Seven days after Navy’s offense grabbed the headlines in an explosive drubbing of Patriot League rival Holy Cross, the defense took its turn in the spotlight.
Sophomore goalkeeper John Connors finished with 13 saves and the unit allowed its fewest goals in almost two years in Friday night’s 11-3 thumping of Lafayette at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
The three goals were the fewest surrendered by the Midshipmen (3-2 overall and 2-1 in the conference) since an 8-2 victory over Johns Hopkins on April 21, 2012, and the Leopards were limited to just 24 shots, including three in the final quarter.
After the offense erupted for 21 goals in a nine-goal rout of the Crusaders on Saturday, the defense chose a good time to show up.
“This week was defense as a team, essentially,” said senior defenseman Nik Mullen, who held Lafayette junior attackman Brian Bock, the team's leading scorer, to zero goals and one assist. “We had defense coming down from [senior attackman] Sam [Jones], [sophomore attackman Patrick] Keena, PK [senior long-stick midfielder Pat Kiernan], all the midfielders and the rest of the attackmen riding.
"So, I think the defense went hand-in-hand. People who are on offense also play defense. I think that’s where we got our momentum from, and we started scoring goals. It transferred from defense to offense.”
Coach Rick Sowell was equally impressed with the defensive effort.
“We’re pretty good down there,” he said. “I didn’t realize that Nik held the kid to one assist. But it was an overall good team effort. It was a good scheme. Coach [Ryan] Wellner has done a great job with that group, and John came up big for us. He had 13 saves for us tonight and we just played sound. Just a good all-around performance by everyone.”
After yielding 10.2 goals per game last season, Navy is permitting just 7.6 goals per game this season. The unit has added three new starters in freshman defensemen Chris Fennell and Matt Rees (Boys’ Latin) and freshman short-stick midfielder John Trainor without skipping much of a beat, according to Connors.
“We just have good chemistry, talking to each other, getting on each other to pick up our games,” he said. “We just work hard together. We’re all on the same page, and today was the first time we actually showed it. There wasn’t really a lull. So hopefully, we can keep this going.”
* The Midshipmen’s attack also got into the act, contributing to Lafayette (1-4, 1-2) failing on 5 of 21 clears. Jones, a Severna Park graduate who finished with three goals and two assists, said the unit prides itself on harassing opposing defensemen into making mistakes. “You’re not always going to be able to do what you want on offense,” he said. “You’re going to have a bad day. … Sometimes, it’s just not going to be for you because that’s sports, but you can always ride. That’s what we want to be known for. We want to be scrappy and we want to be known as the best riding team in America. … We want that to be a staple of Navy lacrosse.” The effort was appreciated by Sowell, who said: “It’s fun watching them play, and it’s just great when you have attackmen riding like that. You don’t have to have great schemes. You just let them do what they do, and we’re lucky to have them.”
* One development that did not please Sowell was the eight penalties resulting in seven minutes of man-down defense for Navy. The team successfully killed seven of those opportunities for the Leopards, but Sowell knows the Midshipmen – who have fouled 23 times for 19 minutes of penalty time this season – are flirting with disaster if they can’t cut down on infractions. “We’ve got to stop fouling and be a little bit more under control,” he said. “But [eight] penalties, we’re not going to win too many ball games fouling [eight] times. But for tonight, our defense held up and hopefully, we’ll take care of that and won’t be fouling as much in the future.”
* Senior Austin Heneveld is an interchangeable member of the first and second midfields, but he may have put forth his best argument to be a starter. Joining senior Pat Durkin and junior Gabe Voumard on the first line, Heneveld scored two goals on seven shots. Sowell wouldn’t go as far as anointing Heneveld as a permanent starter, but noted his value on the field. “He’s a heck of an athlete,” Sowell said. “We’ve got him on the wings on faceoffs now. You can see why with the ground balls he came up with tonight. He runs on the first midfield, the second midfield. We just make sure we’ve got to get him out there as much as we can.”