Tuesday's entry is the fifth of a series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. The Sun's men's lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 5. Monday's visit was with Navy. This is Towson's turn.
Overview: The Tigers capped a 9-5 record in the regular season and a 3-2 mark in the Colonial Athletic Association with wins against Drexel and Massachusetts for their second league tournament crown in three years. The team outlasted High Point, 10-8, in a NCAA tournament play-in game before falling short, 12-10, in an upset bid of top-seeded Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Towson leads the CAA with five titles, but is seeking the program's first back-to-back championships since a three-year run that ended after 2005.
Reason for optimism: A defense that finished last spring ranked sixth in Division I in scoring figures to be strong once again.
The unit did graduate top defenseman JoJo Ostrander (37 ground balls and 13 caused turnovers), but returns redshirt senior goalkeeper Tyler White (7.57 goals-against average and .567 save percentage), three of the its four top defensemen and short-stick defensive midfielders, and its top two long-stick midfielders.
Coach Shawn Nadelen said senior Mike Lowe (22 GB, 11 CT) is poised to fill the void vacated by Ostrander, and senior Andrew Cordes (20 GB, 4 CT) is another returning starter. Senior Nick Gorman (18 GB) and freshman Chad Patterson are competing for the third starting spot, and Nadelen has been impressed with Gorman's improvement.
"Nick's come back this preseason with a big edge and a big attitude," he said. "I don't think he was happy with the way things panned out last season, which is good. He's taken a lot of the onus on himself. JoJo was a very strong player for us for four years. Not just as a tough on-ball defender, but as a ground ball guy. He could lead the break and be effective there. Mike Lowe is kind of the next best option as to what JoJo was capable of doing, but Nick has come back with an edge. And we've got Andrew Cordes and Chad Patterson, and all of those guys are really trying to fill in. It also gives us depth, which is nice."
Reason for pessimism: A skeptic might say that the defense was forced to play so well last year because the offense lagged in production.
After averaging 8.5 goals in 2014, the Tigers scored 8.6 goals per game last season and posted nine or fewer goals in 11 contests. Only 11 other teams had a lower shooting percentage than Towson's 24.4 conversion rate (154-of-632).
Nadelen said under the direction of associate head coach and offensive coordinator Anthony Gilardi, the players taken a back-to-the-basics approach by working primarily on shooting overhand and limiting their reliance on three-quarter and sidearm attempts.
"We've really concentrated on our focus within shooting and not just trying to pick corners," Nadelen said. "It's more about with every opportunity you get, let's make sure we get it on cage and in a good spot with good speed. Our offense does a great job of generating opportunities. Coach Gilardi has done a terrific job of designing it that way and putting the pieces in place. That's something that we definitely need to focus on."
Keep an eye on: The team graduated its entire first midfield of Justin Mabus (13 goals and 11 asists), Andrew Hodgson (15 G, 4 A) and Greg Cuccinello (7 G, 4 A), and how the Tigers replace them will be an important development.
Senior Ben McCarty (10 G, 6 A) and juniors Mike Lynch (10 G, 2 A) and Tyler Konen (5 G, 6 A) could get the first crack, but redshirt junior Brian Bolewicki (who missed 2015 due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament) and freshmen Zach Goodrich and Jon Mazza could also break into the starting lineup.
Whichever group takes the field must find ways to exploit opposing defenses and take some of the scoring load off of the starting attack of juniors Joe Seider (34 G, 7 A) and Ryan Drenner (17 G, 18 A) and senior Spencer Parks (16 G, 15 A). But Nadelen said no one should feel pressure to replicate what Mabus, Hodgson and Cuccinello did in their careers.
"Those guys were really good players for us for four years and productive and leaders, and I don't want them to feel burdened," Nadelen said. "We just want them to focus on continuing to be as good as they can be. We just want them to be much more efficient in what we're doing, but I don't think they feel a burden to have to have to try to rise up to what those guys are doing. Hopefully, it will just come through naturally."
What he said: Towson's returns and strengths have been noted in the CAA, which voted the team as the preseason favorite for the upcoming season. The program collected five of the six first-place votes and 25 points to outpace Hofstra, which earned one first-place vote and 19 points.
But Nadelen is the first to point out that the Tigers could fall short of those expectations if they buy into the hype and expect to coast through the conference.