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. Monday’s visit was with Mount St. Mary’s. Tuesday’s visit is with Towson.
The good: The Tigers (8-7 overall and 2-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association) opened the season with a slow start that was punctuated by a bewildering 20-4 loss to Loyola on Feb. 19 that had even coach Shawn Nadelen questioning the team’s mettle. But the players responded with a six-game winning streak that had the team flirting with a top 15 ranking. Towson’s ability to rebound from what could have been crippling setback was a welcomed sight for Nadelen.
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“We had a pretty good stretch after we played our worst game against Loyola,” he said. “Our guys really turned themselves around and got back into who we are as a program, and we were able to put together a good little winning streak and play some good lacrosse.”
** Not too many teams like to lean on their freshmen to contribute immediately, but that wasn’t the case for the Tigers. Attackman Joe Seider (Hereford) led the offense with 23 goals, midfielder Ryan Drenner (Westminster) ranked third with 10 assists, and short-stick defensive midfielder Jack Adams (Hereford) posted 13 ground balls and five caused turnovers. Add long-stick midfielder Tyler Mayes (15 GB, 11 CT), midfielder Michael Lynch (3 G, 1 A) and faceoff specialist Alec Burckley (45.8 percent on 38-of-83 and 21 GB), and the team didn’t shy away from employing its rookies.
“We wouldn’t have recruited them if we didn’t think they could come in and play for us early,” Nadelen said. “They had opportunity, and I think they capitalized on that, which is a good thing. We had some holes to fill from the previous year, and they had to be filled by somebody. The freshmen kind of seized those opportunities, and it was good to have those guys out there playing. But also with any freshmen, you’re going to deal with some inexperience and some poor decision-making and things like that. But it’s a good sign that they wanted to do good things, which they did for the most part.”
** The graduation of Andrew Wascavage was thought to be a huge blow for the defense, and while Tyler White wasn’t as consistent as his predecessor, the junior fared decently in his first year as a full-time starter. White recorded a 9.63 goals-against average and a .502 save percentage after sitting out fall workouts and being severely limited by injury in the preseason.
“So it took him a while to get his feet underneath him, and consistency was an issue and body language was an issue at times, but I think that was a case of him trying to get comfortable with himself being the guy out there on the field,” Nadelen said. “He had some pretty strong games. I’m sure there are some games he’d like to have back, but moving forward for him is going to be a point of emphasis.”
The bad: After last year’s surprising run to the CAA tournament crown, Towson appeared poised to repeat that effort. But the team went just 2-3 in the conference, and although that was good enough to earn the third seed in the league tournament, the Tigers’ hopes ended in an 11-10 overtime loss in a tournament semifinal to eventual champion Drexel.
“It was definitely disappointing not being able to put ourselves in position to win that again,” Nadelen said. “We definitely had chances. I don’t think we were playing our best lacrosse at the end of the year, which is when you want to do that. That’s something I’ve got to evaluate as a coach and figure out how I can correct that and find a way for our team to be successful during that stretch. We expect to win our conference and we expect to be in the NCAA tournament and compete for the NCAA championship. Our guys understand that, and they’re as disappointed as we are.”
** Through the first nine games, the offense scored 87 goals, averaging 9.7. In the team’s last six contests, the unit scored just 40 times, which dropped the average to 6.7. With the exception of Seider, the team’s offensive woes seemed to touch every player.
“I think some of our marquee guys got cold,” Nadelen said. “We weren’t making the plays in the last four games that we had made previous to that. We had good opportunities to score on, but guys like [senior attackman] Thomas DeNapoli and [junior midfielder] Greg Cuccinello, obviously, there’s a lot of attention paid to them, but we were still able to generate a lot of stuff for them. I think the offensive struggles were just a culmination of not making the plays when they’re in a position to do it, which we were able to do previously. I’m still trying to put my finger on as to why and understand why we went that way. That’s something that I’ve got to make sure that we correct so that it doesn’t happen again next year. That falls on me.”
** The faceoff unit improved slightly from 36.5 percent (141-of-386) in 2013 to 40.2 percent (127 of 316), but it still wasn’t reliable enough to give the offense its fair share of opportunities. Sophomore Conor Pequigney resumed his role as the team’s primary faceoff specialist, but only won 39.5 percent (64 of 162) of his draws this past spring after going 39.2 percent (31 of 79) last season.
“It was frustrating because I thought Conor was better this year at being able to control the ball out of the faceoff,” Nadelen said. “Last year, he was getting beat right off the draw. Conor started off decently, but whenever he gave himself a chance to pick up a ground ball or win it out of a scrum, he could not make that play, which led us to having to go to options 2, 3 and sometimes 4 like we did in the CAA semifinal game.”
Personnel changes: The Tigers graduate just three starters, but two are on attack. DeNapoli, the team’s leader in assists (19) and points (36), and Max Siskind (12 G, 1 A) leave two holes next to Seider (23 G, 5 A). Freshman Ryan Drenner, who registered 12 goals and 10 assists as a midfielder, could move back to his natural position, but Nadelen said freshmen Tyler Konen and Matt Leonard also have shown promise.
“[Konen] was kind of on the brink of playing in the midfield, and then toward the end of the year when we moved him back to attack, he got sick right before the CAA tournament game, and it kept him from getting onto the field for the semifinal game because he was playing pretty well for us,” Nadelen said. “So I’m excited to see what he does over the summer. … We may move a guy like Matt Leonard down to the attack after playing midfield for us this year. We have to see what he brings to the table.”
** The other starter to graduate is defenseman John Fennessy, who ranked fourth on the program’s career caused turnovers list with 55. Sophomore Mike Lowe (18 GB, 6 CT) could shift from long-stick midfield to close defense, but Nadelen sounded as if he would prefer to keep Lowe at his current position and see how someone like sophomore Andrew Cordes fares.
“Andrew Cordes is a guy who didn’t get much playing time, but he did some good things on our scout team,” Nadelen said. “And we have quite a few defensemen in this incoming freshman class. We’ll just wait to see how guys develop.”
** Considering the team’s struggles on faceoffs, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Nadelen said there will be an open competition at that position. Pequigney will be in the mix as should Burckley, who won 45.8 percent (38 of 83) of his draws and scooped up 21 ground balls.
“I think a guy like Alec Burckley can really push to be a much more consistent guy for us there,” Nadelen said. “His drive has got to be more than what he showed this year. He’s a freshman, but he can’t take a back seat to Conor or anybody. He did a good job, but he’s got to establish himself as the first guy. I know Conor’s going to continue to work, and I think Alec is a guy who can come in and help us if he really puts in the time and focused effort during the summer.”
Forecast for 2015: Partly sunny. Just like last year, Towson boasted one of the youngest rosters in Division I, but as the team found out, that youth can be accompanied by some growing pains. Although the number of seniors who depart the program is not crippling, finding an offensive leader to replace DeNapoli figures to be a huge hole to fill. The potential return of midfielder Andrew Hodgson, who missed his entire senior season because of injury, could fill that void, but a lot remains to be seen about whether last season’s run to the CAA tournament championship and subsequent appearance in the NCAA tournament was an anomaly or an indicator of the future. The Tigers won’t get much sympathy in the CAA, which welcomes Fairfield from the Eastern College Athletic Conference to add to a group that already includes Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra, and Massachusetts.