By Alan Widmann
Pittsburgh’s preseason ended on the most optimistic of notes. Now, after just one for-real game, it is suddenly make-or-break time as the Bulls face weekend contests vs. Philadelphia (January 24, Civic Arena) and at Boston (January 25).
“By no means is the season over, but I think it is imperative that we win the next two games,” said Bulls coach Dennis Wey.
This on the heels of the [sic] Friday’s 25-15 loss at Detroit. Pittsburgh led, 2-0, before a barrage of Turbos fast-break goals ignited the runaway.
“It was kind of a shock. I knew what to expect—that Detroit and the Gaits would fast break—but our ‘D’ wasn’t as good as I thought it would be,” said goalie Bob Heyes.
“The defense needs a little bit of fine tuning. With 11 new players, mostly field guys who aren’t used to the combined space, that’s to be expected,” he said. “It’s not a huge worry and we’re not pushing the panic button. But, realistically, we have to be 2-1 at the end of the weekend.”
Heyes, who found himself on the wrong end of 20 breakaways (saving 10), said that the alternative “is to look for other teams to beat Detroit—and we don’t want to rely on other teams.”
Pittsburgh’s hopes for avoiding that hinge on an immediate turnaround in one key area, said Wey.
“We did not hustle. We did not get on and off the floor. They (Detroit) showed a lot more heart than we did, and they outran us in every facet of the game,” he said. “We were very tentative.”
Detroit, thought to be somewhat older and significantly less athletic than the Bulls, dominated groundballs and did not permit a single fast-break opportunity for the losers.
“All the X’s and O’s in the world are great. But if you don’t go out and execute and if you don’t run hard—that was the most disappointing thing Friday—it doesn’t do you any good,” Wey said.
Both Heyes and Wey said that the Bulls’ overall youth was probably the major factor.
“There’s no question that we have talent. Maybe we just didn’t take into account that many of these guys hadn’t gone out there and played,” Wey said.
The resilience of youth, according to Wey, leads directly to “the good news and the bad news.”
“The bad news is we got our butts handed to us. The good news is that the problems are things we can easily change—if the guys want to. It all comes down to heart and hustle,” he said.
“We have a lot of good athletes. We have a good team, but didn’t show it Friday,” Wey said. “We just need to put Friday behind us and play hard for 60 minutes each game.”
Or, as forward Tom Worstell said, “We know we can play much better, but we can’t talk about it. We have to go out there and do it.”
• Despite the pressure of a virtual “must-win” situation, Wey feels that his youthful team ca adjust to two very different styles on consecutive nights.
Friday, he expects Philadelphia to play the half-court game on both offense and defense, hoping for a final score in the 14-13 or 12-11 range. But Pittsburgh scored 15 times on Detroit without the benefit of a single fast-break goal. “On defense, Detroit did not beat us,” he said.
Philadelphia downed the Bulls in an exhibition, 16-13, in December, but Wey was missing six key players at the time.
Boston, which hosts the Bulls on Saturday, relies on quickness and figures to play a total transition game. “But neither team will change our style. We’re more concerned with our style and our execution,” Wey said. “We feel that we have the kind of talent that if we do what we want to do, teams should have to worry about us.”
• Wey does plan some roster changes for the weekend, and one could bring some instant juice to the offense.
Top draft choice Chris Colbeck, who missed the Detroit game with an injured ankle, will probably dress this time. Colbeck’s 109 career goals made him the second all-time scorer at Loyola (Md.) College.
Rookie forward Mike Smith (Virginia) is also expected to dress after missing the Turbos game due to personal commitments.
• The Bulls prospects for a successful 1992 were boosted when Worstell returned to the indoor game after a two-year hiatus.
The three-time All-America midfielder from Maryland played for the defunct Washington Wave in 1989 before deciding to take some time off.
“My wife (Valerie) and I decided to take a break—I was working two jobs—and to buy a home. But once I settled down, it was time to give it another shot,” said Worstell, a sales analyst who lives in Winchester, Va.
Worstell was initially recruited by Bulls goalie Kevin Bilger, his former Maryland teammate, during a Terrapins’ alumni game. Wey called several days later.
“I’m just glad that Dennis gave me the opportunity,” said Worstell, who found the allure of the “fast-paced indoor game, which they can’t slow down because of the shot clock,” too much to resist.
The “opportunity” means six-hour round-trip drives to both practices and go game flights from Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Worstell pays for gasoline and wear-and-tear on his car from the $150 per game he earns as a second-year player.
“That kind of commitment really excites me,” Wey said. But for Worstell, “just being around the game means so much—there are a lot of great guys to be around.”
Worstell missed most of the Detroit game after pulling his hamstring in the second quarter (“I’ve never been in a situation where I couldn’t run”) but expects to be a factor as the season progresses.
“Dennis is a great coach. He knows what he’s doing, and he has me in the right role for open-field opportunities. Running up and down the field and moving the ball is the best part of the game,” he said. “But when I’m stuck in isolation, one-on-one, that’s a lot of fun, too.”
(The Indoor Lacrosse Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 4, January 24, 1992)
(Special thanks to Bob Heyes for providing a copy of the paper)