Friday’s entry is the fifth 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 was published today. This is Washington’s turn.
Overview: There was no sophomore slump for Jeff Shirk and the Shoremen. In the coach’s second year, the program went from 5-9 in 2011 to 11-6 last season. The team turned a 2-6 record in the Centennial Conference into a 7-1 mark and captured its first league regular-season crown since 2004 and the top seed in the tournament. Washington lost to Dickinson in the championship game and got bounced by Goucher in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but the squad got a taste of success that has left the players and coaches hungering for more.
Reason for optimism: Last year’s offense that scored 10.0 goals per game returns five of six starters. The first midfield of juniors Hunter Nowicki (15, 16) and Kodie Englehart (11, 5) and sophomore Grant Hughes (23 goals and four assists) is complemented by a pair of attackmen in senior Bennett Cord (38, 22) and junior J.D. Campbell (9, 8). Senior Matt Lewis (13, 2) is slated to be the third attackman who can fortify that unit. “I think offensively and specifically from the attack position, we should be pretty strong because we return almost everybody,” Shirk said. “It’s one of those things where we’ve got experience there and guys are confident in their ability, and we’re playing well right now with a couple of practices in.”
Reason for pessimism: A defense that permitted an average of 7.4 goals last season bid farewell to defensemen Jack Vermeil (22 groundballs and 18 caused turnovers) and Bryan Botti (17, 2). Junior Casey McKnight (34, 18) and senior Michael Pierandri (28, 19) are back, and sophomores Dan Pulzello and Tyler Shaw and senior Zack Fuller are competing for the third starting job, but Shirk conceded that the absence of Vermeil and Botti has been noticeable. “Are we going to miss senior leadership with Vermeil and Botti graduating? We are,” Shirk said. “But it also opens up roster spots for other guys to step up. I’ve never been one to dwell on graduation just because I think if we do a good job developing our young guys and teaching them and doing a good job in the recruiting process, it’s a matter of who’s going to step up next year.”
Keep an eye on: Another blow to the defense was the graduation of goalkeeper Peter Stewart, who posted a 7.00 goals-against average and a .624 save percentage. Sophomore Beau Brady, a transfer from Delaware, and sophomore Andrew Bolland threw their hats into the ring, but junior Ted DiSalvo has emerged as the starter, according to Shirk. “Teddy’s got all the ability in the world,” Shirk said. “I think what Teddy needed was to feel like it was his. There are benefits and there are drawbacks playing behind an All American like Pete Stewart. But Teddy just bided his time, and now he’s a junior and it’s his job, and he’s really embraced that from a mental standpoint. He’s got the ability. Now, he believes that it’s his job and he’s acting like it’s his job, and that’s made all the difference.”
What he said: Washington should be pleased with last season’s achievements, and those gains could provide a springboard for the future. But Shirk said he is emphasizing to the players that he doesn’t want them to forget the hard work and dedication that it took for the team to get there. “What I really want them to remember is the process that we took to accomplish those successes,” he said. “That’s what we’re stressing right now. I don’t want them to think about playing in April and into May and dwelling on that. I want them to remember how much work went in and the first two losses of the season and how we had to come back from that. I want them to remember the process involved in reaching those goals because I think the biggest mistake we can make is looking to the end of the season and not concentrating as much as we need to on the day-by-day aspect.”