Wednesday’s entry kicks off a weeklong series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in the state according to their order of finish from last season. Navy was scheduled to be the focus of this post, but Midshipmen coach Rick Sowell has been stricken by a case of stomach flu. So check back on Thursday for a preview of Navy, and The Sun’s lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 8. This blog is centered on Towson.
Overview: The Tigers made positive strides in Shawn Nadelen’s first year as head coach. After going 3-10 overall and 1-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2011, the team finished last season with records of 7-8 overall and 2-4 in the conference and fourth place in the CAA, which earned Towson a berth in the league tournament. This year’s squad has welcomed an influx of youth and Nadelen said a sizable freshman class has re-invigorated the program. But youth will make mistakes, and those growing pains could have an impact on this season’s fortunes.
Reason for optimism: The defense surrendered an average of 9.9 goals per game last year, but that unit figures to be the foundation until a revamped offense finds its footing. Starting defensemen John Fennessy (18 groundballs and 14 caused turnovers) and Jojo Ostrander (18, 11) are back, and junior Billy Choiniere, who played in 10 contests and started one, is poised to replace Sean Sheehe (8, 5). The task of replacing long-stick midfielder John Kenyon (26, 18) could fall to either freshmen Pat Conroy, Patrick McGuire or Aaron Moroney, but there is no dispute that senior Andrew Wascavage is the starting goalkeeper. “I’m a defensive-minded coach and I would like to have all my teams be strong defensively and be able to be the backbone of who we really are,” said Nadelen, a former defenseman at Johns Hopkins and defensive coordinator with the Tigers. “With some more experience being there and with Andrew being in the cage, I’d like to think that we have the opportunity to be a little bit stronger at that end, but with our long-stick middie and defensive midfield personnel more on the youthful side, it’s half-and-half as far as the experience factor. So we’re going to have to expect those older guys to coach up those younger guys on the field.”
Reason for pessimism: Defense may win championships, but it sure would help if there was an offense to complement that unit. Graduating attackmen Sean Maguire (20 goals and six assists) and Matt Lamon (17, 5) and midfielder Carl Iacona (13, 2) saps the offense of some of its more potent options, and Nadelen said he and offensive coordinator Anthony Gilardi have spent the offseason trying to retool some of the strategies that worked in 2012. “There’s no doubt that we need to be better on the offensive end,” Nadelen said. “It’s not a problem strictly within the offense though. With our inability to score down the stretch last year, we didn’t have a lot of possession time. So it’s not just an offensive deficit. It’s a groundball deficit, it’s a faceoff deficit, it’s a clearing deficit. So it’s more of a team epidemic with our inability than just singling out the offense. We’ve done a lot of work to address all those different types of areas.”
Keep an eye on: Andrew Hodgson played all 15 games last season and recorded 12 goals and five assists, but the midfielder started just six times as he was leapfrogged on the depth chart by then-freshman Justin Mabus. With the losses on attack, don’t be surprised if Hodgson, a junior, sees more time below the net. “It’s something that we’ve thrown around, definitely,” Nadelen said. “Andrew is a guy who loves the ball being in his stick, and he loves to be able to make the decisions and set up the offense. He takes a good leadership role and has a commanding presence. He’s a guy that can do a lot of things for us and not just at the midfield. We’ve just got to be able to utilize him as best as we can and get the most out of him, but also not run him into the ground.”
What he said: Some coaches may be shy about voicing their objectives, but that’s not Nadelen’s character. It’s clear what he and the rest of the Tigers are aiming for. “CAA championship and NCAA championship. That’s our goal and that’s our mission as a team,” Nadelen said. “We understand that last year, we didn’t accomplish those and we’re not satisfied with that. Just playing in the CAA tournament isn’t enough. We want to go into the NCAA tournament and really do well there. So I think our guys have been focused on making every day important as far as our work, our growth, our development, our level of execution. So our guys have been really paying attention to that and working hard to make sure that they’re improving the strides we made last year.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun