The tone for the Canisius College men's lacrosse season was set for new coach Mark Miyashita when he met with star forward Connor Kearnan shortly after being hired last August.
"Stats weren't his focus this year," Miyashita said. "All he wanted to worry about – in one of our first meetings he told me – 'Coach, I've never won anything. I want to win.'"
Kearnan and Miyashita accomplished their mission, despite a season-ending 12-6 loss Wednesday to 18th-ranked Robert Morris in the first round of the NCAA Division I Tournament.
The Griffs' Cinderella postseason included two overtime, upset wins last week en route to their first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship since 2012. Until last week, in fact, the Griffs hadn't won a MAAC postseason game since 2012.
So while the Griffs' exit from the NCAA tournament stung, it was not hard for Miyashita and Kearnan to focus on the big picture.
FINAL | The #Griffs season comes to an end as they fall 12-6 to Robert Morris. Multi-point games from Coss, Boissonneault, McKee, and Kearnan. Canisius finishes the year with their 1st MAAC championship since 2012 and an 8-9 record. pic.twitter.com/RLFPqJ48L8— Canisius Men's LAX (@GriffsMLax) May 9, 2018
"We were picked sixth out of seven at the start of the year," Kearnan said of the MAAC preseason poll. "I have no complaints. I love everyone down there, and I'm proud to go out like this."
"We've come a long way in a short period of time," Miyashita said. "For a first year I'm so proud of this group and the legacy this senior class leaves behind."
Kearnan, one of eight Ontario players on the Griffs, produced three assists against Robert Morris to finish his career No. 5 on the Canisius all-time scoring chart with 180 points.
Kearnan set the Canisius single-season record for assists with 52, breaking the mark of 49 set in 1990 by Randy Mearns, who coached the Griffs for 19 years before leaving last June to take over the new St. Bonaventure program.
"Obviously it's a great accomplishment and I'll remember it," Kearnan said. "But I'd trade it to keep going and get a crack at Maryland."
Robert Morris (13-6) advanced to a round-of-16 meeting Sunday at No. 1-ranked Maryland.
For the 37-year-old Miyashita, the postseason run sets the tone for what he hopes will be a successful tenure. Miyashita is a former all-MAAC player for the Griffs who graduated in 2003 and spent five years in the National Lacrosse League. He's a Canisius Hall of Famer.
Miyashita also is a British Columbia native with strong ties in Canada, which is critical to the Griff program.
"Canada is a very important piece for us in recruiting-wise," Miyashita said. "Obviously the proximity to home for a lot of these guys from Ontario is great for us and for parents who can come and watch games. I consider that part of our backyard. We're going to recruit there very hard. I'm going to back to B.C. and Alberta to find guys. Our recruiting strategy is our backyard of Ontario, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and into Ohio."
I asked @GriffsMLax' head coach Mark Miyashita if there was a moment this season when he thought they could win the MAAC title to make the NCAA tournament.— Heather Prusak (@haprusak) May 10, 2018
His response: @WGRZ pic.twitter.com/uKZK30obpb
Canisius (8-9) graduates five seniors off the 10-man starting lineup but will return two breakout sophomore stars – 5-foot-6 Canadian Mathieu Boissonneault and Carter Stefanik. Boissonneault scored two goals Wednesday and led the team with 39 this season. Stefaniak ranked second in goals with 36.
"Right now we've got three transfers committed to coming in and 18 freshmen," Miyashita said of his first recruiting class. "So we're going to have a large class coming in as we start to put our fingerprints on the program."
In Wednesday's game at the Demske Sports Complex, Robert Morris' defense, ranked No. 3 nationally, put the clamps on the Griffs' attack. The Colonials led at halftime, 7-1, and after three quarters, 11-3.
"They're all really tall guys," Kearnan said. "Look at their bios. They're all 6-5, 6-6. We're not very big attackers. It made it hard, especially for us to get around and move the ball the way we'd like to."
Griffs senior Ryan McKee scored a goal and an assist to become the 21st Canisius player to reach 100 points for his career.
This article is written by Mark Gaughan from The Buffalo News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.