Division III men’s lacrosse preview for Washington College Shoremen

Tuesday’s entry is the fifth installment of a series taking a look at each of the eight Division III men’s lacrosse programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. Monday’s visit was with Hood. This is Washington College’s turn.

Overview: The Shoremen’s 9-7 overall record in 2017 was their first better-than-.500 mark since 2014, when that squad marched to the NCAA tournament semifinals. But as thrilling as that progress might have been, the team stumbled in the Centennial Conference, slipping to 3-5 and sitting out the league tournament for the second year in a row. Washington College has never missed the conference postseason three consecutive times since a tournament format was implemented in 2001.

Reason for optimism: While last season’s team fell short of several objectives, many of those players are back for a shot at redemption.

All 10 starters have returned, including one Centennial Conference second-team selection in junior midfielder Kevin Trapp (18 goals, six assists) and three honorable-mention choices in senior attackman Tyler Powers (36 G, 11 A), junior defenseman Kevin Wilson (29 ground balls, 14 caused turnovers) and senior goalkeeper Ben Flood (8.44 goals-against average, .588 save percentage). Coach Jeff Shirk said what he admires most about the group is its commitment.

“They care. They want to be successful. They’re putting in the work to be successful,” he said. “They’ve adjusted their approach to things. We kind of looked in the mirror in the offseason and asked, ‘What can we do better? What can we do differently?’ The guys have really bought into making the changes and worked hard to make some changes. So it has me excited.”

Reason for pessimism: An offense that scored 10.6 goals per game last spring will need some help from the faceoff unit to exceed that number this season.

The Shoremen ranked eighth in the nine-team league in faceoff percentage at .474 (171 of 361). After an injury-marred debut, sophomore Carson Metzker (52.9 percent on 99 of 187, 38 GB) will be the primary faceoff specialist with senior Skyler Clark (43.8 percent on 49 of 112, 15 GB) and freshman Joey Sivo backing up Metzker. Shirk conceded that the coaching staff has spent much of the offseason studying ways to improve the faceoff unit.

“It’s been a No. 1 priority for us,” he said. “Day one is when we started doing faceoff stuff, and we’ve been doing it every day since. You always look back and look at what your deficiencies were and what you need to get better at, and faceoffs last year were absolutely something that hurt us. So we’ve got to improve our wing play and keep our guys healthy.”

Keep an eye on: Health can sometimes play a significant role in a team’s progress, but Shirk is hoping that a larger roster might help this year’s team.

Shirk said last season’s squad had just 42 players. This spring, the roster is brimming with 49 players, and that means friskier practices where coaches can get a more in-depth look at the players they need to evaluate.

“We can go full-field and do everything that we need to do,” he said. “We’ve got five or six guys pretty much at every position other than goal, and everyone’s competing for time. The young guys are pushing the older guys. … I don’t know if we’ve had that at every position the last couple years where guys who were two- or three-year starters are now going, ‘Oh, man, I better up my game a little bit or this guy could surpass me for playing time.’ So it’s healthy competition.”

What he said: The Centennial Conference’s preseason poll had not yet been published, but considering how little graduation affeccted Washington College, the team figures to be one of the favorites to qualify for the league tournament. But Shirk said he is intentionally trying to keep his expectations low.

“I made the mistake in 2015 of looking ahead and thinking that we did what we did in 2014 and I’ve got my system in place and it works and we’ve gotten the players that I believe in to replace some of the guys that graduated and here’s how we’re going to do it,” he said. “I looked ahead and that was a huge mistake on my part because I missed some things with that team from a development standpoint that I have touched on in years past and ever since. It was a mistake on my part. So I’m not going to make that mistake again. We’re focusing on all the little things. We’re focusing on the day-to-day aspects. Yes, we’re excited about this season, but it’s a process and we can’t go where we want to go if we don’t take care of what we need to today. So that’s been the mentality.”

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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