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Review & preview: Hood men’s lacrosse

Here is the fourth 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. Friday’s visit was with McDaniel. Monday’s visit is with Hood, which finished 8-9 overall and 1-7 in the Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth (MAC).

REVIEW

The good: The Blazers’ eight victories matched the program record for wins first set by the 2011 squad. The jump from five victories a year ago might have been unexpected considering that the team had averaged only five wins in three previous seasons under coach Brad Barber, but he said the coaching staff was delighted to watch the players begin to tap into their potential.

“We saw something special in them, and we accomplished a lot,” Barber said. “We matched the most wins the school has ever had. We got our program back up to that standard, and we expect to achieve more next year. We were in a lot of close games in the conference. Yeah, we only won one this year, but we took Albright to overtime. That was a game where we were up by one with a minute left. We made a young mistake, but we made a bunch of mistakes throughout the course of the game where we could have been ahead by a few more. That’s a team that beat us by 10-plus before. Against Lycoming, we were up and then a little bit of our youth showed, and they came back and beat us. There were a lot of games that we competed in.”

>> After scoring a program-record 8.9 goals per game last season, Hood erupted for 11.4 goals per game to rank 84th out of 223 Division III schools. The team’s 194 goals and 104 assists are program marks. Seven players scored 10 goals or more, and nine had at least 11 points. The offensive explosion was quite a departure from Barber’s debut as head coach in 2014, when the unit averaged just 6.9 goals to rank 180th.

“The point production out of our offense, when I first took over, that was an area that we were struggling in,” he recalled. “We had great athletes, but it just wasn’t coming together quickly for us. Over the last several years, it has slowly gained that momentum. The roots have gotten stronger, and the offense has done a really great job. We’ve always had a good defense. So it’s nice to see the field starting to balance.”

>> The school had four players earn All-MAC Commonwealth honors, including three with honorable-mention status in sophomore attackman Grayson Zubradt, who set a program single-season record for goals (52) and points (60); senior midfielder Patrick O’Brien, who was tied for fourth on the team in goals (18); and sophomore defenseman Eamon Mulligan, who ranked third in caused turnovers (20) and eighth in ground balls (27). Senior Zach Kauffman was the school’s lone second-team selection as he led the league in faceoff percentage (.669 on 224 of 335) and ground balls (118). He won 22 draws – the second-highest total in a game in program history – in a 15-10 victory over Washington & Jefferson on March 1 and added five goals and two assists.

“We got one hell of a year out of Zach Kauffman,” Barber said. “He had the best faceoff percentage in the conference, and he was a huge part of our success creating more possessions on the offensive end.”

The bad: As encouraging as the overall record was, the Blazers stumbled in the MAC, winning only one of eight games to finish eighth in the nine-team conference. Their lone victory occurred against Alvernia, an 11-9 win April 8, but the optimism was short-lived as the squad finished its league schedule with four consecutive losses. While pointing out that the team is still in the process of growing, Barber acknowledged the frustration associated with the lack of success in the conference.

“We’re not far off at all,” he said. “I think it shows us closing the gap. Sure, as a coach, I want to win those games. I don’t go into any season without the goal of getting into the MAC tournament and competing for a championship. That’s our ultimate goal. … We are a MAC contender. We just have to have a few more blocks fall into place, and I think the guys are definitely motivated going into next year.”

>> Hood’s record in the league might have been better if the team had found a way to collect wins against Albright, Lycoming and Arcadia. In a 9-8 overtime loss at Albright on April 13, the team gave up a goal with six seconds left in the fourth quarter before falling in the extra session. In an 11-8 setback to Lycoming on April 1, the team was on the wrong end of a 5-0 shutout in the final period. And in an 8-7 loss to Arcadia, the Blazers tied the score twice in the fourth quarter before allowing the game-winning goal with 96 seconds remaining. Barber insisted the team has the tools to close out opponents.

“We know how to win,” he said. “At times, we have some mental lapses and some lacrosse mistakes that we make, but we’re right there. We have a lot of promise of going into next season, and my expectation is that our goal is to get to that next level. … In the last few minutes, those teams had a little bit more depth and experience to pull it out right there. I think with time and being in these situations, we’ll start to see the games and these types of situations fall our way.”

