Wednesday’s entry is the seventh installment of a weeklong 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 Friday. This is Stevenson’s turn.
Overview: The Mustangs went 18-3 in 2011, capping a stretch of 54 wins and seven losses in their past three years. But for the third consecutive season, the team’s road in the playoffs ended short of the NCAA tournament final. Now the squad must try to reach greater heights despite the graduation of nine All-Americans and seven starters. It’s a stiff challenge, but Stevenson has never been one to stand aside and lick its wounds.
Reason for optimism: A defense that allowed just 6.9 goals per contest last spring bid farewell to all three starting defensemen in Evan Douglass (62 ground balls and 59 caused turnovers), Ian Hart (37, 19) and Kyle Menendez (44, 31). But junior Kyle Fendlay (25, 15) and sophomore Ryan Rubenstein (29, 14) are back, and a pair of starting short-stick defensive midfielders in senior Andrew McCrumb and junior Peter Green ease some of the pain. The focus of the unit centers on the play of senior goalkeeper Ian Bolland (6.57 goals-against average and .590 save percentage). “So we think we have a really good, solid defense,” coach Paul Cantabene said. “In Ian’s case, Ian’s come back as such a better player than he was a year ago. He’s worked so hard at it, and I think he’s one of the better goaltenders. I think he could be the best goaltender in college lacrosse this year if he keeps getting better as he has. He’s quicker, getting his body in front of the ball more, and he’s had a really, really good preseason, and I’m anxious to see him get into some game situations.”
Reason for pessimism: With 19 seniors gone from last year’s roster, the onus falls on the youthful Mustangs to fill the void. Blending those personalities and talents is a work in progress. “I think the one big area of concern is figuring out how long it’s going to take us to jell mentally and cut out some of the unforced turnovers,” Cantabene said. “If we can come together mentally and be a little mentally tougher, I think we’ll have a great shot. But when you’ve got new people in the lineup and new guys playing, sometimes it takes a little bit longer for that to happen. But we’re going to push these guys to be mentally tougher early in the season and see how they handle it.”
Keep an eye on: An offense that ranked first in scoring last season figures to be less potent without attackmen Jimmy Dailey (named the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association’s Outstanding Player of the Year after posting 60 goals and 58 assists) and Neal Barthelme (73, 21). But Cantabene is hopeful that sophomore Tyler Reid can pick up where he left off (38, 7), junior Danny Schanne is ready to start, and freshmen Stephen Banick and Pat Candon can provide support. “We think we’re very talented at the attack position,” Cantabene said. “It’s just whether these guys can step up when the lights are at their brightest.”
What he said: As mentioned before, Stevenson has been prolific in the regular season, but not so in the postseason. Getting over that hump is a mystery waiting to be solved. “That’s a tough thing to figure out,” Cantabene conceded. “It’s really just a play here or a play there or a bounce of the ball. I think when it comes to those end-of-game situations when the game is on the line, we’ve got to be a little bit more mentally tough. And I think we have to be a little bit better defensively as well. We can’t give up as many goals in those big games. I think we’ve done a very good job of scoring a lot of goals, but I think we’ve given up a few too many. So we’ve got to figure out in the defensive end a little bit how to keep the other team from getting as many goals in those playoff games, which I think we’re working on and developing.”