Offense has been Stevenson's calling card, and the reigning national champion has maintained that reputation by ranking ninth in Division III after averaging 14.7 goals. But the Mustangs (19-2) went on the defensive in their 15-9 thumping of Cabrini in an NCAA tournament second-round game Saturday night.
The defense held a Cavaliers offense that led the nation with 19.7 goals per game to more than 10 goals below its season average and its worst shooting percentage (20.0 percent) of the season. Stevenson has enjoyed similar performances this spring, having beaten Tufts, 15-9, on March 18 and SUNY-Cortland, 9-8, on March 22, but coach Paul Cantabene acknowledged that Saturday’s effort may have been one of the defense’s best.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons, but I thought we did a really good job of playing very strong, taking away their strengths, not doing too much and overcommitting,” he said on Monday morning.
Cabrini’s starting attack of senior Corey Elmer and juniors Damien Sobieski and Mike Leyden combined for six goals and two assists, but the trio took 22 of the offense’s 45 shots and Sobieski didn’t score his four goals until the final 18 minutes of the game after the Mustangs had sprinted to a 12-3 advantage.
Stevenson started a close defense unit of 6-foot-5, 248-pound sophomore Callum Robinson, 6-3, 230-pound senior Kyle Holechek and 6-1, 190-pound sophomore Chad Williams, and Cantabene said their size wore down the Cavaliers’ starting attack.
“I think we’re probably one of the bigger teams they’ve seen,” he said. “I think we were able to grind into them a little bit, and I think our size really mattered on their offensive guys. I think Elmer had problems going around Callum. But I think we also did a good job of keeping the ball away from them. I think our offense played really well, scoring at a pretty good rate there for a while. So when we had the ball for so long, they got a little frustrated and did some things that got them out of their rhythm, and that kind of played into it as well.”
Robinson was especially suffocating on Elmer, the country’s leading scorer with 113 points who did not score a goal on four shots and finished with more turnovers (three) than points (one on a lone assist).
“He just played his angles really well,” Cantabene said of Robinson, who scored one goal, collected five ground balls, and caused two turnovers. “He didn’t try to do too much, and he didn’t try to take it away from him or try to check him really hard. He kept pushing him up the field or used his angles, and I think we also helped him with some guys having some good slides. I just think he did a good job of wearing on him and not doing too much. Callum’s a long, lanky guy and really strong. So he’s really tough to go around if he just sits down and plays.”