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Review & preview: Frostburg State

Frostburg State Bobcats

Here is the opening installment of a series that checks in with the eight Division III programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. So Thursday begins with a visit with Frostburg State.

REVIEW

The good: After compiling eight total victories in their first two seasons in Division III, the Bobcats established a program record this past spring with 11 wins in 17 contests in the regular season. They also went 3-3 in the Capital Athletic Conference, where they finished in fourth place and earned a home game in the first round of the conference tournament. They fell to Mary Washington, 11-6, on April 24, but qualifying for the CAC tournament was still a significant achievement, according to coach Tommy Pearce. “That was huge,” he said. “Going into the season, one of our goals was to make the conference tournament because we hadn’t made it yet. Going into that last game against Mary Washington, we knew that if we won, they had to come back to us and if they won, we were going to have to go down there. Either way, it was a pretty long trip for a Wednesday. So for us to win that game and get a home game, I think it was a big step for our program.”

… Four of the offense’s top five scorers were attackmen. Freshman Spenser Love (41 goals and 20 assists), sophomore Devin Colegrove (27, 33), junior Ryan Serio (43, 16) and freshman Nick Stailey (17, 7) meshed nicely for a group that had not played together until this past spring. “Spenser, for a freshman, stepped in right away and scored a lot of goals for us,” Pearce said. “Ryan had been more of an assists guy his first year. He didn’t play much with Devin Colegrove in 2012 when Devin had become more of an assists guy. So when we put Ryan back in there, Ryan adjusted his game to fit well with those guys. Getting the whole crew back with Nick Stailey as our fourth guy, I think we’re pretty deep at attack and we’re pretty tough to cover there.”

… The return of sophomore defenseman Zach Burkhart (48 ground balls and 50 caused turnovers) from a broken foot and junior goalkeeper Tyler Haines (8.85 goals-against average and .599 save percentage) bolstered a defense that lowered its average to 8.9 goals from 11.3 in 2012. That unit impressed Pearce. “We didn’t have Zach Burkhart in 2012, and he and [sophomore defenseman] Paul Newman played well together,” Pearce said. “Both of those guys got second-team All Conference. [Defenseman] Jeff Nagle really did a great job down there, and he’s the one guy that played a lot for us from that senior class. So we’re going to miss Jeff. Also, just having Tyler Haines healthy for the whole year, he broke his collarbone the year before and we weren’t sure how he was going to come back after that injury and everything and especially since we had some freshman goalies that were really pushing him for playing time. So we thought he reclaimed that starting position and didn’t relinquish it all year.”

The bad: Frostburg State’s loss to Mary Washington in the opening round of the CAC tournament was stunning considering that the Bobcats had beaten the Eagles, 13-11, seven days prior to the postseason meeting. But what was especially distressing was that the players appeared to crack under the pressure of participating in their first tournament. “That was our first time in a single-elimination, you’ve-got-to-win-to-advance format, and I think it really affected the way that we played,” Pearce said. “It was pretty frustrating. A lot of the difficulty that we had on offense was difficulty that we put on ourselves with just not being sharp at moving the ball, not catching and throwing the way that we want to. I think that was our 17th game of the year. So at that point, you don’t expect to take a step backward catching and throwing. I think the gravity and situation and some of the pressure was new to our guys, and it may have affected us.”

… As prolific as the attack was, the midfield – outside of sophomore Chris Rios (20, 24) – needed more consistent production from others. Pearce said in addition to assessing personnel, the coaches will work with the players on refining their tactics. “It’s about being able to beat somebody with a dodge, seeing where the slide is coming from, moving the ball, and putting the ball in the right place,” he said. “A lot of it is kind of teaching them to do the right things in our offense. And the other part of it is just continuing to work on dodging and being able to shoot on the run. I think a lot of our midfielders had some opportunities, but just shot a really low percentage. We’ve got to make sure that we get better at shooting.”

… The defense’s reversal was a welcome sight, but Pearce pointed out that the team’s short-stick defensive midfield was at times a liability. Opponents scoring 98 of their 177 goals without accepting a pass prior to the goal was an indicator of the midfielders’ inability to make opposing midfielders uncomfortable. “We really think that our short-stick midfield defense is something that we need to get a lot better at,” Pearce said. “A lot of the goals that we gave up this year were not assisted. So we’re not making middies work hard enough to get goals. So we want to make sure that if teams get goals against us, it’s really going to require them to handle the first slide and move the ball a couple times and not just getting a goal off the dodge.”

PREVIEW

Personnel changes: Frostburg State graduated just one starter in Nagle, who scooped up 36 ground balls and caused 16 turnovers. The Annapolis native and Broadneck graduate was a critical cog in the defense’s play, but Pearce is confident that junior Kevin Kinney (19 GB, 13 CT) could fill that void. “[A]s long as he comes back healthy, of the returning guys, he’s had the most experience,” Pearce said of Nagle. “We’ve got a guy [Andrew Richardson] that’s [going to be] a junior that is going to come back and be in the mix. And we’re also really excited about the three close defensemen coming in this recruiting class. And Pape Lukk is a [soon-to-be] sophomore that is also in the mix.”

… Rios will anchor the first midfield, but Pearce said there are a number of candidates who could join Rios. “[Sophomore] Greg Bourne wound up having 20 points for us, and he really came on strong towards the end of the season,” Pearce said. “We were kind of hoping that he would have broken out a little bit earlier in the year, but the way that he was playing at the end of the year, we’re hoping that he picks up right where he left off. In that rising senior class, we’ve had some guys that have been consistent contributors since their freshman years. We’ve got Phil Hess. Devon Stailey had a lot of points considering that he missed a large part of the season with an injury in the beginning. And then [sophomore] Spencer Barnett is a guy who was doing a great job of dodging and getting shots off. He just got maybe not the high-percentage shot that he would have liked to shoot. I think if he works on getting down that lane and canning shots more consistently, he’s either going to score more goals or draw more slides. But we think those guys are all pretty solid contributors. [Sophomore] Kreigh Kirby is the other guy who gave us some good minutes. He’s a smart player and he protects the ball pretty well.”

… Pearce said a good portion of the offseason will be spent analyzing the short-stick defensive midfield. Without naming names, Pearce said the coaches will take a look at offensive midfielders who are athletic enough to switch to defense and incoming freshmen. “There’s a few guys that we think are offensive players that are also really good athletes and if they had to play more defense, they could,” he said. “But we don’t really have anybody set in stone yet.”

Forecast for 2014: Partly sunny. This past season was a banner one for the Bobcats, who set a new standard for success with their 11-6 record in the regular season and a home game in the opening round of the Capital Athletic Conference tournament. But how will the players and coaches handle that success? Will they still have the hunger to improve and take the program another step in a positive direction? Pearce feels the desire is still there. The setback to Mary Washington left the team with a sour taste, and the memory of that loss should resonate with the players and coaches for a long time. The good thing for Frostburg State is that cupboard is quite full. If Kinney can succeed Nagle and the short-stick defensive midfield can find some players willing to put in a blue-collar effort, pushing the envelope might be a reachable objective in 2014.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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