Wednesday’s entry is the first 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. 8. This is St. Mary’s turn.
Overview: The Seahawks rebounded in convincing fashion last season, embarking on a 10-6 overall record and a 6-2 Capital Athletic Conference mark after going 6-9 and 4-4, respectively, in 2011. Having graduated just three starters, there’s a growing sentiment of optimism that this could be the year that the program qualifies for the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. But St. Mary’s still plays in a league dominated by 10-time national champion Salisbury and may have to compete for one of a few coveted at-large bids.
Reason for optimism: The defense ranked 61st in Division III by surrendering 8.3 goals per game, but the unit does welcome back five of seven starters in defensemen Tripp Trainor (41 groundballs and 22 caused turnovers), Justin Harty (36, 22), and David Mitchell-McShane (18, 11) and short-stick defensive midfielders Nate Babcock (30, 6) and Cody Tidwell (12, 11). Those players should help settle the still-to-be-named goalkeeper. “And that’s what we’ve told the goalies. You’re playing behind an extremely veteran group of defenders,” coach Chris Hasbrouck said. “So we think we’re going along and we have the right guys in the right spot. It’s going to be the goalie who needs to make all the saves that we need him to make. I think we’re going to go with the most consistent keeper. The fact that we do have such a veteran group at that end is going to be of great comfort to the guy that is just getting started.”
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Reason for pessimism: Graduation had its biggest impact in the cage where Stu Wheeler departed after three years as the starter. Seniors Ben Wheeler and Scott Marsh, junior Zack Blewett and freshman Joey Casey are competing for the honor, but Hasbrouck said he’s not worried about naming a starter with the season opener against Roanoke just 11 days away. “[W]e’re comfortable with either one,” he said. “They’re all very strong and all have played very well. We want to make it an open competition and I think the returners knew coming in that it would be an open competition. It’s kind of like filling in your leadoff hitter. With Stu for three years, you just knew that he was going to be the guy. So we want to give everybody a good opportunity and see them to make a great evaluation. I still think it’s a great position to be in right now. We have four kids that are very capable.”
Keep an eye on: After averaging just 8.4 goals in 2011, the offense surged to score 10.1 goals per game last year. The attack bid farewell to attackman John Dehm (18 goals and 12 assists), but Hasbrouck said sophomore Eric Simon (5, 4) appears poised to join senior Patrick Mull (14, 34) and sophomore Matt Tarrant (24, 6) as starters on attack. “Right now, Eric Simon has been playing very well for us,” Hasbrouck said. “He’s been doing a real nice job. Conor Jordan, a freshman, has also been playing well. [Senior] Stew D’Ambrogi has had some big games for us. So those guys are in the mix for that third spot. It’s a good position to be in, that we have options.”
What he said: Despite last year’s reversal, the Seahawks were left out of Inside Lacrosse’s preseason top 20 poll. That might burn some members of the program which was ranked in 2011, but Hasbrouck agreed with the omission. “You have to not only get those [ranked] teams on your schedule, but then you have to beat those teams to be ranked,” he said. “We’ve beaten some quality opponents, but it just hasn’t been consistent enough. We’re close, but I wasn’t surprised. For us, clearly my guys are using that as a little motivation. But we don’t feel snubbed. There are so many deserving teams that I wasn’t really shocked. It would have been nice if we were, but we haven’t earned that right yet. Some teams that are ranked in there are traditional teams. They’ve put together good seasons, have made the tournament, or have beaten ranked teams. I think we’re deserving, but we have to win those games.”