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 Wednesday begins with a visit with St. Mary’s.
The good: After limping to a 6-9 overall record and a 4-4 Capital Athletic Conference mark in 2011, the Seahawks bounced back in fine fashion, going 10-6 and 6-2, respectively. The rebound was what coach Chris Hasbrouck and the players had in mind before the start of the year. “I think overall from a program standpoint, I think we did take a step forward where I and the players feel we should be,” he said. “I think we were a much more competitive team, and I believe we really laid some good groundwork to continue to build on for next year and the following years.” ... Considering the team’s four-game improvement in the win column, it’s not shocking that St. Mary’s rose in all 11 major statistical categories. Among the most important departments, the offense jumped from 8.4 goals per game in 2011 to 10.1 in 2012, the defense’s generosity dipped from 10.7 to 9.3, and the average number of groundballs jumped from 28.8 to 32.7. “I’m impatient, but I’m not surprised that our stats improved,” Hasbrouck said. “If we’re all doing what we need to do, we should all see improvement again next year. That’s the sign that the team is making strides and taking good steps.” ... A faceoff unit that won just 45.9 percent in 2011 improved to 51.5 percent this past spring. Junior faceoff specialist Albert Mitchell (78 groundballs and 159-of-290 for 54.8 percent) played a pivotal role, but wing play from long-stick midfielders Peter Windsor and Dalton Yohn and midfielders Gordy Long and Nate Babcock also made a difference. “We certainly want to be over 50 percent, and anything over 60 percent would be a bonus for us,” Hasbrouck said. “It was huge. If you have the ball, it’s a good thing.”
The bad: Advancing to the semifinal round of the Capital Athletic Conference tournament for the fourth straight year is an achievement, but the Seahawks have been unable to take the next step and compete for the right to grab the automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament. The lack of progress doesn’t sit well with Hasbrouck or the players. “We thought -- and I still think -- we have the talent to beat everybody on our schedule, and you have to go out there and do it,” he said. “We were disappointed in not making it to the conference final and not making it to the [NCAA] tournament. And we’ll use that as motivation this offseason and into the fall.” ... The team could’ve added two more wins against Denison and Stevenson. But the Big Red overcame a 6-5 deficit in the fourth quarter to escape with a 7-6 decision on March 14, and the Mustangs scored the last two goals in regulation to secure a 10-8 victory in the conference tournament semifinals on April 25. “I think we were a good team. But great teams finish those games,” Hasbrouck said. “If we finished those two games, I think we’re in the NCAA tournament. That was the biggest thing. When we had the opportunity to really take that step and finish, we didn’t.” ... St. Mary’s did not fare well against some of the top competition in Division III. The team went just 1-5 against teams ranked in the final United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll. The only victory was a 12-9 decision over Dickinson, the eventual Centennial Conference tournament champion. That has to change, according to Hasbrouck. “If you want to be a top-10 team, you have to play teams in the top 10,” he said. “You can’t back your way in.”
Personnel changes: The team graduates just three starters, but the biggest absence will be in the net where Stu Wheeler registered an 8.47 goals-against average and a .591 save percentage this past spring. Sophomore Zack Blewett got more minutes than junior Ben Wheeler and freshman Kevin Bolger, but one of those three will have to make a favorable impression in the fall and preseason. “When Ben and Zach got in the game, they both did well,” Hasbrouck said. “So I think it’s going to be a competition. They each have an offseason. We’ll see. I know they’re all going to work extremely hard to win that spot. I don’t want to say that not everything’s up for grabs, but with the majority of the team coming back, that’s one of the glaring pieces of the puzzle that we have to have work done.” ... The offense bids farewell to just one starter in attackman John Dehm, who ranked second on the team in assists (12) and was tied for third in points (30). The competition to join junior Patrick Mull (14, 34) and freshman Matt Tarrant (24, 6) as starters should be crowded, but Hasbrouck noted that freshman Eric Simon (five goals and four assists) was impressive in limited play. “I think Eric is going to be in the mix,” Hasbrouck said. “He’s a pretty dynamic kid. He adjusted pretty well for us. We may move somebody [from the midfield]. Again, it’ll depend on how they do in the fall and moving into the spring, but Eric’s going to be a kid that’s going to get a very good look. He’s tough to keep on the bench.” ... The defense also bids farewell to Windsor, who scored two goals, collected 41 groundballs, and caused 21 turnovers. Yohn is the heir apparent to Windsor, and freshman Collin Brown will also get some minutes there. But Hasbrouck conceded that replacing Windsor will be a difficult task. “You don’t replace him,” Hasbrouck said. “You have guys step in, and we’ll be a little different at that position. But he was just such a steady and dynamic kid.”
Forecast for 2013: Partly sunny. The Seahawks bounced back in convincing fashion, but the end result didn’t change: another missed opportunity to make its first appearance in the NCAA tournament. Graduation took its toll on the defensive end of the field, and finding a goalkeeper to succeed Stu Wheeler is perhaps the most important objective. But the foundation is there for next year’s squad to be even better. Six of the top seven scorers will be back, and the return of the entire starting close defense should ease the new goalie into the harrowing nature of playing that position. And with Stevenson moving to the Middle Atlantic Conference and out of the equation in the Capital Athletic Conference, St. Mary’s could be on the precipice of challenging Salisbury -- the 17-time league champion -- for the conference title.