Here is the fifth 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. Monday’s visit was with McDaniel. Tuesday’s visit is with Washington College.
The good: After back-to-back losing campaigns, the Shoremen surged back with an 11-6 overall record and a 7-1 mark in the Centennial Conference. The team fell to Dickinson in the league tournament final and Goucher in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but the program made leaps and bounds in returning to contention and relevancy. “You’re upset with the ending because you hate to lose in the conference championship and you hate to lose in the first round of the NCAAs,” coach Jeff Shirk said. “Once you get over that sting and you can kind of sit down and reflect on it, I think it was a really positive year for us. We’re excited with the strides that we made this year, and we’re excited about next year. Hopefully, we’ll continue to improve.” … By virtue of its 7-1 record, Washington captured its first conference title since 2004 and earned the top seed in the tournament. Grabbing that crown could have dividends down the road, according to Shirk. “I think it’s unbelievable because the guys really bought in and worked really hard and were able to be rewarded firsthand for their effort,” he said. “As far as creating a foundation and getting guys to understand how hard they have to work in the offseason, it was huge, and I think with our core coming back as seniors, I’m already seeing the leadership qualities improve with those guys.” … The team qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. Falling to the Gophers for the second time this season was a downer, but getting there affirmed a lot of the hopes within the Shoremen. “For everybody in the program, playing in the conference championship, winning a conference tournament game and making the NCAAs, it was something that no one on the team had done before,” Shirk said. “I’m excited it all happened, and it was a huge step. But now next year, if we’re able to reach those goals again, it won’t be the first time that our guys have experienced that. So I think they’re both really special. Of course, the No. 1 goal every year is to win the conference, but to also be able to play in the NCAA tournament was huge for us.”
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The bad: As mentioned previously, Washington’s final contest of 2012 involved that 5-4 loss to Goucher in the NCAA tournament. Coupled with an 8-6 setback on Feb. 25, the team’s season began and ended with losses to the Gophers. “You can pick 10 or 11 different things from that day that would’ve changed the game,” Shirk said. “But at the end of the day, Goucher’s a good team and we always play close games – whether it was two years ago when we beat them in overtime or this year when they got us twice. So I think we try to get our guys to look forward because we could keep beating ourselves up forever if we keep looking back.” … The Shoremen’s penultimate contest entailed an 11-6 defeat to Dickinson, which had dropped a 10-9 decision in overtime on April 7. Falling in the conference tournament final to the Red Devils left a bad taste in the locker room. “It’s hard because you work so hard to get so far and you know how much that game means, and you know how hard you’re going to have to work just to get back to that moment,” Shirk said. “So to lose in the championship game, it’s tough. It’s nice to say, ‘Hey, we can look back, and it was a great experience’ – which it was. But to be very honest, it stung. There were a lot of things that had to happen and go our way for us to be able to play in that game. So from talking to the guys, that’s got to work as motivation for them to work as hard as they can as preparation to get it back next year.” … An offense that inflated its average from 7.9 in 2011 to 10 this past spring didn’t get much help from the man-up unit. The team failed to score a goal on an extra-man opportunity in eight games, including the last five during which Washington went 0-for-26. “We need to be better with our extra-man offense,” Shirk said. “If you look at the stretch of games that we needed to win but were all close losses, our man up was almost non-existent. And it got to the point where it was almost like we didn’t want to go man up. We were almost disappointed that we couldn’t play even. So I think in the offseason, it’s going to be a big focus.”
Personnel changes: The Shoremen graduate just three starters, but one is goalkeeper Peter Stewart, who ranked 14th in Division III with a .624 save percentage and 21st with a 7.00 goals-against average. Sophomore Teddy DiSalvo, freshman Andrew Bolland and incoming recruit Michael Pomponio are the primary candidates to vie for the opening. “It’s one of those things where Pete was definitely the best goalie on the roster and did a great job,” Shirk said. “That’s why he was an All American and All Conference. But we have had some guys working really hard knowing that there’s going to be a pretty big goalie battle this fall. So I like where we’re at. We’re not going to try to replace Pete, but I think we’ve got some guys that have potential to help us as much as Pete did.” … The defense lost another starter in defenseman Bryan Botti, who registered 17 groundballs and two caused turnovers. Without naming names, Shirk expects several players to compete to join the returning starters in junior Michael Pierandri (28 GB, 19 CT) and sophomore Casey McKnight (34 GB, 18 CT). “This fall is going to kind of tell the tale,” Shirk said. “There’s going to be five or six defensemen fighting for that spot. You’ve got Mike Pierandri and Casey McKnight who are both starters, and then you’ve got some young guys that played well last year and got some time. It’s all going to be determined in the fall. My expectation is that it’s going to be a handful of guys competing for one spot.” … The attack graduated Dominic Serio (14 goals and seven assists), but the unit has a number of options in freshman Grant Hughes (23 G, 4 A), junior Matt Lewis (13 G, 2 A) and several other players-in-waiting. “[I]t’s going to be a fight again in the fall to see who earns what spots,” Shirk said.
Forecast for 2013: Sunny. Washington improved in eight of 11 major categories, contributing to this year’s success. Whether the team can replicate that formula next season is not as clear. Finding a successor to Stewart looms as the biggest question mark, and Botti was a stable presence on that defensive side of the field, too. The offense should be the saving grace for the Shoremen as the first midfield of sophomores Hunter Nowicki (15 G, 16 A) and Kodie Englehart (11 G, 5 A) and junior Patrick Coyle (13 G, 8 A) are expected to return. The offense also should get its fair share of possessions courtesy of freshman faceoff specialist Michael Trapp, who won 57 percent (155-for-272), collected 83 ground balls, and posted four goals and five assists. Dickinson may enter 2013 as the preseason favorite to repeat as Centennial Conference tournament champion, but the Red Devils would be wise to pay the appropriate amount of attention to Washington.