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Cortland at Stevenson: Three things to watch

Both Cortland and Stevenson enter Saturday's contest with high expectations and unblemished records. The Red Dragons, who are ranked No. 4 in the latest United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll, are off to a 4-0 start. The Mustangs, who are ranked two spots ahead of Cortland, have won their first seven games. Here are a few factors that could influence the outcome at Caves Athletic Center in Owings Mills.

1) Solve the Red Dragons' defense. Cortland ranks second in Division III in defense, surrendering just 2.5 goals per game this season. The unit is anchored by sophomore goalkeeper Mike Kaminski (2.51 goals-against average and .690 save percentage) and a pair of senior defensemen in Justin Schneldman and Shane Crossett – a group that has caught Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene's attention. "They're big and long, and they've got some pretty good middies, but at the same time, I'm not sure they've faced the offenses that we have," he said. "I think it's going to be a great challenge. They don't slide a whole bunch because they play great individual defense. They don't take a whole lot of chances. But at the same time, we make it hard on other teams with our multiple-formation, motion offense that we run. But they give us a great challenge, and our guys are motivated by great challenges."

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2) Cut down on turnovers. Opponents are committing an average of 25.8 turnovers against the Red Dragons. The Mustangs have coughed up the ball an average of 17.6 times, but Cantabene said he's more concerned about the location and timing of those turnovers. "I think the biggest thing with turnovers for us is, where are we committing those turnovers?" he asked rhetorically. "Are we committing them in the midfield and then they're going the other way and scoring goals? We're going to turn the ball over a little bit, and we understand that. But I think it's about our decision-making and how we play. Cortland's defense is very structured, and they're not going to go out with a lot of takeaway checks. But I think we've done a great job of taking care of the ball."

3) Neutralize the Red Dragons on faceoffs. One reason why Cortland has succeeded is that the team has won 52-of-71 faceoffs (73.2 percent) with seniors Chris DeLuca (28-of-32 for 87.5 percent) and Justin Battino (23-of-33 for 69.7 percent) fueling that unit. Stevenson will lean on senior Ray Witte (79-of-120 for 65.8 percent) to win his fair share and keep the Red Dragons on the defensive. "Ray's used to going up against some of the best faceoff guys in the country," Cantabene said. "That's going to be a great match-up. Whoever wins that match-up is going to have a big edge in the game because possessions are going to mean a lot. With Ray's continued to win faceoffs and also score off the faceoffs, it's going to be a big thing. And I know that DeLuca is able to win faceoffs and score off of them."

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