By Jim O'Hara
ROME – The way Nathan Young sees it, the last three games of the 2012 season are in essence the start of the 2013 campaign.
When the Shorter University men's lacrosse team heads west to Missouri to close out the 2012 season with three games over a four-day period, the Hawks will be going up against a trio of NCAA Division II programs, giving Shorter a preview of what to expect when it makes the jump to Division II next season.
"They are NCAA Division II teams and play at the level we have to step up to," Young said about Shorter's (8-6) trip to St. Charles, Mo., where it will face Colorado-Mesa on Saturday, host Lindenwood on Sunday and Adams State on Tuesday in the season finale.
"To me," the coach said, "this is the start of next year when we'll play a full NCAA schedule. I was hoping we'd be sitting in a much better position heading into the last three games. Now we've got to win at least one of them to have a winning season and that will be tough against three good teams."
The Hawks, winners of four of their last five outings, have certainly had time to rest for the challenges, having not played since April 4 when they downed Reinhardt. That, however, hasn't stopped the team from making sure they remain at the top of their game.
"They know they have to step up their game," said Young. "They know that they've got to start doing the things that demand a hard-work ethic. They're running much harder now."
With just 20 players, Shorter has used nearly the entire roster in every game and is getting a balanced offensive output.
All told, 15 players have scored goals this season as the Hawks have averaged a steady 12.6 goals a game. Over their last eight games, that average as surged to 16.2.
"Every short stick has a point and even the long sticks have some," said Young. "When we are able to put up 50 shots in a game, we win. When we have 30, we lose."
Leading the attack are freshman Matt Kristiansen, who leads the Hawks with 45 goals and 29 assists, and sophomore Kyle Van Kauwenberg, who has 42 goals and nine assists.
"They feed off of each other," Young said of the duo. "They are the heart and soul of our attack."
The Hawks have other weapons as well.
Freshman midfielder Ben Janes has contributed 18 goals and 21 assists, junior defender Michael Matthews is one of those long sticks who produces with 19 goals and 12 assists, and three midfielders have double-digit goals – sophomore Kyle Morris and freshmen Jarrad Hinds and Scott Dangel.
In addition to getting point production, the Hawks' defense has held its ground around where freshman goalie Erik Carson has excelled, having made 160 saves.
"We just had a couple of bumps in the road that were swing games," Young said about two games the Hawks felt they let slip away, a season-opening loss to Coker and a heartbreaking 15-13 defeat back on March 17 to Florida Tech.
"The competition has been harder this year, but we have better players this season," the coach said. "We have a short bench so everybody gets a run."
And they are looking forward to making a run at the next level.
"This is the time of the year," said Young, "when we now have to prove ourselves."