Division I men’s lacrosse preview for Navy

Monday’s entry is the first of a series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in this state according to their order of finish last season. The Baltimore Sun’s men’s lacrosse preview is scheduled to be published Friday, Feb. 9. This is Navy’s turn.

Overview: The Midshipmen finished the 2017 regular season with a spirited 10-6 victory over archrival Army West Point that helped them capture the No. 4 seed in the Patriot League tournament. But their year came to a sudden halt after a stunning 11-7 loss to No. 5 seed Holy Cross in the quarterfinals of the tournament. Navy ended up with a 6-8 overall record and was left out of the NCAA postseason picture for the seventh time in eight seasons.

Reason for optimism: Traditionally known for crafting suffocating defenses, Navy’s strength in 2018 might be its offense.

That unit returns five of six starters, including junior midfielders Greyson Torain (23 goals, 15 assists) and Ryan Wade (13 G, 25 A). Add the healthy returns of senior midfielder Casey Rees (34 G, 3 A in 2016) and senior attackman Jack Ray (5 G, 2 A in seven games), and it’s easy to see why coach Rick Sowell is almost giddy about the offense’s potential.

“We have everyone back this year except for [midfielder] Colin Flounlacker, and oh by the way, we get a healthy Casey Rees, a healthy Jack Ray, a healthy [senior attackman] Dave Little, and we’ve got a couple freshmen who we’re really excited about,” Sowell said. “We do feel as if the potential of this offense is the highest since I’ve been here. … So we have fairly high expectations of our offense.”

Reason for pessimism: Graduating three-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Chris Fennell is significant, but graduating long-stick midfielder Matt Rees might be just as critical.

Rees, a Sykesville resident and Boys’ Latin graduate, is the program’s career leader in caused turnovers (84). But it is his prowess in transition — he is the school’s top scoring player with a long-pole with 19 points on 15 goals and four assists — that the team will miss.

“We’re not expecting or counting on someone to fill that role that Matt was an All-American at the last couple of years,” Sowell said. “That would be asking a lot. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel good about our long-pole position.”

Keep an eye on: Not only did the defense lose Fennell and Rees, but it also bade farewell to one of two starting short-stick defensive midfielders in John Trainor.

That means that the unit will feature at least three first-time full-time starters with senior Hiram Carter on close defense, senior David Jones (Severn) at short-stick defensive midfielder, and freshman Jeff Durden and senior George Uhrich competing for the long-stick midfielder job. Sowell said the plethora of four-year players could help bridge the gap.

“We do have a number of seniors,” he said. “Now some of those seniors don’t have quite the game experience as others, but they’ve been in the program for three, four years. So while it will be a little bit of a transition for them playing in the heat of the battle in the first quarter and not the fourth quarter of games that have already been decided, we feel good about our defense because we have a good amount of experience there.”

What he said: The 2017 preseason included a scrimmage in which the Midshipmen got handled easily by Penn State.

On Jan. 20, the teams battled to a 10-10 tie after four quarters. That won’t count toward the regular season, but Sowell took heart in Navy’s reversal from a year ago.

“Last year, we went up there and we just got walloped,” he recalled. “We were hurt, too. I think 10 or 11 of our guys were missing from that scrimmage. But we got walloped, and it kind of unfortunately set the tone for the rest of our season where we were just kind of up and down. So we felt like we wanted to go up there in our opening scrimmage and really set the tone in a much different way this time around, and at the very least, I think we did.”

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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