The storyline in the preseason was that despite the return of five of seven defensive starters, Frostburg State might slip in that department this spring.
So far, that has not been the case. In fact, the Bobcats (7-4 overall and 3-1 in the Capital Athletic Conference) have improved on defense with a new goalkeeper and short-stick defensive midfielder.
Last season, the unit surrendered 7.3 goals per game to rank 23rd in Division III with then-goalie Tom Kraemer and then-short-stick defensive midfielder Erik Geiser. This year, the defense has trimmed that number to 6.8 while introducing freshmen Jack Marks and Taylor McVean.
"I think our defense has been playing great," coach Tommy Pearce said Monday. "We wanted our guys returning on defense to do a good job of making it a little bit easier for Jack to adjust to college, and I think our defense has done great. I think we're struggling to find a way to score as many goals as we'd like to right now. So we're really proud of our defense for keeping us in games, and we hope that as the season goes forward, if we can keep getting better on the offensive end, we'll be pretty tough."
Pearce credited a veteran group for easing the transition. That unit consists of five defensemen including a trio of starters in junior Bradley Jones (14 ground balls and eight caused turnovers) and sophomores Joey Lucas (9 GB, 5 CT) and Joe Cooper (8 GB, 5 CT); four long-stick midfielders including seniors Alex Philips (17 GB, 7 CT) and Chris Santina (16 GB, 3 CT); and four short-stick defensive midfielders including senior John Gamber (19 GB, 5 CT) and McVean (1 GB, 1 CT).
Of course it helps to have a reliable netminder, which is what Marks has become. The rookie has recorded a 6.67 goals-against average and a .566 save percentage, but Pearce said the coaching staff anticipated that he would be able to succeed Kraemer, who posted a 6.92 goals-against average and a .558 save percentage in his final campaign.
"We knew Jack Marks was a hell of a recruit, and we were excited to get him here," Pearce said. "He had a great fall, and we thought we had a very capable goalie coming in and all of our close defenders returning. We were thinking we'd be strong on the defensive end, and to be honest, we thought we were going to be better on the offensive end than we have been. We didn't think scoring goals would be quite as hard as it's been for us. So we've been scratching and clawing and trying to figure out ways to score more goals in the games."