Here is the second installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I 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. Tuesday’s visit was with Navy. Wednesday’s visit is with Mount St. Mary’s.
The good: After absorbing a 23-6 drubbing at the hands of then-No. 2 Maryland in the season opener for both teams on Feb. 12, the Mountaineers rebounded nicely with victories over then-No. 17 Bucknell and Delaware. The wins were validation to coach Tom Gravante of his assessment of the team’s potential. “I was very happy with the way the kids were able to bounce back,” he said. “I think the very next game we played was Bucknell, which was ranked, and they did a great job. We beat some very good teams outside of the conference, which was very exciting and great for the program. We just didn’t keep that consistency throughout the season on both ends of the field. But I was very proud of how these young men responded after that opening game and were able to find the mental toughness to play better and win.” … Senior attackman Andrew Scalley graduated with his name etched in the school’s record books in several categories. His 220 career points are the second most, while his 129 goals and 91 assists are each ranked fourth on the program’s all-time list. Scalley, the Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year in 2010, was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year in May. “He’s a very special young man, and he’s hard on himself,” Gravante said. “I was very surprised. Teams executed their game plan and I’m certain that in their game plans, either [No.] 9, Brett Schmidt, or [No.] 16, Andrew Scalley, has to have a bad day for [them] to win this game. Several coaches after games said, ‘When the ball was in No. 16’s sticks, we got nervous.’ So that’s a great compliment to him.” … Senior attackman Brett Schmidt led the offense in goals (34) and ranked second in points (60), and his 196 total points are tied for fifth all-time in Mount St. Mary’s history. Schmidt, who had a Division I-leading 41-game goal scoring streak snapped in the team’s penultimate contest, was selected in the fifth round of the Major League Lacrosse draft in January, becoming the first Mountaineer to get selected. “When Brett was drafted, the question came up, will he be different?” Gravante said. “But we knew that wouldn’t affect Brett. He and his brother [and midfielder] Bryant have one speed. They play hard at 100 percent. So I never worried that it would go to his head and that he would not be able to handle the pressure and would spiral down.”
The bad: For the second consecutive year, Mount St. Mary’s finished with a 6-9 overall record and a 2-3 conference mark, but unlike last season, the team did not qualify for the Northeast Conference tournament, which is composed of the top four teams in the league. The Mountaineers were unable to compete for the automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament, which was one of the reasons why attackman Cody Lehrer, midfielder Eric Ososki and long-stick midfielder Mark Burns had agreed to redshirt 2012. “It’s going to hurt for a while,” Gravante admitted of being left out of the conference tournament. “I’m disappointed for these kids, especially the kids that are leaving the program because the expectation was so great in terms of how wonderful the season could have been for them. … I am disappointed for those kids, that they didn’t have the opportunity for what was a team goal.” … While the starting attack of Scalley, Schmidt and Lehrer powered the offense with a combined 92 goals and 69 assists, the first midfield did not provide the support needed. Seniors Bryan Schmidt, Daniel Stranix and Ososki totaled just 36 goals and 18 assists. Gravante revealed that Schmidt played despite a bulging disc in his back, and the midfield’s depth was sapped by a hamstring injury that sidelined senior Jake Willertz. “We had some kids that were stepping up and after having limited playing time last year, they were seeing more [playing time] this year,” Gravante said. “We had lost some players and were developing others in the hope that they would be able to pick up for other guys. It wasn’t the case. At times, they did, and other times, they didn’t.” … The defense took a step back, surrendering 12.5 goals per game after allowing 11.1 last season. Part of the problem was the carousel in the cage where junior Chris Klaiber, sophomore Adam Borgogelli and freshmen Frankie McCarthy and Will Rego each played in at least two games this year. Borgogelli made 11 starts, recording an 11.19 goals-against average and a .498 save percentage, but Gravante said the team needs to settle on an undisputed starter next spring. “I’d like that to be certainly more stable,” he said. “We sent a message to teams that were next to play us. They were saying, ‘Hey, they’ve got problems. Playing this many goalies, obviously something is going on there.’ So we need to be more consistent. I realize that, and I’m going to make some adjustments in how we train these kids next year. [Assistant coach] T.C. [DiBartolo] did a nice job, but I think these kids need to see a lot more shots out at practice. So we’re going to increase the volume, and I think that’s going to help them gain the experience that we’re looking for.”
Personnel changes: The Mountaineers have the unenviable task of replacing their top six players on offense. Sophomores Mark Hojnoski and Christian Durham are poised to assume starting roles, redshirt freshman Ryne Johnson has shown some promise, and Bryden Pelletier, a junior at Adams State who once played at Prebyterian, is scheduled to transfer in time for next season. Sophomore Clayton Wainer, freshman Alex Perotta, redshirt junior Mike Daly could start at midfield and juniors Mike Fields and Kyle McDonough could make the switch from short-stick defensive midfielder. “We have some young guys coming up who are very excited about the opportunity to compete for a starting job next year,” Gravante said. “They’re hopefully going to get better over the summer, and we hope they’re going to really implement what we asked of them. We’ve got a whole lot of points graduating.” … The defense bids farewell to starting defenseman John Anderson (13 ground balls and six caused turnovers) and Burns (44 ground balls and 13 caused turnovers) at long-stick midfielder. Freshman Tommy Ryan could start at long-stick midfield, but he is versatile enough to play close defense. Senior Brett Shukri and freshman Brent Tsang could vie for time at long-stick midfield, and freshman Connor Reilly could join sophomore Kyle O’Brien (19 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers) and junior Shane Pierce (seven ground balls and one caused turnover) on close defense. “Fall is going to be a little period of a trial period for kids, to sort things out,” Gravante said. … Mount St. Mary’s must also find a successor to faceoff specialist Jon Marsalese, who won 52.0 percent (343-of-659) of his draws and scooped up 181 ground balls in the last two seasons. Gravante is optimistic about sophomore Nick Haley. “We have some freshman kids coming that are faceoff guys, but if Nick produces, he’ll be the next guy in line,” Gravante said. “He should have the upper hand on the rest of the guys. He’s got quicker feet than Jon. He’s a natural lefty. So we might have to work on developing a left fastbreak.”
Forecast for 2014: Stormy. The Mountaineers boasted one of the country’s more dangerous offenses, but were still unable to finish in the top four of the Northeast Conference standings. Avoiding a similar scenario will be significantly more difficult with the graduation of the offense’s top six scorers. Gravante is bracing for growing pains, but that unit’s development could be a slow-moving progression that impedes the team. The defense figures to be the program’s foundation next season, but until one goalkeeper steps to the forefront as the every-game starter, opponents should still find opportunities. Bryant looms as the largest obstacle in Mount St. Mary’s return to conference supremacy, but Robert Morris, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart defeated the Mountaineers this past season and could play a role in whether the team can rebound next spring.