It may seem strange, but Stevenson midfielder Tony Rossi said that in his seventh game of the season, he is only now beginning to feel comfortable.
The Calvert Hall graduate recorded three goals and three assists in the No. 5 Mustangs’ 15-9 victory over No. 3 Tufts at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills on Tuesday night. Rossi is second on the team in points (22) and tied for first in assists (10), but said he found his stride in Tuesday’s win.
“I’m still getting comfortable,” he said. “I think tonight was a breakout game for me, and I think I needed that.”
Rossi was a member of the 2012 squad, recording 20 goals and nine assists. But eligibility issues prevented him from returning last year and instead of being part of a Stevenson team that captured its first NCAA Division III crown, he played at Essex Community College.
“I had to go and figure out what I wanted to do, and taking that time off helped me do that and being at Essex helped me as well,” Rossi said, adding that he also broke a finger last year. “It was great. I’m glad to be back here. I love it here at Stevenson, I love the team, and I think we can really do some great things here.”
Rossi has helped compose a first midfield that includes senior Glen Tompkins (15 goals and nine assists) and sophomore Joe Balestrieri (nine goals), and coach Paul Cantabene said Rossi is slowly beginning to resemble the player he was two years ago.
“I think Tony’s finally getting into his groove,” Cantabene said. “He can make plays and he’s comfortable with what he can do and can’t do. I think the first few games, he was trying to feel himself out and trying to make some plays. I think tonight, he was into it mentally and physically, and he played really well.
"He was shooting his shots and had the confidence that his shots would go in. In the fall when he was here, he wasn’t as confident in his shot. But now he’s really got it up to par and he’s got everything in his life going in the right direction – socially, school.”
Rossi has a kindred spirit in sophomore attackman Stephen Banick, who also sat out last season because of an undisclosed injury.
“We didn’t play last year,” said Banick, who registered five goals and one assist against the Jumbos. “So personally, it means a lot. We’re just happy to be a part of the team, and we’re going to keep working hard.”
When he regained his eligibility, Rossi said his only priority was to return to Stevenson.
“I always wanted to come back here,” he said. “This is the place for me. I love playing for Coach Cantabene and the guys. I’m a Baltimore guy, so I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
* While the Mustangs (6-1) outscored Tufts (4-1) by six goals, a significant reason why the Jumbos were limited to a season-low was the play of Stevenson sophomore goalkeeper Dimitri Pecunes. The Calvert Hall graduate made career-high 16 saves. Asked if he was in a zone, Pecunes joked: “I wasn’t thinking. You’ve just got to be calm, see the ball. Don’t be too anxious, don’t move too early. Just sit there and wait for it.”
Cantabene said Pecunes looked like a different version of himself. “He hasn’t really been happy with his play,” Cantabene said. “I think the last couple games, he thinks his quickness wasn’t there, and he was just a little lethargic. Tonight, he was right on point and got back into it and made some great saves. In these types of games, you’ve got to make big saves. … We’re really happy with how he played. I think he’s happy with himself and he knows he can step up in the big games again because I think he was doubting himself. His confidence is back, his smile is all the way there, and he’s going to have a great season.”
* There was one save that Pecunes did not make. Late in the first quarter, Pecunes had run along the right sideline during a clear attempt, but his pass toward the middle of the field was intercepted by Tufts senior attackman Beau Wood (Severn), who appeared to have an empty net to shoot at. But at the last second, junior defenseman Kyle McNamara jumped in front of the open save and turned aside Wood’s shot. “Mac made an amazing save,” Pecunes said. “Helped me out a lot. … Great save. It was awesome.”
Pecunes was out of the cage on a goal by senior midfielder Dan Leventhal midway through the third quarter, but Cantabene did not fault the goalie. “You make some plays and sometimes you don’t come out on top,” Cantabene said. “We’ve got to make plays and he went out there to try to make a few. It’s all right. His team backed him up. McNamara jumped in and made a save. I think he has that type of respect from the guys in front of him that he’s willing to sacrfice his body to make plays, and they’re willing to sacrifice their bodies to help him out.”
* The Mustangs discovered a mixed bag when it came to penalties. The team was flagged for 11 infractions resulting in nine minutes of penalty time, including sophomore defenseman Callum Robinson who was whistled a team-high three times. But the man-down defense killed eight of Tufts’ extra-man opportunities. So, there was a silver lining for Cantabene.
“I thought our man-down did a good job for the most part, understanding what they were going to do,” he said. “They kind of threw a little wrinkle in there with the flip play that got us twice. But we kind of knew what they were going to do. We knew the shooters and we wanted to take them away. I think coach [Adam] Sear, who runs our man-down unit, did an excellent job of preparing our unit for that.
"We knew the shooters and we knew the feeders. We just had to limit them. But we’ve got to do a much better job of not taking fouls in certain situations, especially Cal. He knows it, but he gets excited. He’s a 245-pound bull in a china shop. He makes a lot of great plays, but he’s ours and we love him.”