The Western Mustangs have established themselves as a defensive powerhouse for a half decade. Since 2009, the Mustangs have led the West Division in goals against average, while owning the best GAA in all of CUFLA lacrosse in four of those seasons.
Despite a major turnover on the back end, which includes the graduation of All Canadians Matt Spanger and Zach Grade, coach Mike Frith ensures that Western’s “defense first” philosophy hasn’t changed one bit.
“We will always be a strong defensive team,” said Frith. “We put an emphasis on team defense from Day 1 of training camp. It’s something that our veteran defenders take pride in and teach to the younger players. We’ve also really put a lot of thought into who we want playing defensive midfield. Those d-middies don’t show up on the scoreboard too often, but they’re the glue that holds our team together.”
In recent history, the Western defensive unit has been lead by outstanding defenders, like the aforementioned Spanger, five-time All Canadian Eric Pitre, 2011 All Canadians Brendan Farrer, Nikkolas Trillo and Ryan Cavanaugh. This year, the Western coaching staff will look to a core of defenders rather than standout players. Juniors Patrick McCrory, Craig Charteris and Pete Hunt will look to continue Western’s history of defensive dominance.
On the offensive side of the ball, senior attackman and 2014 team leading scorer Ryan McCrory returns to the purple and white in 2015. McCrory buried 21 goals and added 17 helpers for 38 points in 12 games last season. This year, the Green Gaels Jr.B product will look to surpass his career best season of 42 points in his freshmen year.
The Mustangs have a strong returning group at midfield with the likes of seniors Jordi Jones-Smith, Sam Neeb and junior Ryan Myles. Jones and Neeb combined for 30 points last season and will hope to play a much larger roll in the offense this year.
Once again, the Mustangs have a solid recruiting class from all over North America coming to London,Ontario.
“We’re really excited to be bringing more and more out of province recruits each year. Our 2014 rookie of the year was Nik Farrus from Edmonton. Although 75% of our team will be from Ontario, we will likely have a roster with guys from five provinces and one state(Ontario, BC, Alberta, Quebec, Nova Scotia and California).”
Although the staff is excited about the diversity of the recruiting class, the two biggest impact freshmen come from Ontario. The St.Catharines,ON product Cody Ward will look to produce right off the bat. Ward found the back of the cage 14 times while tallying 16 assists for 30 points with St.Catharines Jr.A this summer. In five games with the Niagara Lockmonsters, the Holy Cross C.S.S grad netted eight points(5G,3A) in his rookie CLAX season.
“We are testing out Cody on attack and midfield,” said Frith. “He will play a lot of minutes for us no matter what position we decide.”
In between the pipes, Manraj Nijjar will look to take over the starting position for the Mustangs. The Brampton,ON native spent time over the past few seasons with Brampton U19, Team Ontario and Northern Lacrosse.
If the saying “Defense Wins Championships” was true, the Mustangs trophy case would be needing an addition. But unfortunately for Western, the program has three titles with the most recent coming in 2001. The quest to end a 14 year Baggataway Cup drought begins on September 11th as the Mustangs take on the defending National Champions Guelph Gryphons.