In the season opener for both teams, Mount St. Mary’s visits No. 3 Maryland, which has won all nine meetings in this series. The Mountaineers went 6-9 and barely qualified for the Northeast Conference tournament after winning the league in 2011, but do return eight of 10 starters and three seniors who redshirted last season. The Terps also return eight starters from last year’s squad that advanced to its second consecutive NCAA tournament final. Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Byrd Stadium in College Park on Tuesday evening.
1) Slowing the pace. Maryland averaged 10.7 goals last season, and with four of six returners in the starting attack and midfield, the offense could be just as productive. Mount St. Mary’s scored 10.3 goals per game and can keep pace, but coach Tom Gravante wants the offense to be methodical and take its time to slow the Terps. “Our best defense [today] is a disciplined offense,” he said. “We need to maintain possession, play a really solid six-on-six offense, cut the field in half, share the ball. We certainly don’t want to force things. But we’re going to take shots. There are going to be saves by [redshirt junior] Niko Amato. He’s a very good keeper, and he’s got a great defense in front of him. If we make a mistake, we need to move on. But we’ve been preaching it from the start, that because we’re a little bit green at the other end of the field especially in the cage, our best defense is a very disciplined, quality, patient offense. We want them to play simple, but play fast.”
2) Taking aim. Gravante announced Monday that freshman goalie Will Rego will get the start, but there’s a chance that freshman Frankie McCarthy could play the second half depending on how Rego fares. Maryland doesn’t have much film on Rego or McCarthy to study either of their tendencies, but coach John Tillman said their unfamiliarity shouldn’t impact the Terps’ offensive philosophy. “Like anybody else, if you take bad shots, bad shots aren’t going to go in,” he said. “Typically, we tell our shooters that good shots are going to get the opportunity to go in. If it’s a new goalie, just chucking it at the goal or shooting shots that are out of range or low percentage will make him better. So I don’t think philosophically, we’ll change regardless. And we always go into it saying that if this goalie plays very, very well, we’ve got to handle that. Maybe he’s hot and maybe he’s having a good day. We can’t allow our kids to change what they’re doing or grip the stick too tight or shoot too fine. We’ve got to keep shooting good shots in good locations, and if they go in, great and continue to do that. If they don’t, continue to do that.”
3) Playing with emotion. The Mountaineers figure to be underdogs in Tuesday’s contest, but that hasn’t stopped them from knocking off opponents in the past. In fact, the team stunned Delaware in last year’s season opener. Gravante is hoping that the players will remember to play with that kind of emotion against Maryland. “The last thing I said to these guys before the we took the field against Delaware was, ‘There’s only one other thing I’d rather be doing today.’ They looked at me, and I said, ‘That’s playing. Let’s get after it today. Have fun.’ So it’s the same thing,” he said. “I want those guys to go down there with the mentality that they’re ready to execute. Walk with humble swagger, play with poise, and believe. … It comes down to how well they can carry themselves. We’re going into a big house tomorrow. The last thing you want to do is let the No. 2 team in the country get up on you quick. At the first whistle, we need to get out of the starting gates and match feet with them in hopes that we may be take some of the excitement and bring it down to a level that keeps us in it because if we let these guys run, they can run on anybody and they can run it up on anybody.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun