Here is the fifth 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. Monday’s visit was with Hood. Tuesday’s visit is with Frostburg State, which finished with a 10-9 overall record and a 4-4 mark in the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC).
The good: The Bobcats’ overall record included a 5-4 mark against nonconference opponents, which put out of reach a Pool C bid to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament. So they altered their approach to making a run in the CAC playoffs for a shot at the title and the automatic qualifier that comes with it. Although the team fell short of both objectives after losing, 16-8, to regular-season champion York on May 1 in the semifinals, assistant coach Kevin McDonough was pleased to see the players return to that stage of the postseason after getting bounced in last year’s opening round.
“This year — unlike the last couple of years — we struggled a bit out of conference,” said McDonough, who replaces coach Tommy Pearce after he left June 8 to take over the fledgling program at Allegheny College. “So we kind of changed our mindset so that everything was driven towards doing as best we could in the CAC regular season to give ourselves the best chance to make a little bit of a run in the CAC tournament. We got back to the semifinals, which we failed to do last year. So I think our guys just did a great job of really working hard throughout the year and just battling and really doing their best to get the best results they could.”
» A year ago, the offense had only three players with 25 or more points in midfielder Adam Gross (29 goals and 13 assists), attackman Keegan Colegrove (32 G, 8 A) and midfielder Chase Cullison (15 G, 11 A). This past spring, the unit doubled that total with a group that returned Gross (27 G, 28 A) and Colegrove (10 G, 39 A) and added sophomore attackman Paul Ruppert (23 G, 9 A), freshman attackman Jason Clinton (23 G, 9 A), senior attackman Nate Collins (23 G, 11 A) and sophomore midfielder Jimmy Lucas (16 G, 10 A). The wide distribution of scoring was welcomed by McDonough.
“I think we were a little more balanced in scoring,” he said. “Obviously, Adam Gross was way above everyone in terms of scoring, but even after him, we had a lot of guys above 25 points. … This year, we had more balance with guys like Nate Collins and Paul Ruppert and Jason Clinton and Jimmy Lucas having pretty good years with putting the ball in the net or getting assists. So I think that was good.”
» Last season, the man-up offense converted a moribund 19.4 percent (six of 31) of its opportunities. McDonough said the coaches and players made an effort to be more effective with the extra man, and that diligence showed as Frostburg State scored on 37.9 percent (22 of 58) of its man-up chances in 2018. That’s the program’s highest mark since the 2013 squad converted 39 percent (41 of 105). The team also killed 81.4 percent of opponents’ extra-man situations (35 of 43), which was its highest rate since the 2015 squad was successful 82.2 percent (37 of 45) of the time.
“We definitely wanted to make sure that we kind of focused on that throughout the year because last year, we were kind of disappointed with our man-up percentage and our man-down percentage,” McDonough said. “This year, Adam Gross had a lot of points on the man-up offense running the point, and Paul Ruppert had a lot of goals [nine]. The chemistry of that unit really helped us.”
The bad: As mentioned above, the Bobcats opened the season with a 5-4 record against nonconference opponents. Setbacks of 13-10 at Washington College on March 3 and 6-5 at McDaniel four days later likely doomed their hopes of earning a Pool C bid to the NCAA tournament. But McDonough pointed out that five of the team’s nine losses occurred against opponents who later played in the NCAA tournament.
“We knew we were playing a challenging schedule going in,” he said. “Last year, we beat [Franklin & Marshall] and Cabrini, and that made us feel a little bit better about ourselves at the end of the year with our record. This year, Cabrini and F&M were two really tough teams. Washington College was another tough team. Maybe we were a little frustrated that we didn’t get the results we wanted, but I think in the end, even though we lost those games, those losses and going through those experiences against those teams made us better when conference play came around.”
» As much as injuries are a part of life in athletics, that doesn’t diminish their impact. Even before the 2018 season began, Frostburg State lost two sophomores in attackman Brendan McCallion (neck) and faceoff specialist Sam Natvig (back) and two freshmen in midfielder Jeffrey Stallings (hamstring) and attackman Warren Zeiders (concussion). Senior midfielder Ryan Baukhages missed nine games because of a concussion and illness, and Gross and sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder Taylor McVean finished out the season with painful ankle ailments. McDonough said the injuries affected the team’s ability to go through practice.
“I just think that overall, it hurts your depth,” he said. “I think it hurts your depth with those guys developing throughout the year and then it hurts your depth because your practice numbers kind of get sucked down a little bit. At that point, you can’t do exactly what you want every day in practice.”
» The Bobcats successfully cleared the ball 82.7 percent of the time (258 of 312), which was good enough to rank fourth in the CAC. But that was their lowest mark since the 2014 squad cleared the ball 81.3 percent (295 of 363). The graduations of long-stick midfielders Alex Phillips and Chris Santina and short-stick midfielder John Gamber were a factor, but McDonough said the players’ intent to play faster and catch opponents napping sometimes resulted in turnovers.
“I think we struggled just to use that full 30 seconds to clear the ball,” he said. “I think our guys got a little jittery and tried to clear the ball too fast rather than take their time. And I think sloppy stickwork also led to that downfall. That was definitely a frustrating aspect to this year.”
Personnel changes: The departures of Gross and Colegrove from the starting midfield are a significant blow as that duo combined for 63.2 percent of the team’s 106 assists. Junior Jake Howarth (4 G, 6 A) is expected to move from attack to midfield, and freshman Nick Gallagher (3 G) and Stallings could also vie for playing time. But if there’s one player that could key the midfield’s fate, it’s Lucas, according to McDonough.
“He’s a guy that you see flashes of a lot of potential and a lot of points, and then sometimes he disappears in some games,” McDonough said. “I think with him going into his junior year, he’ll take on more of a leadership role in the offensive end with Adam and Keegan leaving. So we’re looking for him to take that next step.”
» The close defense bade farewell to a pair of starters in Bradley Jones (39 ground balls and 20 caused turnovers) and Sam Camponeschi (18 GB, 12 CT). But the cupboard is not bare because junior Joey Lucas (5 GB, 4 CT) has started 37 games over the past three years, and sophomore Dante York (24 GB, 7 CT) made four starts this past spring. McDonough also sees promise in freshman Colson Gregory (South Carroll).
“Even though we lose Brad and Sam, I think those two guys will be ready to step in and not really miss a beat,” McDonough said of Lucas and York. “And I think with [sophomore] Jack [Marks] returning to the goal, our defensive guys with all of their experience are going to have to pick up the weight a little bit until the offense gets going next year.”
» For the second consecutive year, the defense will have to find another lead short-stick defensive midfielder. After Gamber graduated in 2017, the unit bade farewell to Brian Kilonsky (28 GB, 5 CT). Fortunately, McVean (15 GB, 8 CT) partnered with Kilonsky as the first two defensive midfielders on the field and figures to assume that role. Freshman Shawn Winans, a Columbia resident and Wilde Lake graduate who spent four years in the Marines, sophomore Jordan Edwards and freshman Griffin Ocker are expected to fortify the position, which always needs plenty of bodies, according to McDonough.
“If you have three solid guys, you’re in a pretty good spot,” he said. “If you have four, you can kind of help your top two guys’ legs. But having just two, that’s just not enough. That’s a pretty taxing position with a lot of running. They’re taking wings, and they’re getting dodged on most of the game. So I think you need to have at least three and maybe four.”
Forecast for 2019: Cloudy. Offensive balance in scoring, a key to 2018, might be difficult to achieve again, but the hope is that a year of seasoning will be particularly fruitful for Ruppert, Clinton and Lucas. Developing a playmaker to succeed Colegrove and Gross remains a top priority. While the graduation of several pivotal players on defense looms large, that unit might return enough talent to fill the gaps. If the team can improve on its .495 faceoff percentage, Frostburg State might be able to elbow its way back to relevancy in the Capital Athletic Conference.