Rumson-Fair Haven conducted its opening game with business-as-usual efficiency , even though you'd be hard-pressed to find a handful of players who punched the clock at all last season for the Bulldogs.
Their 15-win squad of a year ago was hit hard by graduation and two current standouts were unavailable for this game with minor injuries. And yet it looked as if the only difference between that team and this one was how some last names are pronounced.
Junior attackman Michael Clarke scored four goals and assisted on two others and sophomore attackman Chris Sutphen netted the first three goals of his career to propel Rumson to a 14-3 victory over Manasquan Monday afternoon in Sea Girt.
That marked a successful head coaching debut for Reid Jackson, who took over the reins for Jim Barbiere, now a Bulldog assistant.
"We're a young team, lost a lot of people last year, but that's okay," Clarke said. "We have some very good sophomores and juniors coming up. We're all good dodgers and we feed off one another really well."
Clarke launched the banquet with three goals in the opening 9:39 to steer Rumson to a 4-0 lead, and had all of his four goals in the first half as the Bulldogs forged a 9-1 advantage with only 17 shots.
Equally as impressive as the crisp movement and shot selection of the offense was the stinginess of Rumson's all-sophomore close defense of Connor Phillips, Dylan Zohn and J.T. Jennings. They helped limit the Warriors (1-1) to a mere six shots in the first half by forcing 12 turnovers.
"They're really stepping up," senior goalie Artie Tildesley said. One of the team's few returning starters made two saves in the first half and finished with six. "They've all accepted their roles incredibly and they were all out there communicating and working hard. I owe a huge amount of credit to them."
Rumson was not expected to be quite so inexperienced, but senior attackman Jack Curran (36 goals last season) and junior middie Conor Walsh were both sidelined with injuries recently. Curran (ankle sprain) will play in the next game Wednesday against Holmdel.
"Even without those guys, we still worked really well together," Clarke said. "We're always moving at the same time, middies and attack. Move the triangle, get everything going."
Sutphen scored two of his three goals in the first half and George Massabni, Ryan McCausland and Ben Danzi each connected once to send the Bulldogs to their eight-goal lead at the half. The Warriors were held scoreless until Blaine Birch capitalized on an extra man opportunity with four seconds to go.
"Offense is the first line of defense, and they did a great job riding, too," Tildesley said. "They're moving the ball incredibly well now. They got all the looks they wanted, they played like a team, no one was selfish."
Manasquan also was without several injured starters, like standout attackman Connor Reilly with a broken collarbone. And while sophomore middie Joe Murphy showed versatility as both a faceoff man and playmaker and senior Kodie McNamara provided strong on-ball defense and ground ball work, the Warriors did not possess the depth to overcome either its losses or Rumson's sparkling early play.
"We focused on being aggressive, but also smart," Jackson said. "We played a scrimmage game Saturday against a team from Maryland (Church Hill) and we jammed it too much. Today we focused on pushing the ball in transition, but if we didn't have it, settle it down."
Rumson's decision making was almost impeccable in the first 5:30 of the second quarter, sticking five goals on only six shots for a 9-0 lead. The goals by Massabni and Danzi were directly off turnovers on the ride and the other three were all scored on the goal mouth through rapid ball movement and sharp cuts.
"Everyone has their niche and we work off that," Clarke said. "Once someone dodges and cuts through, he catches the ball in the crease and finishes the ball. The main point of our offense is it's not a one-man show. We all work as a team."
Rumson graduated 59 percent of its scoring from its 2011 Shore Conference Tournament championship team, and was actually without 82 percent with the absences of Curran and Walsh.
With that kind of turnover, Jackson knew that his club's survival would depend as much upon togetherness and it did on talent.
"Relationships," the former Rutgers All-America defenseman and U.S. World team star said. "That was the No. 1 message I gave to the team. If we're going to be any good, it's going to be all about our relationships. We need to play for each other and not for ourselves."
Jackson's Bulldogs ended up sinking 14 goals on only 23 shots, they stayed clear of costly turnovers and penalties and won the ground ball battle, 41-26. Dan Babiak, Chris Hubler, Mike Villane and Alex Kelly each finished with a goal for Rumson. Murphy and Andrew Dayton scored for Manasquan.
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS