Overview: The Tigers might have been content with improving to 8-7 overall and 4-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association in the regular season after finishing 2012 with a 7-8 overall record and a 2-4 mark in the league. But the team stunned No. 2 seed Drexel and top seed Penn State en route to capturing the program’s first conference tournament crown since 2005. It was quite an achievement for a squad in just its second season under coach Shawn Nadelen, but those good feelings evaporated in a 16-6 loss to No. 3 seed Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Time has helped put more distance between Towson and that early exit, but Nadelen and the players are looking forward to repeating last year’s success.
Reason for optimism: The offense returns its entire starting attack and midfield from last spring. While senior Thomas DeNapoli (41 goals and 19 assists) and junior Cory Dobyns (19, 3) anchor the attack, finding a consistent third starter lingers.
The midfield appears stacked with senior Andrew Hodgson (27, 14) and juniors Greg Cuccinello (23, 6) and Justin Mabus (8, 10). Even with Hodgson dealing with an injury that Nadelen was hesitant to discuss, sophomores Ben McCarty (13, 5) and Brian Bolewicki (4, 4) have shown that they can start if called upon.
That depth is one reason why Nadelen is feeling confident about the midfield.
“I would say the experience in the midfield helps us more than the inexperience at the attack,” he said. “Obviously, Thomas is down there and he’s going to generate so much attention from our opposition. So that’s a good thing, opening up other options and maybe taking some stuff away. I would say that at the midfield position just with our experience overall from the top four to six guys, that area is much deeper than where we are at the attack position. That helps us.”
Reason for pessimism: As a former defenseman at Johns Hopkins, Nadelen has a vested interest in that side of the field for the Tigers, and the biggest question mark entails the starter in the net. Andrew Wascavage (9.33 goals-against average and .592 save percentage) has graduated, leaving a significant hole.
Junior Tyler White was Wascavage’s backup, but he suffered an injury in April and has recently returned to action on the field. The team has turned to freshman Matt Hoy, who performed well in the fall. Sophomore Ryan Adler is also in the mix, but deciphering the crowded field at the position will be priority No. 1 for Nadelen.
“The goalie is always my biggest concern,” he said. “If you don’t have a guy that can actually stop the ball, then you better have a great offense that can go out and score 16, 17 goals. We won the CAA championship last year winning five faceoffs in two games. Obviously at the faceoffs, we want to be better and we’re working toward that. But if you don’t have a good goalie, that’s really going to hurt you. So that’s my biggest concern right now. I’m confident in the guys that are competing for that and have the opportunity to play for us there. So it’s making me feel a little bit better.”
Keep an eye on: Nadelen mentioned faceoffs and for good reason. Towson won just 36.5 percent (141-of-386) of its draws last season, ranking 61st out of 63 Division I teams.
Conor Pequigney, a transfer from Syracuse, struggled and won just 39.2 percent (31-of-79) before ceding the starting job to fellow freshman Zack Gregory (41.6 percent on 41-of-101). But Nadelen said that Pequigney, now a sophomore, has moved ahead of Gregory and freshman Alec Burckley in the competition.
“Conor Pequigney has really done a good job in his growth as a faceoff guy,” Nadelen said. “He’s shown well this past weekend in the scrimmages and we’ll see how he does this weekend again. I think he’s just being more confident within himself and what we do. He was a mid-year transfer last year. So coming in just before the spring got rolling was just a lot on his plate. So he didn’t really feel as comfortable and now he does. He’s really understanding it a lot more. The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores. So that’s his situation.”
What he said: The Tigers’ path to back-to-back CAA tournament championships would appear to be a lot easier with the league declaring that Penn State, the preseason favorite to win the regular-season title, is ineligible to participate in the tournament as a result of the university announcing it will move to the Big Ten after this season.
While Towson was picked to finish second, Drexel and Massachusetts are formidable obstacles, and Nadelen said every CAA team should be wary of a Nittany Lions squad smarting from being left out of the tournament.“They’re obviously a great program and a program that continues to be ranked nationally,” he said of Penn State. “They’re always a good team to compete against and measure yourself with. … I’m sure it gives Penn State a lot more motivation when it comes to conference play to play and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to stick it to you in the regular season because we won’t get another shot at you.’"