Here is the third 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. Thursday’s visit was with Hood. Friday’s visit is with McDaniel.
The good: The 2014 campaign was not as kind to the Green Terror (6-9 overall and 3-5 in the Centennial Conference) as coach Matt Hatton might have hoped, and a contributing factor was an offense that scored just 9.3 goals per game. But the unit averaged 11.7 goals in its final six contests compared to 7.8 in the first nine games, offering Hatton a reason to be optimistic.
“I think part of it is continuity within the system and playing with each other and settling into roles and being healthy,” he said. “I think the other part of it is, getting the right pieces on the field and allowing them to get comfortable in the system and comfortable with each other. I don’t think there was any question that down the stretch, we were playing our best offense.”
**Freshmen made an immediate impact for the team. Defensemen Will Kroppe (35 ground balls and 18 caused turnovers) and Alex Hanna (16 GB, 6 CT) were starters, and Kroppe marked opponents’ top attackman. Attackman Timothy McNichol recorded 20 goals and seven assists as a reserve, attackman Troy Becker added eight goals and three assists, and faceoff specialist Zach Bicho won 54.5 percent (164-of-301) of his draws and collected 95 ground balls.
“I think the biggest positive we could take away is that at times, we played at a really high level and we were playing a lot of freshmen,” Hatton said. “We started three or four freshmen pretty consistently and when you look at the way lacrosse works and you include faceoffs and everything else, you can probably add to that number. So we were pretty young, and we return a lot of guys. I think the reason we weren’t as successful as we wanted to be was because we couldn’t sustain that level of play long enough to win against quality opponents. But there were times when there were glimpses of playing a really high level of lacrosse.”
**With sophomore midfielder Jason Lawrence slowed by a broken rib, there was a void to fill, and junior attackman Patrick Serio accepted the challenge. Serio (Marriotts Ridge) led McDaniel in goals (29) and points (35) after a 2013 season in which he registered just four goals and two assists. Serio’s emergence was a welcomed sight for Hatton.
“I really felt like he came into his own and played his role pretty close to perfect in terms of what we wanted from that attack position,” he said. “So I thought Pat did a really nice job.”
The bad: For the second consecutive year, the Green Terror was left out of the Centennial Conference tournament. Qualifying for the league postseason was no walk in the park as Ursinus, which went 5-3 in the conference, lost a tiebreaker with Gettysburg for the fourth and final berth in the Centennial tournament. But that was of little consolation to Hatton.
“Our measurement of whether or not we’re successful is, are we competing in the postseason, and that’s the first step,” he said. “Obviously, it’s disappointing that for two years in a row, we haven’t been back to the Centennial Conference semis, and that’s not where we want to be.”
**The program’s bid for a spot in the conference tournament was derailed by losses in its final two games of the season. McDaniel battled Ursinus to a 5-5 tie after three quarters before the Bears scored seven of the fourth quarter’s eight goals to cruise to a 12-6 victory. And the team owns a 15-10 advantage 12 seconds into the final period against Gettysburg before the Bullets scored the final six goals to escape with a 16-15 decision. Hatton said the Green Terror’s young roster was unable to close the deal in both contests.
“I think our youth really showed and our lack of experience in critical moments like that surfaced and really cost us,” he said. “In retrospect, those two games cost us the opportunity to play in the Centennial Conference tournament. So we’re disappointed.”
**The defense continued to step backward. After surrendering an average of 8.4 goals in 2012 and 10.2 in 2013, the unit allowed 12.3 goals this past season. While there were several veterans like goalkeeper Christian Dallmus and short-stick defensive midfielders Ryan Weiss and Kevin Nicholas, junior defenseman Drew Cortese (14 GB, 11 CT) joined Kroppe and Hanna as first-time starters on close defense, and freshman Emmett Turley (17 GB, 9 CT) lined up at long-stick midfield.
“I think the biggest thing was our inconsistency,” Hatton said. “When we weren’t playing well, anybody in the country could have beaten us. I thought when we were playing well – albeit in short periods of time and short spurts – I felt like we could compete with anybody in the country. The problem was we just weren’t consistent enough, and it caught up with us.”
Personnel changes: The only loss among the starters is Dallmus, who recorded a 12.11 goals-against average and a .496 save percentage in 12 starts. But sophomore Eric Ritchie made three starts, posting a 12.23 goals-against average and a .554 save percentage, and Hatton said Ritchie may be the man to beat in the fall and preseason.
“I think Eric has the inside track simply because he has more game experience than the other guys,” Hatton said. “There’s another sophomore [Corey Shaffer] who we like an awful lot and had some injury issues this spring that kept him out of the mix. I know for a fact that he’s going to be in the mix. We’ll let that stuff sort itself out.”
**McDaniel will miss the presence of short-stick defensive midfielder Trey Hunt III, who was valued for his ability to sacrifice his body for 38 ground balls. But Hunt was leapfrogged on the depth chart by Weiss (8 G, 1 A, 9 GB, 1 CT) and Nicholas (2 G, 2 A, 26 GB, 5 CT).
“Those are the two guys that we really felt helped our defense match up and gave us flexibility with our matchups and probably gave us a little bit more offensive ability through the defensive midfield,” Hatton said. “I think with both of those guys coming back, they’re coming into their own. And we have a couple freshmen that played a good bit last year and will hopefully flourish in that role and be able to give us a little more flexibility and a little more depth.”
**After the first midfield of juniors Sean Brett (21 G, 9 A) and Matt Dupras (8 G, 16 A) and Lawrence (12 G, 13 A), the offense got little production from its second and third lines. Hatton conceded that the team has to develop more midfielders to relieve some of the pressure on the starters on attack and midfield.
“Our role as coaches is to get the best playmakers on the field,” he said. “Certainly we would have liked to have been deeper at the midfield, but we’ve got everyone back and I think we have a pretty powerful class coming in that should only add to the depth. If those guys can kind of earn their wings, that can allow us to go deeper in games and maybe we don’t turn around and have total meltdowns in the fourth quarter.”
Forecast for 2015: Partly cloudy. With just one starter lost to graduation, McDaniel appears to be well-stocked for the future. The offense is in capable hands as the starting attack of Serio, junior Pat Bivons (18 G, 15 A) and sophomore Zach Monzo (11 G, 4 A) and first midfield are back. And the defense returns the entire starting close defense and Rope unit. But the big mystery involves finding a successor to Dallmus in the net. Ritchie played well enough in a few starts to gain his teammates’ and coaches’ confidence, but how would he fare as a full-time starter? And don’t count out Shaffer from trying to wrest that role away. Whether the goalie is Ritchie or Shaffer, the defense must be stronger in one of the toughest conferences in Division III.
If a 5-3 record wasn’t good enough for Ursinus to qualify for the Centennial Conference tournament this past spring, the Green Terror know a .500 record in the league is a tricky proposition to rely on for next season.