Reality hit Dowling's lacrosse team last month when the 2012 NCAA champion Golden Lions lost to Limestone in the season opener. It was an eye-opening wake-up call for the then-No. 1 team in Division II.
The only course of action was to use it as a learning experience, said senior attack Billy Richardson. "It helped a lot of young guys to know how it feels to lose. Hopefully, they don't want to have that taste in their mouth anymore."
Since that loss, No. 7 Dowling (3-1) has won three straight, including Saturday's 14-4 triumph over Assumption (0-3). Dowling overpowered the visitors with a dazzling offensive display, led by Michael Brennan (four goals, two assists). The supporting cast included Tom Cleary (three goals), Kevin McElhone (three), Matt Crough (two) and Richardson, who had two goals and three assists.
"What we try to tell this team, this is a new team, this is a new year," said Brennan, also a senior attack. "We're not trying to be last year's team; we're not trying to copy anything. We have to play to what we have this year. And that first game kind of smacked us in the face. We're starting to roll now.
"Benefit is we've been there before and know what it takes to get there again."
Dowling took a 5-0 lead in the first quarter, with Brennan and Cleary totaling four goals.
Dowling coach Tim Boyle made sure his team was ready. "We never talk past an opponent," he said. "Every team that steps on the field has the ability. They're all college lacrosse players."
Division II lacrosse has a perilous path to the postseason, with only four teams qualifying for the playoffs. Any loss can be damaging.
"It's always disappointing to lose," Boyle said. "After the [Limestone] game, we realized we just weren't ready. We have a lot of new faces; we need time to jell, time to click.
"That type of game when you put it on the schedule, you think it's going to be great or you wonder if you win it, you think it's going to kick-start your season. But what we realized after the game and told them, 'Guys, if we lose this game, we can still go on and make the NCAAs. If we win this game, we could not make the NCAAs.' In the grand scheme of things, for them and for us, it's really just preparation for our conference, that's all it is."