No. 9 Tufts and No. 2 Stevenson have split the last two meetings. The 2010 national champion Jumbos outlasted a 1-hour, 45-minute lightning delay and the Mustangs to escape with a 14-13 win in 2011. Last year, Stevenson returned the favor with a 9-5 victory. Tufts (1-2) dropped the first two games of the season, but lodged an 18-14 upset of then-No. 4 Stevens Tech last Saturday as the team welcomed back 27 players who were serving a two-game suspension for assailing a women’s volleyball game with sexist and racist comments. The Mustangs (6-0) have won their last three contests by a combined score of 45-15 since edging No. 4 Rochester Institute of Technology, 12-11, in overtime on Feb. 27. Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills on Tuesday night.
1) Tufts on faceoffs. The Jumbos sorely miss Nick Rhoads, who won 59.1 percent (282-of-477) of the faceoffs he took last season. This spring, the team is winning just 40.4 percent (38-of-94) of those draws, but as Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene pointed out, Rhoads helped Tufts win 11-of-16 faceoffs in last year’s meeting, but the Mustangs earned the win. “It’s going to be an important part of the battle,” Cantabene said, noting that sophomore Sam Wyatt (71-of-105) and junior Brent Hiken (23-of-31) have combined to win 69.1 percent of the draws they’ve taken. “They did a good job against Stevens in getting some offense off the faceoffs at times, and they’re good at forcing turnovers off faceoffs. So we’re going to have to be strong there and make sure that we clear the ball the first time when we get the faceoff and make them pay for losing faceoffs. That’s going to be hopefully an advantage, but facing off is different every game.”
2) Stevenson on defense. The Mustangs are tied for 35th in defense, allowing just 7.0 goals per game this season. As noted before, the Jumbos lit up Stevens Tech for a season-high 18 goals, but coach Mike Daly said matching up against Stevenson will be a different challenge. “Stevenson is a great defensive team. I don’t think they get enough credit for that,” he said. “We came down here last year and scored five goals. We’ve got to do a better job executing when given our opportunities, and our 18 goals on Saturday were [a product of] our defense and our faceoff unit competing and working hard and giving our offense those opportunities. Stevenson last year did a great job of limiting our opportunities and denying us those opportunities. So we’ve got to create opportunities and then maximize and execute those opportunities.”
3) Tufts on freshness. Daly is partially worried about Tufts’ chemistry in just the team’s second game together as a full squad. But Cantabene speculated that the Mustangs’ advantage in game experience may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. “This will be our seventh game, and this will be their guys’ second game. They’re a little fresher than us,” he said. “We’re kind of into the grind and into the season a little bit longer. So we’ve got a few more bumps and bruises along the way, but we’ll see. I don’t think it’s a measuring stick. I think it’s just two good teams getting after each other, and this game could go either way. We could blow each other out or it could be a one-goal game. I think it’s going to be a real good game. Any time we get together, the past two years have shown that it’s going to be a great game and either team can win.”