Here is the fourth installment of a series that checks in with the eight Division III programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Friday's visit was with McDaniel. Monday's visit is with Frostburg State.
The good: After setting a program record with 11 wins in 2013, the Bobcats improved on that mark with 13 victories this past spring. Included in that 13-5 record was a 4-3 mark in the Capital Athletic Conference and their first win in the league tournament – a 17-9 throttling of 2013 tournament champion St. Mary's on April 23. It was a welcomed departure from last year's 11-6 loss to Mary Washington in the same round of the CAC tournament.
"We're continuing to achieve things that we never achieved before, which means we're getting better every year," coach Tommy Pearce said. "This year, we made it to the conference semifinals and we thought we improved our record a little bit even though we made our schedule a little bit harder. Even in some of the games we lost, we lost to teams primarily ranked in the Top 20, and we thought we hung pretty well with those teams. So we think we're right there."
**Experienced veterans like junior defensemen Zach Burkhardt (45 ground balls and 34 caused turnovers) and Paul Newman (27 GB, 21 CT) anchored a defense that was much improved, lowering its average to 7.4 goals after allowing 8.9 in 2013. Pearce credited the defense's progress to the development of the team's stable of short-stick defensive midfielders headed by senior Zach Douglas (one goal, two assists, 58 ground balls and six caused turnovers) and sophomore Erik Geiser (54 GB, 7 CT).
"I think last year at this time, we were talking about how we had to get better at short-stick defensive midfield because every time guys were dodging, we had to slide and that really compromised our defense a whole lot," Pearce recalled. "We spent a lot of time on that in the fall and early in the winter, and we kind of told those guys that if they were going to get on the field as D-middies, they had to have great footwork, and we gave those guys what we thought were some good agility drills for them to work on in the winter. We think that was a huge area for us this year in terms of not having to slide every time a team dodged against our short-sticks, and that made our team defense a little more steady."
**Not to be outdone, the offense upped its season average to 12.3 goals after scoring 11.7 per game in 2013. Six players finished with at least 21 goals and three more each chipped in 10 goals or more. Pearce credited a deeper midfield with relieving some of the pressure from the attack.
"We've had some guys develop some chemistry," he said. "In the first several years, our midfields were primarily juniors and sophomores. So those guys have been playing together for two or three years and have gotten really good at playing with each other."
The bad: Two of Frostburg State's five losses came via CAC rival Salisbury, which eventually advanced to the NCAA tournament final. The Sea Gulls stopped the Bobcats in the league tournament semifinals with a 12-6 victory that was fueled by a fourth quarter in which Salisbury scored all four of the period's goals and converted 2-of-5 extra-man opportunities. Pearce acknowledged that a prime opportunity slipped through the team's collective fingers.
"Our guys were really excited going into that fourth quarter, but maybe a little too excited because we spent a lot of time in the penalty box in the fourth quarter," he said. "And with a team like Salisbury where they know how to protect the lead, if you start playing man down and giving them man-up opportunities, that's going to go in their favor because they're pretty good at controlling situations. We certainly think that was a game we were in going into the fourth quarter, and I really hope that with the way the fourth quarter went, if we're going to be in a game like that the next time, that's not the way to go out."
**As improved as the offense was, the unit still had its fair share of troubles. Pearce noted that there were times when players would fire shots just seconds into offensive possessions and either a save by the opposing goalkeeper or a lapse in backing up the shot would turn into transition chances for the opponent. Pearce said the team has to learn from those mistakes.
"There were some times offensively when we still needed to get some guys realizing the value of the ball," he said. "Maybe the first shot you see isn't the first shot you take. If it's a save or if it goes the other way, we automatically gave the other team the ball and we didn't give our defense a whole lot of an opportunity to rest. Even with the new rules in lacrosse and the shot clock, we don't need to rush it until we're told that the shot clock is on. So I think settling into offense and really respecting the ball is something we have to work on."
**Frostburg State's 340 turnovers were slightly lower than last year's total of 370, but it was still a number that did not sit entirely well with Pearce. Those giveaways grew in significance when they occurred in the defensive side of the field.
"Defensively, there were some times when we put the ball on the ground, and any time you miss a ground ball and the offense gets it back, it's always tough," he said. "That's something you're always continuing to work on."
Personnel changes: The Bobcats graduated five starters including their top goal scorer in attackman Ryan Serio (Chesapeake-AA), who registered 39 goals and nine assists despite sitting out five games due to unspecified injuries. Serio's absence was felt in the short term, but in the long term, it helped the team become accustomed to life without him.
"Unfortunately, we had a lot of practice playing without Ryan with some of the injuries he's had over the past several years," Pearce said. "This year when we lost him, [sophomore] Nick Stailey and [junior] Greg Bourne split that role. We don't have anything set in stone going into fall ball. Some of our attackmen who didn't play a lot, we're going to give those guys a chance early in the fall to come in and make their case."
**The defense graduated defenseman Kevin Kinney (24 GB, 14 CT) and a pair of long-stick midfielders in Korey Bosley (25 GB, 11 CT) and Jake McNew (23 GB, 4 CT), but the biggest void to fill will be the one in cage with the departure of goalie Tyler Haines (7.76 goals-against average and a .580 save percentage). Pearce said sophomores Tom Kraemer and Taylor Schmitz (South Carroll) will likely enter fall workouts as the leading candidates to succeed Haines with the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Kraemer having the edge.
"I think Tom Kraemer is ready to step into the cage and pick it up, and I don't think we'll miss a beat there," Pearce said. "He's a great stopper. He was the quarterback of his high school football teams [at Parkside], and he's really organized and does a great job of directing the clears. He's a big goalie, he fills up the net. He's done a great job whenever he had the opportunity to get into a game behind Tyler. And I think Taylor Schmitz is kind of right on his heels, and if he doesn't push him for minutes, we feel great about him being ready to back him up if we need him."
**Another key cog who graduated is faceoff specialist Billy Lark. He won 64.7 percent (242-of-374) of his draws and scooped up 111 ground balls and was a vital reason why the offense was as productive as it was. But Pearce said Geiser, who won 60.3 percent (44-of-73) of his faceoffs, has shown promise.
"He was in there when Billy needed a breather or when we could get him an opportunity in some games," Pearce said. "So Erik's probably going to move over more into the primary faceoff role and not play so much D-middie. But he's a great athlete and we feel that if Erik does lose a faceoff, we don't have to get him off the field as a defensive liability. He can run transition, he's fast, he's a great athlete. So we're pretty confident there."
Forecast for 2015: Partly sunny. For a program that just completed its fourth year of lacrosse, Frosburg State continues to break new ground and reach higher goals. And the future appears bright. Despite the graduation of Serio and midfielders Andy Luhmann (10 G, 8 A) and Lucas Flaig (9 G, 3 A), junior attackman Devin Colegrove (27 G, 35 A) and junior midfielder Chris Rios (21 G, 24 A) return to pace the offense. And Burkhardt and Newman will likely anchor the defense. Yes, there are some holes to fill, but Pearce has unearthed contributors from underutilized players and incoming recruits. The CAC sent three teams to the NCAA tournament this past spring, and the Bobcats could join that group next season if they can continue their evolution in Division III.