Here is the third 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 Towson. Wednesday’s visit is with UMBC.
The good: The Retrievers actually regressed in the win-loss column, falling from 6-7 in 2011 to 5-8 this spring. But the team did upset Maryland, 8-7, on March 6 and finished second in the America East with a 3-2 mark. “We had some real nice wins,” coach Don Zimmerman. “The win against Maryland was a terrific win for us. The win over Hartford in the America East opener was a nice win. And then the come-from-behind win against Albany was certainly exciting.” … The attack was anchored by juniors Scott Jones (36 goals and four assists) and Joe Lustgarten (8, 29) for the entire campaign, but the unit really prospered when sophomore Matt Gregoire (16, 1) joined them as starters. Zimmerman said the team’s goal production increased with both Jones and Gregoire circling the crease. “Matt Gregoire came in and did a nice job,” Zimmerman said. “Towards the end of the year, teams were starting to shut off Scott Jones and took him out of play. What we have to work on is our other players – including Matt – step up and take on more of a role if Jones is shut down.” … When junior Joseph Impallaria was sidelined for the entire season after tearing the rotator cuffs on both shoulders, the situation on faceoffs looked bleak. But sophomore Phil Poe stepped in and filled the void capably, winning 54.4 percent (174-of-320), collecting 82 groundballs, and amassing four goals and four assists. “He did receive our Most Improved Player award,” Zimmerman said. “He came in and did a terrific job for us this year. And it’s going to be nice to have Joe Impallaria back next year just to give us a 1-2 punch and to go after our opponents with two players. But considering the circumstances, I thought Phil Poe really stepped up and had a nice year for us.”
The bad: UMBC’s slate of morale-boosting victories was balanced by several bewildering setbacks. The team dropped four of its last six contests and three of its last four games, including a 15-8 loss to Binghamton in the regular-season finale that allowed Stony Brook to capture the America East title and the top seed in the league tournament. “[W]e had some losses where we just didn’t finish or get off to a good start,” Zimmerman said. “We just weren’t consistent the way you would hope a team would be. It was a classic example of a little bit of a roller coaster ride. We were up and down and weren’t able to win back-to-back games all season. That’s certainly something that concerns us, and we talked about it during our end-of-the-year meetings. Hopefully, we can improve on that next year.” … The up-and-down ride in wins and losses was matched by a similar inconsistency by the players in practice. Zimmerman said one objective in the offseason is defining the bar that the players are expected to meet. “We need to develop consistency,” he said. “We need to come out and put together a full week of practices. I think that’s the first step, to be able to be productive Monday through Friday in practice and not have ebbs and flows. I think if we can do that, I think our consistency will improve. We need to have guys work hard over the summer. We’ve put a new emphasis on conditioning, especially weights during the offseason. And our guys just have to really re-dedicate themselves to the game of lacrosse. I think this team had a good attitude, but I think we have to raise the bar and everyone needs to come back with a greater sense of urgency and commitment both from an individual and team standpoint.” … A defense that surrendered 11.2 goals per game last year allowed opponents to score 11.6 goals per game this spring. Ten of the 13 opponents reached double-digits in goals, and the last six averaged 13.3 goals. “I thought our defense started off well and then we kind of slid towards the end, giving up a lot of goals.” Zimmerman said. “But some of that had to do with our offense turning the ball over. I thought [junior goalkeeper] Adam Cohen came out at the beginning of the fall and really took charge and won out the starting position. I think that was a step in the right direction for him. Now he’s got to work on being able to sustain that focus and drive throughout the course of the year. I think our defense and our goalkeeping tapered off there at the end, and that’s something we need to develop.”
Personnel changes: The Retrievers graduate just one starter on offense in midfielder Rob Grimm (seven goals and 13 assists). Junior Dave Brown (6, 8), freshman Derek Bertolini (5, 8) and sophomore Conor Finch (4, 2) are candidates to join junior Scott Hopmann (14, 9) and sophomore Zach Linkous (16, 3) as starters, but the competition is wide open. “I’m counting on everybody who was on the team this year and guys coming in next year,” Zimmerman said. “Certainly, we’ll have some guys who have the ability. They just have to step up, and they’ll be given every opportunity to do that in practice.” … The defense loses Aaron Verardi (15 groundballs and seven caused turnovers). Zimmerman thinks that sophomore Ian Gray, who posted 19 groundballs and five caused turnovers as the primary long-stick midfielder, has the tools to make the transition to close defense. “He’s got a good feel for the game and anticipates things well,” Zimmerman said of Gray. “I also think we have some players who may be better suited to play out front just to give us a little more speed. Ian’s strengths are his understanding of the schemes and a good stick. [Freshman] Seth Mackin is more of a guy who can get out there and run between the lines and help us create some transition.” … Zimmerman thinks there are a number of incoming recruits who could contribute early as Bertolini and Mackin did. Attackman Nate Lewnes (St. Mary’s), midfielder Patrick Young and sophomore defenseman Trey Cover (Essex Community College) could get quality minutes next spring. “So I think there are a number of kids who can come in and make an impact,” Zimmerman said. “But they’re young, and being a freshman is a growing process. When we start off in the fall, we give our returning players the first chance to get out there and show their stuff. But every player has an equal opportunity to show the coaches what they can do and compete for playing time.”
Forecast for 2011: Cloudy. More time spent between Jones, Lustgarten and Gregoire should produce more points on the offensive end, but the attack could use some more help from the midfield to help alleviate some of the pressure. The midfield did regularly run two lines, which kept that unit fresh. The defense may have found its goalkeeper for the near future in Cohen, but that end of the field was a soft point for UMBC, which has fallen behind Navy and Towson in the state. One source of comfort for the Retrievers is that they play in a weak America East that went 14-41 against non-conference opponents, but Stony Brook, Albany, Hartford and Binghamton won’t make things easy as they battle for the tournament crown and the automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament.