Graduating the likes of attackmen Sam Jones and Tucker Hull and defenseman Nik Mullen took a toll on Navy, but it's the loss of a player who was not listed as a starter in the box scores that might be the biggest hole to fill.
Long-stick midfielder Pat Kiernan left the program as the all-time leader in career caused turnovers (74) and points recorded by a defenseman (17). Named the team's Most Valuable Player three times and an honorable mention All American in 2014, Kiernan – who had four goals, one assist, 48 ground balls and 23 caused turnovers last spring – was selected by the Chesapeake Bayhawks in the Major League Lacrosse draft.
And Ben Sampson, Kiernan's backup who posted 21 ground balls and three caused turnovers, also graduated.
Not surprisingly, finding a new long pole has become quite the task for coach Rick Sowell.
"Trying to replace Pat Kiernan is very difficult and not one person is going to replace him and the impact he had on this program in the last three years," Sowell said. "He's going to be tough to replace, and it's not just him. We felt like his backup, Ben Sampson, was very good as well. Very underrated. So the long pole position is definitely very difficult to replace."
Senior Ryan Everson and sophomore Grant Schuster have gotten reps at long-stick midfielder in fall and winter workouts. Another possibility involves moving sophomore Matt Rees, a Sykesville resident and Boys' Latin graduate, from close defense to long pole.
"They bring different skill sets," Sowell said of the trio. "We expect them to be good team defenders. … Both Matt and Grant are pretty darn good at ground balls. So in terms of the impact in that situation, they're not far off from Pat. But Pat was able to do some things that were unique in terms of getting himself out of trouble. But we're going to expect that whoever our pole or whoever our poles are – because we're probably going to play two of them – is going to play well within our defensive scheme, and we expect to be able to utilize their skill sets."
Sowell was emphatic in pointing out that the coaches are not looking for Kiernan's successor to play like his predecessor.
"With Pat, we're talking about a three-time MVP of our team and a three-time All-Patriot League [selection] and an All American," Sowell said. "So, that's a pretty high standard. So to expect whoever it is to play at that level of performance in his first year at that position, that may be unfair to place those expectations on him. But that's not to say that he can't have a pretty darn good year. We like our poles. Whoever it is, we think they're going to be pretty good."