- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 6, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Richmond’s first season playing men’s lacrosse started with five consecutive losses.

Now they’re about to play in the NCAA tournament, which begins Wednesday night with two play-in games.

The Spiders (6-10) play at Air Force (10-5) in one of them, hoping to keep alive a remarkable first season that started with no one knowing what to expect and now finds the team expecting to win.

“The team’s never been more pumped up to play a game,” goalie Benny Pugh said Monday.

The turnaround hardly looked possible in February. Richmond started with a 13-12 loss to Virginia, one of the elite programs in the country, and followed that setback by losing their next four games.

But it was that first loss that gave coach Dan Chemotti and his team hope.

For Chemotti, it came when he joined his team in the locker room after the game. The Spiders have 22 freshmen on their 36-man roster, and, “With such a young group, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said.

“I didn’t know if our guys were going to be standing on chairs, dancing around, singing songs, playing music and celebrating,” Chemotti said. Instead, “I saw the looks on their faces and they were visibly upset. … That solidified right then and there that the group we have is made up of some special young men.”

The close loss gave the Spiders confidence, and for a while, too much confidence.

In their next game, they lost 19-11 to Hartford.

“I think everybody felt like we were better than we were,” midfielder Brendan Hynes said, “and when we played Hartford, it was kind of like a punch in the face and brought everybody back down to earth.”

Seven of their eight losses since have come by four goals or fewer, and when they avenged regular season losses to top-seeded Mercer and second-seeded High Point to win the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament last weekend in , it marked the first time they have won consecutive games all season.

“A lot of those close losses, it was just because of a lack of experience, and we hadn’t been put in those situations yet,” said attack Mitch Goldberg, who leads the team with 31 goals and 40 points.

“Now that we have, I think we’ll be able to do better.”

The Spiders say they probably still will be viewed as a fledgling program as they head into the tournament, and that being the only team without a winning record will make them look less formidable.

“I feel like a lot of teams would definitely overlook us, and I think, honestly, we’re going to take advantage of that,” Pugh said. “It will be really interesting going out to Colorado, playing away.”

Chemotti, a first-time head coach, played on Atlantic Coast Conference champions in his final two seasons at Duke, and was hired in 2012, right after helping Loyola, Maryland to the national title.

He’s excited the Spiders found success in their first year together.

“Our guys have gained a lot of experience, and it took a while, but they have grown up for sure,” Chemotti said. “Our guys have learned how to win.”


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