It's hard to know what 2019 season will bring for the men's lacrosse program at Montreat College.
It's clear after the young program's first three games of the season, in which the Cavaliers are 0-3, that nothing will be easy. However, that's just the way head coach Ethan Kamholtz wants it.
Entering his second season as the head coach of the program, which itself is only in its fourth year, the former Liberty University goalie wanted to test his team.
"Our goal was to have a really tough preseason so we scheduled six NCAA opponents," he said. "That gave us the opportunity to experience some tough competition and learn a lot."
The Cavs, with a 19-man roster, opened the season at home on Howard Fisher Memorial Field against Brevard College on Feb. 6. Montreat dropped the opener, 17-10.
Injuries played a role in the outcome of that game, according to the coach.
"They're a pretty solid team, but I definitely think if we play them when we're healthy we would beat them eight times out of 10," Kamholtz said. "Some of our guys were banged up, and they definitely got the best of us."
Montreat faced an even tougher match-up on Feb. 9, when they hosted Queens University of Charlotte.
"That was one of the David vs. Goliath stories, so if we would've come out on top of that one it would've been a miracle," Kamholtz said. "But it served its purpose and they brought their 50-man roster against our guys and we did the best we could."
What the Cavs took away from the 16-2 loss to the Royals was how to operate in transition and create situations that require opponents to react to the adjustments made by his team, the coach continued.
"Playing tough opponents like Queens allows us to see what it's like to try to execute against teams that play at a high level," he said.
The lacrosse program at Montreat College is still in its infancy. It was started by former coach and director Will McMinn in 2014, when the Cavs finished the season 1-10.
Kamholtz, who joined the coaching staff in 2015, took over as the head coach in 2018. Building up a new program requires specific types of players, he said.
"We really look to identify young men who want to come into a newer program and make it better," Kamholtz said. "There are a lot of high school lacrosse players out there who want to go to a program that's flourishing and compete nationally, whereas the guys we target are the guys who were the best players on their struggling high school teams."
Bringing together talented players who are committed to developing a winning culture at Montreat has been the key to the success of the program so far, according to the coach.
"My leaders are highly motivated to be nationally ranked this season," Kamholtz said.
While the early part of the season has been tough for the Cavs, those tough opponents are preparing this roster to make a push to a national ranking in the NAIA later this year.
"After we play our NCAA opponents we take on (Savannah College of Art and Design), which is ranked number 6 in the country, at home on March 1," Kamholtz said. "We played them in the fall and lost by 1, and if we can beat that team it will help our ranking."
Montreat will head to Florida later this year to take on nationally ranked Keiser University and Lawrence Technical University.
"Those are strong programs that we'll be taking on during our spring break," Kamholtz said. "Just competing with programs like that will help us and picking up wins there will be big."
The Cavs, who host Wilmington College at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21, head into Appalachian Athletic Conference play on March 23 when they welcome Tennessee Wesleyan University to their home field in Black Mountain.
"If we scheduled a bunch of cupcakes and then tried to break into the top 10 in NAIA that wouldn't be a realistic goal," Kamholtz said. "We'd think we were pretty good and then we'd get smacked by those programs. I'd rather continue to keep the pressure on us to get better against tough competition and then hopefully be the best team we can be when it gets time to play in the conference."