Here is the third 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 Frostburg State. Monday's visit is with McDaniel.
The good: After enjoying a season in which the 2012 squad went 11-7 overall and 5-3 in the Centennial Conference to lock up the fourth seed in the league tournament, the Green Terror took a tumble this past spring, managing just a 5-11 record and a 2-6 mark in the conference which produced an eighth-place finish. The team bade farewell to a sizable senior group (more on that later), but coach Matt Hatton pointed out that he was pleased to see the emergence of a fair number of sophomores and freshmen. "We were pretty young and we were certainly younger this year than in years past," he said. "If nothing else, I would say that it was nice to see some of the younger guys – some of our freshmen and some of our sophomores – step up into a bigger role and hopefully, we can parlay that as we move into the future and they get more battle-tested."
… One of those aforementioned young players was freshman midfielder Jason Lawrence. The Fallston native and graduate paced the offense in both assists (20) and points (38), and his development will be critical in the program's rebound. "I thought Jason Lawrence had a real nice year for us," Hatton said. "He's a freshman, and he led our team in points. Anytime you play our schedule and you're a midfielder and you're scoring almost 40 points, that's pretty productive. I thought he did a nice job for us. Obviously, like most freshmen, there were times when he could have been better, but it's a learning curve."
… One player often overlooked by many, but not by Hatton was Ryan Gillen. The senior faceoff specialist won 57.1 percent (184-of-322) of the draws that he took and scooped up 68 ground balls. Gillen was rarely a threat to score after a faceoff win (two goals in 2013), but that did not dilute his importance to Hatton. "I felt like he gave us a lot of chances to win some games that we may or may not have won with the way things shook out," Hatton said. "But I can tell you that if it wasn't for him, it would have been a lot worse. So I thought he did a really nice job for us."
The bad: Considering that the team had graduated the entire starting attack and two starting defensemen from last year's squad, perhaps this season's fall was not wholly unexpected. And hardly anyone could have predicted the emergence of Franklin & Marshall, which advanced to its first Centennial Conference tournament final in school history. But try telling that to Hatton, who had thought that there was still some potential for the 2013 team to make some waves in the league. "I felt like we had the talent to make a little bit of a run in our conference, but it didn't go the way we were hoping it would go," he said. "So we're going to flip the page and wait for that next group to take the next step forward."
… The offense improved by 1.3 goals per game from last season, but the defense took a step back. That unit surrendered an average of 10.2 goals, which is almost two goals more than the 8.4 average allowed by last spring's team. Senior defenseman Alex McCoy (26 ground balls and 18 caused turnovers) headlined a unit that included a pair of sophomore defensemen in Alec Schunk (23 GB, 22 CT) and Zac Bitzer (31 GB, 8 CT) and junior goalkeeper Christian Dallmus (9.62 goals-against average and .543 save percentage), but the unit clearly suffered from the graduation of Nelson Hannahs (43 GB, 25 CT) and Nick Sicuranza (37 GB, 30 CT). "I think graduating our two best defenders from a year ago as far as flexibility of matchups hurt us a little bit," Hatton said. "We moved some people into different positions, and some of those guys really excelled and there were some growing pains as well. We started a senior probably every game and then either a freshman and a sophomore or two sophomores at close. There were times when both sophomores played really well, and there were times when both sophomores were not so good. I think we were a little bit limited in our depth compared to two years ago. Getting those guys battle-tested with another year under their belt will hopefully help us get back and give us a better opportunity to win."
… The team did a better job collecting loose balls, averaging 31.3 ground balls in 2013 compared to 28.5 in 2012. But the Green Terror still ranked 143rd out of 203 teams in Division III in ground balls per game, and Hatton said he would like to see the players raise that average to 37 per contest. "I thought we could've done a better job picking the ball up off the ground," he said. "I think the more loose balls you can corral, the more opportunities you have and the fewer opportunities your opponent has, and that's a huge key to winning and losing. I think we're getting better in that regard. I think we're trying to be as physical and as athletic as we can be, but I'm hoping there will be more opportunities for that number to increase this year."
Personnel changes: While Lawrence was the offense's primary playmaker, attackman Pat Woglom was the top finisher, scoring a team-best 25 goals this past spring. Woglom boasted the third-highest shooting percentage (36.2 percent) among the full-time starters, and his accuracy will be missed, Hatton said. "From an attack standpoint, we've got to do a better job of finding some guys that are better shooters," Hatton said, who mentioned sophomore Patrick Serio (2 G, 4 A) as a candidate to replace Woglom. "… I think there are several guys I can put in that category. But it's kind of up to them in terms of what kind of shape they come back in, where their sticks are, how they're shooting the ball."
… In addition to McCoy, the defense said goodbye to long-stick midfielder Ryan Hennessy (65 GB, 26 CT). Freshman Jake Herritt (7 GB, 12 CT) was Hennessy's backup at long-stick midfielder, but Hatton said he may be more suited to close defense. Both openings will be up for grabs this fall. "I think with the recruiting class that we have coming in, I can probably give you names of four or five guys that are going to be in contention for playing time, but I'd rather not give you those names yet because I want to see what they look like when they get here and I want to see what type of shape they're in," Hatton said. "But we're really excited about some of the freshmen we have coming in."
… Gillen took 75.1 percent of the team's faceoffs over the past two years. So whoever replaces Gillen will have a significant burden on his shoulders. Junior Trey Hunt III (9 GB, 16-of-24 for 66.7 percent) is the only returning player who took draws this past season, but Zach Bicho is a promising incoming recruit who could challenge Hunt. "If he's willing to put the time in and the effort in and work with Coach [Jim] Talbert, then we feel pretty comfortable," Hatton said of Bicho. "Is he going to be where Ryan was at the end of the season this year? I have no idea. I think he can be there potentially. But it's just one of those wait-and-see things until we get an opportunity to really get out there. … I think for Trey, he'll probably get the first crack at it. If he's better than Zach or better than the other guys that we have on the roster or other guys coming in, then it's a simple fix."
Forecast for 2014: Partly cloudy. On paper, McDaniel appears to be in danger of staying in the cellar of the Centennial Conference. The team graduated its best finisher in Woglom, a productive midfielder in Skippy Clary (21 G, 11 A), McCoy, Hennessy and Gillen. That's a big chunk of production all over the field. But as Hatton pointed out, a number of sophomores and freshmen got valuable playing time this past season, and the hope is that those players will convert that experience into effectiveness in 2014. The good news is that the offense appears to be in good hands with Lawrence, sophomore attackman Pat Bivons (21 G, 16 A) and freshman attackman Zach Monzo (20 G, 3 A) leading the way. If sophomore midfielders Matt Dupras (10 G, 7 A) and Sean Brett (9 G, 0 A) can continue their progression, scoring goals may not be the team's most pressing issue. The ability of the defense to disrupt opposing offenses remains a troubling issue, but returning Dallmus is a nice start. Schunk and Bitzer will be expected to counsel newcomers and get them up to speed, and their development could go a long way in determining the overall health of the Green Terror.