HARTSVILLE, S.C. – Tony Smith will be the first person to tell you the first year of Coker lacrosse didn't go according to his plan. He's also working the hardest to avoid a repeat.
"Last season was tough," the second-year coach said. "We learned a lot as a team. I learned a lot as a coach. I think we've addressed our issues, and I'm excited to get going with this year."
With the first season behind them, Smith and his team are hoping to build on last season's experiences. Coker has 19 returning players and 11 newcomers, bringing a solid depth chart for a team that looks to make an impact in 2013.
"Although we still have a young team, we now have experience, which is what we lacked last year," Smith said. "Everyone is fighting for time, and I love the daily grind during practice. We have similar players from a numbers standpoint, but better depth because the quality of players we have this year is improved."
After last season, new rule changes, such as a 30-second shot clock and all substitutions being on the fly (like hockey), have been installed and are redefining the game of lacrosse. This will require an adjustment for every team, and the Cobras altered their offseason around it.
"The new rules will really change how we play," said Smith. "I have to change the way I coach, and the guys will have to change how they play. It's going to take time for us all to adapt, but we have been preparing as best we can. The game is much faster now, so we have been running harder and lifting in different ways to adapt."
Smith has some new additions to his coaching staff as well. Corey Geroy and Matt Jewers have signed on to serve as assistants.
"They're both former lacrosse players, and for us that is a big strength," Smith said. "They have great lacrosse IQs and are helping the team tremendously. Their presence helps me focus on specific areas – particularly the defense – so I trust they are handling the offense and our goalies. It's really an exciting time."
It seems that although the conference holds some tough competition, the Cobras have to maintain focus on themselves, first, in order to get the best results.
"We are our own biggest competition," Smith said. "Last year we didn't really compete in the conference. We weren't tough enough and didn't focus. I believe we've fixed that during our workouts so far. Being faster and tougher are two key areas for us this year. Last year we were a little soft, but this year people will definitely know they've played Coker."
The final season in Conference Carolinas will be a challenge, and while he feels confident in year two of the program, Smith holds no specific expectations for his team.
"I am not focusing on the past, I'm focusing on the present," he said. "I want to take it one game at a time. My only goal right now is to start the season 1-0, and then take it from there."
Coker begins its season Feb. 8 at Shorter University.