Last season, Stevenson garnered a lot of attention for leading the country in scoring, averaging 16.6 goals per contest. This spring, the Mustangs are building a foundation on their defense.
For the seventh time this season, an opponent failed to score more than six goals as No. 10 Stevenson blanketed No. 2 Tufts, 9-5, Tuesday night at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills.
With the Mustangs improving to 87-2 when allowing six goals or less, the program is earning a reputation for limiting opponents rather than outracing them. It’s a development that amuses junior defenseman Kyle Fendlay.
“I like it,” Fendlay said. “If we hold opponents to five goals and they score six, people are going to see that the defense kind of kept them in a little bit. But the offense is great. I like the defense to have the unsung heroes. It’s a good thing.”
The thinking was that when the close defense graduated three starters in Evan Douglass (62 groundballs and 59 caused turnovers), Kyle Menendez (44, 31) and Ian Hart (37, 19), the unit was going to suffer. But junior Kyle Holechek (31, 23), Fendlay (23, 11) and junior Parker Bratton (20, 13) have developed into a cohesive unit in front of senior goalkeeper Ian Bolland.
“I think we did lose a lot of talent, but we always have guys ready to come and fill in,’ said Bolland, who has posted a better goals-against average (5.88) and save percentage (.618) this season than last year (6.57, .590). “Those defensive guys in Fendley, Holechek and Parker, it’s like having my old group back. I like them, too, because they’re a little younger, so they’ll actually listen more and get what I’m talking about. So I really think it’s important for me to verbalize what exactly I want so that we can utilize our talents in the most efficient way.”
Coach Paul Cantabene said the members of the defense – including sophomore long-stick midfielders Ryan Rubenstein and Warren Pumphrey – are more athletic than last year’s group.
“We’re longer this year,” Cantabene said. “Last year, we had one great defenseman, a really great athlete and a pretty good defenseman. This year, all these guys are very athletic, very long, and I think they understand the defense a little bit.”
*Tufts entered the game allowing opponents to clear the ball just 69 percent of the time (49-of-71), but the Mustangs (6-2) succeeded on 89.2 percent (33-of-37) Tuesday night. Cantabene credited the defense with playing relaxed. “I think our defense was good because we cleared so well today,” he said. “They were rested every time they went down. Against Cortland, we didn’t clear as well, so they were tired, and that had a lot to do with it.”
*Cantabene said there’s a chance that sophomore attackman Tyler Reid and junior midfielder Mike Richardson could return from unspecified injuries in time for Saturday’s road contest at Mary Washington. “We hope to get them back [Wednesday],” Cantabene said. “We hope to get Mike Richardson back and Tyler might play a little bit this weekend. And then we hope to get [senior midfielder] Justin Lea back on Monday. So it looks like we’re playing better and we’re getting healthier when it matters.”
*The Jumbos (3-1) have fared well despite the absence of Sean Kirwan. The senior attackman who scored 66 goals last season and 115 in the past two years injured his ankle the day before the team’s season opener at Hamilton and has yet to play. “He’s day-to-day with an ankle,” coach Mike Daly said. “We’re just trying to keep him off it, immobilize it, and he’s making great progress. Like I said, he’s day-to-day, and he wasn’t ready tonight.”
*Tufts suffered its first loss of the season and has many more games left in the regular season, but Daly sounded as if he wasn’t pleased with what he saw from his players. “It means a heck of a lot,” he said. “Our hats are off to Stevenson. They earned the win. They beat our tails in, and that’s why we wanted to come down here and play them. We knew that every mistake we made, they’d make us pay for it, and they beat us in every phase of the game. That means a lot to us.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun