By Edward Lee
8:00 AM EDT, June 28, 2012
Here is the seventh 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. Wednesday’s visit was with Goucher. Thursday’s visit is with Stevenson.
The good: After the Mustangs bade farewell to seven starters and did not return another first-line midfielder in sophomore Tony Rossi, conventional wisdom suggested that this team would be in the midst of a rebuilding mode. But the squad defied those expectations by compiling an 18-5 overall record, a 7-1 mark in the Capital Athletic Conference and a berth in the NCAA tournament semifinals. “To tell you the truth, we came in without really knowing because we did lose so much,” coach Paul Cantabene said. “We didn’t know who was going to step up and who wasn’t. So we knew we had a lot of challenges in losing all of those guys who were such great players for us. But we think we did a good job with them. I think my assistant coaches did a great job, and we got a lot out of this team – probably a lot more than people thought we could’ve. I thought the freshmen really stepped up, some of the new guys who had never played before stepped up, and I think our defense was tremendous.” … Stevenson’s appearance in the NCAA tournament semifinals was also stunning because last year’s squad – the one that led Division III in scoring with an average of 16.6 goals and boasted the Outstanding Player of the Year in attackman Jimmy Dailey and the Outstanding Defensive Player in defenseman Evan Douglass – fell to Roanoke in the quarterfinal round. The key this past spring was a unique chemistry among the players. “There were no superstars,” Cantabene said. “Nobody wanted all the credit. It didn’t matter who scored the goals. There were no selfish incidents at all. It was great. So that really made for a great team, and I think this team learned and they’re willing to learn. Sometimes when you have a bunch of superstars, they’re not willing to learn as much. They were eager to continue the legacy that the other teams had left. The last three or four years, we’ve had some great teams here, and they didn’t want to see that legacy really go away.” … A defense that bade farewell to Douglass and two other starting defensemen in Kyle Menendez and Ian Hart was even better this season. Starters Kyle Holechek (79 groundballs and 54 caused turnovers), Kyle Fendlay (72 GB, 31 CT) and Parker Bratton (50 GB, 31 CT) contributed to a unit that surrendered just 6.1 goals per game, which was eight-tenths of a point better than last year’s defense. Cantabene said some of the credit should also go to a trio of short-stick defensive midfielders in senior Andrew McCrumb (28 GB, 21 CT and two goals), junior Peter Green (47 GB, 21 CT, five goals and four assists) and freshman Connor Curro (41 GB, 5 CT). “Those guys were excellent all year, and when your short sticks don’t get beat, you don’t have to slide as much, and that makes it a lot easier to play defense,” Cantabene said. “So we thought our defense was outstanding all year.”
The bad: The Mustangs reached the NCAA tournament semifinal for the third time in the last four years – and was bounced from the tourney by Salisbury for the third time in the last four years. Cantabene appreciated the team’s effort to get to that stage, but he also said not getting to the championship final was disappointing. “I think we have to win those games,” he said. “I think we were put in a position to do that. We just have to be able to make the tough plays. I thought at times, we came really close to doing that. … I think our team’s learning how you’ve got to play in those games in order to win those games. I think we’ve just got to be a little tougher in those games to make those plays and that’s really what was the difference between us and them.” … Of the 18 victories the team accumulated, one that eluded Stevenson occurred on April 14. The team owned a 9-3 advantage with 52 seconds left in the third quarter and a 10-8 lead with 5:28 remaining in the fourth period, but couldn’t prevent the Sea Gulls from escaping with an 11-10 decision. All five of the Mustangs’ losses came at the hands of the top three teams in the country in No. 1 Salisbury, No. 2 SUNY-Cortland and No. 3 Lynchburg. “[W]e were right there,” Cantabene said. “We’re still really happy with what we did, and even though we lost five games – which is more than we lost in the last three years – we only lost to the top three teams in the country. I still think we’re playing a pretty good brand of lacrosse. We’ve just got to get a little tougher in those games that matter.” … A dropoff in offense was expected after the toll graduation took, but the unit struggled in the early stages. The offensive players scored 9.7 goals per game in the first 10 contests before raising their average to 11.3 in the final 13 games. Cantabene said the players’ unfamiliarity with the offensive schemes contributed to the struggles. “With them learning how to play our motion offense and learning how to play together, we really struggled, especially the freshmen,” he said. “But by the sixth or seventh game of the season, I think we hit our stride there. … Once we were able to get going, I think it really helped our defense out a lot. It made it a lot easier in most of these games. But it took a while.”
Personnel changes: Stevenson graduated just three starters, but two involve midfielders Justin Lea (29 goals and four assists) and Nick Rossi (20 G, 9 A). Cantabene said freshman Billy Burgoyne (13 G, 3 A) and Curro could fill those holes. “We’ve got some guys coming back that are going to be real athletic and very good in the midfield and work big and fast,” Cantabene said. “I don’t think we’re going to really replace them, but I do think we’re getting some guys that are going to do their thing, and I think we’ll be pretty good there.” … Another option could involve moving sophomore Chris Dashiell (22 G, 27 A) from attack to midfield, where he registered eight goals and 12 assists as a freshman. But Cantabene plans to wait a bit before making that move. “We’ll see what we’ve got in who we’ve got coming in and some of the freshmen,” he said. “Chris is such a great kid that he’ll play anywhere we ask him to. He has no problems with that. We think he likes attack, but he’s going to do what’s best for the team. So he’ll start out on attack, and we’ll see where it goes from there.” … The defense will have to find a new goalkeeper to succeed Ian Bolland (6.28 goals-against average and .579 save percentage). Cantabene said a pair of incoming recruits will join sophomore Colin Rayburn and freshman Kevin Cain as candidates for the starting job. “I think Kevin Cain had a tremendous year for us as a freshman,” Cantabene said. “Colin Rayburn had a great year as a sophomore. They’re two kids that played really great in practice. They just don’t have Ian’s experience. … I think we’ll give those guys every opportunity to see who’s the best and go from there.”
Forecast for 2013: Sunny. The question marks that dogged the Mustangs at the end of 2011 are not as frequent this offseason. Filling the void created by the departure of Bolland is significant, and the loss of Lea and Rossi would not appear to be a remedy for an offense that was unable to find its footing until the latter half of the season. But junior Tyler Reid (33 G, 14 A) and Dashiell return on attack and if freshman Stephen Banick (36 G, 27 A) isn’t slowed by his recovery from a broken leg in the loss to Salisbury in the NCAA tournament semifinal, the attack becomes even more potent. The defense figures to be the strength of next year’s squad, and Stevenson should be the unanimous preseason favorite to capture the Middle Atlantic Conference.
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