Here is the opening 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. So Tuesday begins with a visit with Navy.
The good: In a season littered with more disappointments than successes, there were a few bright spots, and one was the play of Pat Kiernan. The junior long-stick midfielder scored just one goal and added zero assists after recording seven and three, respectively, in 2012, but he raised his ground ball total to 68 from 36 and his caused turnover total to 26 from 14. “Pat’s a special player, our most consistent player, our best player,” coach Rick Sowell said. “He took the next step. Last year, he had a real good year, and this year, he increased his ground balls and caused turnovers. We’re excited to have him back for another year.” … With junior attackman Tucker Hull sliding back after an eye-opening sophomore campaign, junior attackman Sam Jones capably filled the void. The Annapolis native and Severna Park graduate paced the offense in goals (21) and assists (12), but Sowell said observers should not have been surprised by Jones’ results. “Sam was Sam,” Sowell said. “I don’t think much changed in terms of the effort he gives on a playing field. He’s a year older, of course. But it’s just him being a year older, a year wiser. He brought that same energy a year ago, and that’s just who he is. I don’t see that changing.” … In the preseason, Sowell had sounded guardedly optimistic that Gabe Voumard would flourish as a starter, and the sophomore midfielder racked up 15 goals and five assists this season. He scored a career-high four goals in the team’s 10-9 loss to Fairfield on Feb. 19 and then tallied three in a 15-4 setback to then-No. 13 Johns Hopkins in the team’s regular-season finale on April 20. “He certainly showed signs of being the type of player we thought he could be,” Sowell said. “I think of the Fairfield game when he had four goals and then the game against Hopkins, he had three goals. So we think a lot of Gabe and we think these next two years, he will be one of the better players in the league and one of the better players in the country.”
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The bad: The worst season in program history (3-10 overall and 1-5 in the Patriot League and a seven-game losing streak) was exacerbated by an offense that lacked the necessary firepower to compete. After averaging 9.1 goals last season, the unit dropped to 7.9 this year, which ranked 58th out of 63 teams in Division I. While troubled by the lack of production, Sowell preached patience. “There are obviously some things that we will do differently than we did this year,” he said. “But a lot of it is just staying the course. We feel like we have some good pieces to the puzzle, and we’ll just continue to work hard. We look forward to next year, and we expect things to be better.” … The offense didn’t get much help from the faceoff unit, which won just 45.8 percent (126-of-275). Inside Lacrosse ran a couple articles during the season on how faceoff wins don’t necessarily translate into victories, but Sowell said he’d rather be on the side of faceoff success. “I think the stats have proven that the longer you play defense, the more vulnerable you become,” he said. “It just wears on you, and I think that certainly has an effect on your defense. I would certainly prefer to win more faceoffs than lose them and take my chances starting on offense versus having to start on defense.” … The Midshipmen were one of the five worst teams in the country in protecting the ball, committing an average of 16.1 turnovers to rank 45th. But the team turned the ball over fewer than 10 times in each of its last two contests, providing a slight silver lining. “If you look at the last couple games, we were under double digits,” Sowell said. “That was something that was good to see from that standpoint. Next year, that’s something we’re going to have to make sure that we’re keeping those turnovers down.”
Personnel changes: Navy graduates just one of its top six offensive starters in midfielder Bryce Dabbs (eight goals and six assists). Senior Erik Hoffstadt (5, 2) could join Voumard and junior Pat Durkin (11, 2) as starters, but junior Austin Heneveld (7, 5) and freshman Pat Keena (3, 4) could make the transition from attack. “There’s a number of guys that will be battling for not just that third spot on the midfield, but the second midfield as well,” Sowell said. “You’ve got [freshman] Kevin Wendel, Pat Keena, Austin Heneveld, Erik Hoffstadt, and there could be a couple young men playing at NAPS [Naval Academy Preparatory School] right now that could get in the mix. There’s a number of players who will be competing for playing time.” … The starting defense bids farewell to defensemen Austin Miller (48 ground balls and 30 caused turnovers) and Jay Christopher (12, 3). Junior Ben Sampson (11, 2) could make the switch from long-stick midfielder, but Sowell is hoping that freshman Jules Godino (7, 4) and some unheralded teammates will emerge. “Jules Godino was a plebe who was able to get plenty of playing time this season, and we think an awful lot of Jules,” Sowell said. “And there’s a number of defensemen who will be fighting for playing time. Some are at NAPS and some are on the roster. But those will sort out in the fall.” … After three years of R.J. Wickham and one season of Nolan Hickey, Navy will have to find a new goalkeeper. John Connors, an Under Armour All American in 2011, would appear to be poised to succeed Hickey (10.38 goals-against average and .530 save percentage), but Sowell wasn’t ready to make that commitment just yet. “Paul Zimmerman will be a senior,” Sowell said. “He’s improved steadily throughout the past couple of years, and he’ll certainly be in the mix. I suspect that it will be a competition that may not get settled until next January in the preseason.”
Outlook for 2014: Stormy. An offense that was supposed to be improved rarely materialized, and the same personnel (with the exception of Dabbs) is set to return for 2014. The offense’s struggles placed an enormous burden on the defense, which held its own, but eventually caved in to the pressure of trying to deny Top 20 opponents like Maryland, Johns Hopkins and Lehigh. As ineffective as the faceoff unit was, the graduation of Evan McGoogan (46.5 percent on 74-of-159 and 35 ground balls) puts the onus on freshmen Sean Reilly (50.0 percent on 31-of-62, seven ground balls) and Ted Demiris and junior Carlos Hargett to develop over the offseason and seize the starting role. The Midshipmen fell to sixth place in the Patriot League and may be hard-pressed to leapfrog the likes of Lehigh, Bucknell, Army, Colgate and even Holy Cross in an attempt to return to conference supremacy. And don’t forget that Loyola, 2012 national champion joins the league next season.