>> As prolific as the offense was, the unit did not find as much success when it had the extra man. The man-up offense converted only 27.9 percent (17 of 61) of its chances to rank 122nd. That was a significant drop from last season when the extra-man unit had scored on 36.5 percent (19 of 52) of its opportunities to rank 48th. Barber seemed just as mystified about the offense’s inability to match last year’s prowess.

“That’s a funny specialty there,” he said. “We had our best players there, and sometimes it didn’t click. We ran some of the same stuff we ran last year, and maybe it was just too old. But when we ran it right, we scored some goals. We did add a few things here and there throughout the year, but we did have some injuries that didn’t help with consistency throughout the year. So I point the finger to multiple things. It was a down year in that category, and you’re going to have those.”

PREVIEW

Personnel changes: After graduating only one starter last season, Hood bade farewell to three starters. Two are on offense where O’Brien ranked fifth on the team in points with 26 and attackman Sean Murphy contributed 10 goals and six assists. Freshman Matt Dees (four goals and three assists) could join Zubradt and sophomore Zak Kooser (8 G, 41 A) on attack, while sophomore Alexander Elliott (12 G, 7 A) and freshman Patrick Hurley (7 G, 4 A) will compete for the third spot on a first midfield that already includes freshman Tristan Moreno (23 G, 10 A) and sophomore Eddie Somerville (25 G, 8 A). Barber also left the door open for some incoming freshmen to gain playing time.

“We have some guys coming in that are talented guys, and we return some talented guys,” he said. “So it’s going to be open to competition. Obviously, we have Grayson and Zak returning, but they have to come in and work hard because we have a talented class coming in. Grayson is a talented athlete, and Zak had a great year, but we’re bringing in five new attackmen that have a lot of promise and bring something unique to the field.”

>> The other starter the team has to find a replacement for is John Hoffman, who set a program record for wins by a goalkeeper in a single season with seven and ranked second in school history with a 10.29 goals-against average. But the cupboard is not bare. Sophomore Noah Waterlander earned the win against Washington & Jefferson and played in seven games before missing the remainder of the season because of illness. And freshman Kyle Morgenroth finished with an 8.08 goals-against average and a .615 save percentage in seven appearances.

“We do have some competition at the position there,” Barber said. “Kyle Morgenroth played for some time. Noah Waterlander had to sit out the back end of the season because he had mono. And we have some talented goalies coming in. … That’s going to create some competition there.”

>> The number of possessions the offense enjoyed might take a hit after the graduation of Kauffman, whose faceoff percentage was the second highest in a single season in school history. But Barber said freshman Ben Gilbert, a Linthicum resident who won 50 percent (29 of 58) of his draws and scooped up 39 ground balls, has the inside track to succeed Hoffman as faceoff specialist.

“We have Billy Edge, who is there now as a freshman, and we have a couple other guys coming in who can serve at the X,” Barber said. “But Ben had a great career when he was at Loyola Blakefield, and Zach did a great job coaching him up and being a mentor to him in the game. I think Ben is going to be back ready to resume that role with some competition from the new guys and returners.”

Forecast for 2018: Stormy. The year was a good-news, bad-news process for Hood. The offense emerged as a potent unit with Zubradt and Kooser, who set a program record for assists in a season. That duo paired with Moreno and Somerville gives the team its top four scorers for next spring. And a defense that lowered its goals-per-game average from 10.7 in 2016 to 10.0 in 2017 is expected to return all three starting defensemen in senior James Bimstefer (37 GB, 22 CT), Mulligan and sophomore Ian Wittler (17 GB, 7 CT). But back-to-back 1-7 records in the MAC demonstrate how difficult navigating the league is. Three narrow losses might provide some hope for the future, but the Blazers must turn possibility into reality for a shot at the MAC tournament championship and the automatic qualifier for a berth in the NCAA postseason.

Twitter: @edwardleesun

Email: edward.lee@baltsun.com

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