Paul Cantabene has seen his fair share of injuries. But even the Stevenson men’s lacrosse coach was dumbfounded by the litany of season-ending ones that plagued his defense.
Within the team’s first five games this past spring, the unit lost five defensemen for the rest of the season in seniors Dominic DeFazio, Dylan Harris (South Carroll) and Joe Candon and juniors Luke Brown (Boys’ Latin) and Ryan Troxell (Westminster). DeFazio and Troxell suffered ACL injuries, Harris sustained a broken ankle, Candon was sidelined by a broken femur and Brown was suffered a broken hand.
“I have never really been associated with losing so many people at one position,” Cantabene said. “We’ve had multiple injuries before, but they were at multiple positions. It was tough. I had never seen anything like that before. But you’ve got to adjust. It’s the next guy up, and we thought we had the guys to step up and help us, and by the end of the year, we had some great victories over some great teams, and we were playing pretty decently by the end of the year once everybody got accustomed to what we were doing.”
The absences of those five defensemen not only sapped the Mustangs of some much-needed depth, but they also influenced a shift in defensive coordinator Tim Puls’ philosophy. Traditionally a unit that presses out and pressures opposing ball carriers as quickly as they get into the offensive zone, the defense was forced to be more selective with its pressure schemes.
“Before, we were able to go out and pressure teams and get after them a little bit and make them make some decisions under pressure and 10-man ride a lot and cause some turnovers,” Cantabene said. “But with those guys out, we just weren’t able to be as aggressive. Those guys were all seasoned guys for us. They played a lot, they understood how to play the game, and they understood how to play in big games. And when you have to get new guys in there, especially guys who aren’t as athletic as they are, you can’t really do those types of things. They’re not used to playing, they’re not used to playing their guys, they’re not used to making decisions knowing the defense as well.”
The encouraging news is that seniors Austin Howard (38 ground balls, 18 caused turnovers) and Tom Brown (33 GB, 15 CT) and sophomore Andrew Kosco (25 GB, 15 CT) filled the gaps and helped Stevenson give up only 9.5 goals per game. Cantabene was proud of that trio’s effort.
“They did good,” he said. "Tom had to step into a full-time role. Before, he was in and out, but now he had to be a full-time guy. Austin was our starting pole, and he had to move to close defense and he wasn’t used to playing close defense. But after a while, he played really well. Andrew Kosco played in a handful of games, and by midseason, he was really playing good lacrosse. It just took him a while to understand how to do that. … I think those guys rose to the occasion. By the end of the year, they were playing really well.”