There will be fewer butterflies in Rick Sowell’s stomach Saturday. The St. John’s lacrosse coach will begin his second season at the helm and the second year of the revived program will kick off against Robert Morris in Baltimore.

“It is a process and we play in an extremely difficult league,” Sowell said. – “We’re going to have our growing pains but we feel this group is going to make significant progress from a year ago.”

The initial steps taken by the lacrosse program after a nine-year hiatus were seemingly modest – but in actuality were huge. Posting a 2-11 record in 2005, the Red Storm had just one player with NCAA Division I experience on the roster and 26 of the 33 were freshmen.

With a year of NCAA competition under its belt, Sowell’s team will return nine of its 10 starters and field 22 letterwinners.

“When you look at the stats individually, all of them can easily improve upon last year’s stats,” Sowell said. “If that’s the case we’re going to be better.”

The offensive attack for the team will be led by sophomores Tom Michaelsen and midfielder Justin O’Donnell. Michaelsen played in every Johnnies contest, leading the squad in points with 25 and finishing second in goals with 17. O’Donnell led the team in goals with 19 and tied Michaelsen in points.

In the midfield, O’Donnell will be grouped with sophomores Jack Rosson and Felix Forbes.

In addition, freshmen Thomas Manes will see some time at the midfield.

Other freshmen expected to contribute in the midfield and in face-offs include Bobby Fitton, Jamal Jones, and Patrick McClay. Sophomore Devin Madden, however, is expected to carry the load at the X, after winning 102 of the 195 he took in 2005.

Defensively, Sowell will rely on Madden, Christopher DeMarco, who is back from injury, and freshmen Matthew Viscusi.

Sophomore Tim Lamare is expected to improve on his rookie campaign after collecting 38 groundballs in 2005.

John Kutner, the senior captain, will be relied on to anchor the defense. After transferring from a junior college last year, Kutner recovered from injuries to contribute late in the season. Sophomore Michael Luyster will also be relied on after collecting 37 groundballs last season.

The goals will be protected by sophomore Dave Saccente and junior Chris Barto. Saccente made 126 saves last season in nine games, earning him team MVP for 2005.

St. John’s experience and talent will be tested again this season by an even stronger ECAC conference with the addition of Fairfield. The ECAC is home to six of the eight teams ranked in Inside Lacrosse and Face-off Yearbook’s top-25 preseason poll.

Come Saturday, season two begins and Sowell believes his squad is ready to take another step forward in 2006.

“Hopefully we’ll play consistent enough that if teams don’t take us seriously, we might be able to give them fits,” Sowell said. “Make them sweat it out and if they really look past us, maybe something crazy happens.”