The UMBC men's lacrosse season has been a seesaw affair devoid of a major streak. The team has never won or lost more than two straight games en route to a 5-6 record.
But through the ups and downs of impressive victories (Ohio State, Loyola) and discouraging losses (Delaware, Binghamton, Stony Brook) and a season-ending injury to its top offensive threat, one beacon has shone through the inconsistency - freshman Drew Westervelt.
When the Retrievers visit local rival Towson tonight, the former Harford County co-Player of the Year will take the field as an integral member of the team's attack and its second-leading scorer.
"I expected to play this season," said Westervelt. "But I didn't expect to come in and start. I was anxious to see what my playing time would be."
He didn't have to wait long to learn his status. Early in the season - before the explosive Andy Gallagher went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament for the second consecutive spring - Westervelt did some running at midfield because coach Don Zimmerman wanted his talent in the lineup.
"I've never been a coach to shy away from starting freshmen," Zimmerman said. "In the fall, they're always at the bottom, but when spring comes, I'm a firm believer in playing whoever deserves to be out there."
It didn't matter either that Westervelt didn't come from one of the area's traditional Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference high school powers. His size (6 feet 4, 190 pounds), ability, positive attitude and strong athletic background were more germane factors.
Westervelt played at John Carroll School in Bel Air, scoring 41 goals and adding 30 assists last year for a team that won the MIAA B Conference title for the first time since 1996.
"We saw him during the camps and liked his competitiveness and leadership," said Zimmerman. "John Carroll has always done well in its conference. There are a lot of good players out there now, and you have to go to non-traditional programs to find talent. His attitude was a big component. We love it."
"The biggest thing is Drew was willing to learn," said John Carroll's coach Keith Hinder. "He'd practice and practice and practice. That was his biggest attribute."
That his father, David, earned a basketball letter at UMBC for the 1973-74 season didn't harm UMBC's case in a recruiting tussle for Westervelt with Delaware.
"I liked UMBC, the coaches and the campus. It was close to home and the fact that my father had come here made it more appealing," said Westervelt, who also played basketball and soccer at John Carroll.
His sister Jennifer played basketball at Shepherd in West Virginia and his brother David was an All-America third baseman at Salisbury. Athletics were clearly a family affair.
Teammate Brendan Mundorf (Mount St. Joseph) said Westervelt "plays hard and smart." Mundorf had seven goals in the smashing win against Loyola, partially because of Westervelt's skillful assists.
"He's a great feeder from anywhere, always a threat to slip the ball through. Or he can shoot from outside," said Mundorf. "He's also a good target because of his size and in getting ground balls, he can hold it far away from people."
Westervelt has 16 goals and 12 assists and a lofty percentage of shots on goal (almost 71).
"He's the middle man out front on our man-up offense," Zimmerman said. "That's quite an assignment for a freshman. But the most important thing is he loves the game. He's got a good stick, good vision and the size. We expect him to develop into a bull who will give us muscle. You like a player to have both [finesse and strength], and he could do that."
UMBC must win Saturday at Vermont to qualify for an America East tournament that will determine the conference's representative for the NCAA Division I field. For now, a second victory in a row against Towson is the focus.
"Playing with a lot better players makes you play better," said Westervelt. "I'm not scoring as many goals [as in high school], but to get meaningful assists or win a meaningful game are just as important."