Division III lacrosse preview for Goucher Gophers

Thursday’s entry is the fourth installment of a series taking a look at each of the eight Division III programs in this state, according to their order of finish from last season.

The Sun’s lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 7. This is Goucher’s turn.

Overview: After two Landmark Conference tournament championships in three years, the Gophers ran through the league with a perfect 6-0 record last season and seemed poised to add a third crown. But a stunning 6-5 loss to Merchant Marine in the semifinals of the conference tournament had Goucher sitting on the sideline in the postseason. The sting of that premature ending stung and still resonates with coach Brian Kelly and the players, who are intent on returning the program to its previous level of success.

Reason for optimism: With the graduation of three of the program’s most potent scorers in attackmen Kyle Boncaro and Rory Averett and midfielder Matt Lynch from the 2012 squad, the offense naturally dropped from 12.6 to 8.5 goals per game.

But that unit returns five of six starters, including the entire attack of seniors Dylan Zook (12 goals and 20 assists) and Max Roach (19, 9) and junior Sam Morgan (13, 15). Sophomore Owen Demmerly (9, 1) is close to joining seniors Pierce Ingram (26, 10) and Steve Patterson (20, 2) on the first midfield, and Kelly is excited about the offense’s potential.

“Offensively, we return a lot of guys,” he said. “I think the only producer that we don’t bring back on the offensive end of the field is [midfielder] Zach Fratella. Pretty much everybody else we get back, whereas in 2012, we graduated all of our offense for the most part. In 2014, we’ve got a lot of guys back that played a lot of minutes for us and produced for us. So, we’re excited about that.”

Reason for pessimism: A defense that surrendered 9.2 goals per game last spring could be crippled by the graduation of Connor Mishaw, a three-year starter at goalie who graduated as just one of four Gophers to finish with 600 carrer saves.

Junior Karl Wiszumerski and sophomore Stefan Schultz are competing for the right to succeed Mishaw, but the duo played just a combined 46 minutes, 51 seconds in 2013. Kelly said the race is too close to call.

“They both had very good falls, and they’re in a battle for the job,” Kelly said. “You would think that maybe with Karl being a junior and having the time that he had behind Connor, he would win it out because he’s a little bit older. But Stefan’s a hard worker and had a really good fall.

"So it’s exciting, because it really is a competition and they’re both playing well right now. We’re not leaning in one direction or another. It’s got to be one of those two. That certainly is the biggest question mark, who fills that void.”

Keep an eye on: Whoever is in the net could use a suffocating defense in front of him. Sophomores Andrew Foster (17 ground balls and 16 caused turnovers) and Nathan Cain (21 GB, 13 CT) started on close defense last season.

Sophomore Blake Russell (31 GB, 8 CT) and junior Thomas Rakes (9 GB, 11 CT) got substantial time as the unit’s long-stick midfielder and fourth defenseman, respectively. And Ethan Haddaway, who registered 35 ground balls and 17 caused turnovers as a freshman long-stick midfielder in 2012, has returned after sitting out last spring.

Those defensemen will be critical in filling a void created by the graduation of defenseman Bryce Carson, who left as the program’s all-time leader in games played, with 71.

“Bryce played in every single game of his collegiate career,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be tough. He played in a lot of competitive lacrosse games, but we’re excited because we’ve got three sophomores that played a lot of minutes for us last year – Blake Russell, Nathan Cain and Andy Foster. And then we’re getting back Ethan Haddaway, who was out last year. He was a big part of our 2012 team.

"We’ve got some defensive freshmen that we’re excited about. Thomas Rakes is a junior defenseman. We’ve got some depth down there in some guys that have played substantial minutes for us. I don’t think there’s any one guy, but all of those guys in some way, shape or form are going to have to pick up and grab maybe 20 percent of what Bryce gave to us.”

What he said: The Gophers’ offensive woes were compounded by a 21.7 shooting percentage (136-of-627) last year. Without getting into specifics, Kelly said the coaching staff went back to drawing board to find out how to help the offense.

“I think it comes down to high-percentage shots,” he said. “We want to generate better scoring opportunities. That’s really the genesis of reworking the offense. ‘Where did most of our shot opportunities come from last year?’ We wanted to chart them out and our success rates.

"Our overall team shooting percentage was abysmal. It was poor. So we’re looking at reworking the offense to come up with areas on the field where we can generate shots that will pus us in a position to score more goals.”

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