 total career appearances. He ends his career as ONU's all-time career leader with 127 caused turnovers and ranks second with 138 career ground balls.
Fox led the team with 28 caused turnovers and was fifth with 32 ground balls this season.
Groves is a two-time First-Team All-OAC honoree and an Honorable Mention All-West Region selection in 2018 as a SSDM. The senior also made an appearance in the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Senior All-Star Game at the U.S. Lacrosse Headquarters in Sparks, Maryland.
In 64 career games, Groves ranks seventh in program history with 37 goals and 56 points while also sitting eighth all-time with 19 assists. He also stands fifth with 107 career ground balls and seventh overall with 12 caused turnovers.
This year, Groves had seven goals, four assists, 11 points, 34 ground balls, and 11 caused turnovers.
Pavone was named First-Team All-OAC after garnering Second-Team kudos in each of his first three seasons as a Polar Bear.
He ends his 63-game career ranked second with 148 points and third all-time with 89 goals and 59 assists. Pavone is also ninth in career ground balls with 85 and second in man-up goals with 20.
During the 2019 campaign, Pavone was second on the team with 28 goals, 12 assists, and 40 points.
Marous is a three-time Second-Team All-OAC honoree and was the OAC Freshman of the Year in 2017.
In addition, the junior became the program's first CoSIDA Google Cloud Academic All-American and All-District honoree during the 2019 season. He was named a Third-Team Academic All-American after advancing to the national ballot with First-Team All-District honors.
He led the Polar Bears during the 2019 campaign with 34 goals, 21 assists, and 55 points.
Marous is ONU's all-time career leader in assists (81) and points (190) while residing second on the program leaderboard with 109 goals. Additionally, he sits eighth overall with 92 career ground balls.
Pfister, a two-time Second-Team award winner on defense, started all 64 games in his career. He wraps up an impressive four-year run as ONU's all-time career leader with 141 ground balls while owning the second-most caused turnovers with 75.
The senior was second on the team with 17 caused turnovers and third overall with 34 ground balls this year.
Moran, a mainstay in the midfield over the past three seasons, made his first All-OAC squad.
He currently ranks eighth with 19 assists and ninth with 33 career goals and 53 career points in 46 games.
This season, Moran tallied 15 goals, five assists, and 20 points while adding eight ground balls.
Smith is now a two-time Honorable Mention All-Conference honoree as a long stick midfielder.
In 45 career games, Smith ranks fourth all-time at Ohio Northern with 46 caused turnovers and sixth all-time with 103 ground balls.
He was third on the squad with 16 caused turnovers and had 25 ground balls in 2019.
In addition, eight players were honored on the 2019 Academic All-OAC listing for their efforts in the classroom. Pfister and Marous joined seniors Matthew Laudico (Williamsville, N.Y./South), Andrew Markell (Missouri City, Tex./Ridge Point), and Noah St. Croix (Irondequoit, N.Y.) and sophomores Joe O'Connell (Fishers, Ind.), Joshua Foster (Fishers, Ind./Heritage Christian), and Branden Stoeffler (Fishers, Ind.) on the squad.
Laudico, Markell, Pfister, and St. Croix were each honored for the third time in their respective careers.
Laudico, a senior accounting student, appeared in nine games this season. From the defense position, he collected two ground balls and caused two turnovers this year.
In four seasons with the program, he has appeared in 47 games with one start. He owns 26 career ground balls and 10 career caused turnovers.
Markell, a senior goalkeeper studying chemistry, is also a two-time OAC Defensive Player of the Week.
The Missouri City, Texas native saw 123 minutes in net this season after appearing in seven games with one start. The senior allowed just 10 goals for a 4.87 goals against average and registered a 1-0 record and 16 saves on a 61.5% save percentage.
Markell has started four contests and appeared in 31 total games for 530 minutes of action during his career. He currently leads the program with a 4.76 career goals against average, ranks second all-time in goalkeeper minutes, and sits third in wins (4) and saves (59) in program history.
Pfister is a pharmaceutical and healthcare business student at Ohio Northern.
St. Croix is a senior marketing major who serves as an attack on the Polar Bear lacrosse team.
During his senior campaign, he recorded 10 goals and tied for second on the team with 12 assists for 22 total points. In addition, he picked up 14 ground balls and caused two turnovers.
St. Croix currently ranks second all-time in career assists (70), fourth in goals (56) and points (126), fifth in shots (172) and man-up goals (13), and ranks first in school history with two man-down goals at ONU. He additionally owns 15 career ground balls and 10 career caused turnovers.
Marous, a junior marketing and finance major, became a two-time Academic All-OAC honoree with the announcement.
O'Connell, Foster, and Stoeffler each made their first appearance on the Academic All-OAC listing.
O'Connell, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, started 14 games for the Polar Bears and appeared in all 18 contests at the attack position. He finished the season ranked third on the team with 21 goals and 32 points and ended fourth on the roster with 11 assists.
O'Connell has appeared in 26 total games during his career and registered 28 career goals and 17 career assists for 45 total points. He currently ranks ninth in program history with four man-up goals and stands 10th all-time in assists (17), points (45), and shots (89).
Foster, a sophomore construction management major, appeared in nine games this season. The second-year attack man posted three goals, six assists, and nine points to aid the Polar Bear offense. He also chipped in eight ground balls and contributed 14 shots this season.
In two seasons, Foster has made 12 appearances in an ONU uniform and tallied five goals, six assists, and 11 points in his career.
Stoeffler is a mechanical engineering major at Ohio Northern. The Fishers, Indiana product appeared in all 18 games for Ohio Northern this season and ended fifth on the team with 27 ground balls.
Stoeffler has appeared in 30 total games during his first two seasons at Ohio Northern. He owns 42 career ground balls, seven caused turnovers, a goal, and an assist.
"This year, we played our most difficult schedule in school history," St. Laurent remarked. "It was tough preparing for each game week-in-and-week-out because we were not the 'new team' anymore. Everyone's approach to our program was much different, showing the respect our team has earned nationally and regionally."
After dropping a thrilling 12-10 decision to Elmhurst (Ill.) to kick off the season, the Polar Bears reeled off a school-record 10-game winning streak from late February to early April. The stretch included an undefeated 3-0 mark over the program's annual Spring Break trip to North Carolina, a 9-8 overtime win at Alfred (N.Y.), and four straight conference victories to open the OAC slate.
The Polar Bears started their conference schedule with an emphatic 26-2 win over Wilmington on March 23. They went on to defeat Mount Union 12-8 before routing Heidelberg and Muskingum with 23-3 and 25-3 line scores, respectively.
In the final five regular season contests, ONU posted wins over Marietta and Otterbein to secure their place in the OAC Tournament after tying for third place in the league standings.
As the four seed, Northern defeated top-seeded Capital 10-9 to ensure the program's first trip to the OAC Tournament finals in school history.
"We had a tremendous amount of experience this year in our senior class. They, along with the junior class, laid the foundation for our program and the success that we had this season," St. Laurent stated. "We were fortunate to have a large freshman class, and each week they battled each other in practice to get better and compete. They added talent and depth to our program, which allowed us to do many things on the field this year."
"Next year, we expect our newcomers to come in and compete. We will welcome some recruits who have earned numerous accolades in high school, and they will be asked to meet the expectations our program has set. There is a tremendous amount of excitement for the future."