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Stevenson men's lacrosse head coach Paul Cantabene is pictured on the sideline in a March 19, 2013 file photo.
Stevenson men's lacrosse head coach Paul Cantabene is pictured on the sideline in a March 19, 2013 file photo. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Here is the seventh 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. Wednesday's visit was with Frostburg State. Thursday's visit is with Stevenson.

REVIEW

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The good: After dropping three of their first five games to open the season, the Mustangs went on a 14-2 run, which included a 10-game winning streak. Although the team suffered its earliest exit from the NCAA tournament since 2008 after getting bounced in the second round by Salisbury on May 9, coach Paul Cantabene insisted that the school is still in its infancy when compared to peers like the Sea Gulls, Gettysburg and SUNY-Cortland.

"I thought we competed after some tough losses, and I thought we competed to get ourselves in a good shape to make the NCAA tournament," he said. "That shows we're taking steps forward as a program. We still think we're developing. We've only been in the NCAA tournament for seven years, and we've only had lacrosse here for 11 years. We're getting better, and we're still developing our program. … We're still trying to catch up with everybody else. So I still think we're on target for a very successful program here, and we're doing the right things."

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**Stevenson ranked in the top 10 nationally in several important categories and particularly excelled when it came to scooping up ground balls. The team collected 42.3 ground balls per game, ranking third in the country in that department. That success helped the offense get multiple possessions and score an average of 14.0 goals, which ranked 11th in Division III. Cantabene said the players fully understand the significance ground balls can have on the entire team.

"We think we've been one of the best ground ball teams in the country year in and year out for the last few years, and we've continued to do that," he said. "If you can't get ground balls, you can't get out of your own end, and then it's really tough to win games. Those ground balls are crucial. So that's something we've always been real good at, and I think the guys really buy into it. They understand that ground balls are an effort thing, and the effort really pays off at times."

**The Mustangs were well represented on the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association's All-American list with junior attackman Stephen Banick, senior long-stick midfielder Josh Rufolo and senior short-stick defensive midfielder Connor Curro landing on the third team, and five others making the honorable-mention group. But the leader of that group was senior defenseman Callum Robinson, who was the team's lone representative on the first team. Cantabene said the honor was well-deserved.

"I think Callum had a great year," Cantabene said. "Nobody wanted to go near him, and they really hid from him at times. I thought Callum played really, really well."

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The bad: As mentioned above, Stevenson absorbed its earliest exit from the NCAA tournament since 2008 when that squad didn't even qualify for the postseason. The team looked flat and lethargic against a Salisbury opponent that it had edged 9-8 in overtime on March 25 and was delayed getting to Owings Mills by almost four hours after a truck incident on the Bay Bridge. Cantabene said he thought the players had shown enough promise to advance deeper into the playoffs.

"It's pretty disappointing," he said. "We thought we had a team that could have gone a lot farther, and unfortunately, we didn't get it done. … But in the end, I think we learned a lot. It was still a great year for us even though we lost in the second round. Do we think we could have done better? Yes. We will do better next year, we think. It's unfortunate to lose in that second round, but we've got to earn those games. We understand that we didn't play well enough to move on."

**The Mustangs ranked 16th in the country in defense, but that unit was severely tested by the team's inability to refrain from committing penalties. Opponents enjoyed 128 man-up opportunities against Stevenson, which was the second-highest mark in the nation, trailling only Husson's 136. Cantabene pointed out that the team does graduate more than 50 percent of its penalties, but must also control its emotions.

"I think if you look at the stats, we got fouled almost 90 times, which is a lot, but I think we ended up fouling 110, 120 times," he said. "We can't foul as much, especially against the better teams. … It's just a case of discipline."

**The Mustangs averaged 19.3 turnovers per game, which isn't a terribly alarming number considering their penchant for playing fast in transition and on offense. But the giveaways were the most since 2012. Cantabene said he would prefer to see the team lower that average closer to 15 turnovers.

"I think the ones that were most disappointing were the fundamental ones, the ones where we were just throwing it around on the outside, working it around with nobody on you," he said. "I just thought the fundamental turnovers hurt us more than anything. It wasn't the ones where we were going to the goal and trying to make plays, trying to do things. It was the ones where nobody was on us, and we were just throwing it around."

PREVIEW

Personnel changes: Stevenson returns its entire starting attack, but must replace its first midfield of Colin Dabney (31 goals and seven assists), Tony Rossi (15 G, 22 A) and Billy Burgoyne (29 G, 7 A). Sophomore Kyle D'Onofrio (25 G, 5 A) and junior Alex Hardwick (7 G, 3 A) played on the second line and are poised to be promoted. The third spot could come down to a pool of candidates that includes -- but is not limited to -- freshman Jonathan Thelen (9 G, 5 A) and sophomores Tyler Fuhrman (7 G, 6 A) and Billy Able (4 G, 1 A).

"They're all guys that are really good," Cantabene said. "They're big, athletic, fast guys that can step into that spot. We've done this before. We've lost a lot of guys. On that 2011 team, we lost nine or 10 All-Americans, and then the next year, we were in the Final Four. So we can bounce back. We're used to replacing talent. We lost a lot of good guys, but at the same time, we think we have a lot of good guys back in the midfield who didn't play as much but are going to play bigger roles."

**Graduation cut deepest on defense where defensemen Callum Robinson (1 G, 6 A, 91 ground balls and 52 caused turnovers) and Taylor Morgan (38 GB, 18 CT), Rufolo (2 G, 2 A, 45 GB, 27 CT) and Curro (4 G, 6 A, 55 GB, 12 CT) have departed. The unit does return junior defenseman Chad Williams (36 GB, 22 CT) and freshman long-stick midfielder Lito Flanagan (34 GB, 13 CT), and Cantabene said the team has a plethora of defensemen in guys like junior Andrew Cormode, sophomore Brock Hurley and freshman Nick Wood.

"We have a really good set of defensemen that we've been really grooming for this time," Cantabene said. "We knew that we were going to lose Callum, and we knew that we were going to lose some defensemen this year. So we've got some guys waiting in the wings that are going to be ready to step up and play for us."

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**The Mustangs ranked eighth in the nation in faceoff percentage at 64.6 percent courtesy of the two-headed rotation of Justin Buonomo (66.3 percent on 195-of-294 and 87 GB) and Sam Wyatt (63.9 percent on 92-of-144, 52 GB). With Buonomo and Wyatt gone, the onus is on freshman Dan Halla (78.6 percent on 11-of-14, 7 GB) and sophomore Nathaniel LeQuang (66.7 percent on 22-of-33, 10 GB) to fill the void.

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"We have Dan Halla and Nate LeQuang, two guys that are going to step in and not miss a beat," Cantabene predicted. "We thought Dan Halla was going to be one of the better faceoff guys in the country, but he just didn't play as much this year. He's going to step right in, and he can also play both ends of the field. Nathan LeQuang is also pretty good. And then we have four or five faceoff guys coming as freshmen or transfers that we're excited about."

Forecast for 2016: Partly sunny. The cupboard is not as full as it once was as Stevenson must replace its starting midfield, its top defenseman and two third-team All-American defenders. The back end of the team could be in a state of flux early next season, but the Mustangs do return their starting attack of Banick (30 G, 33 A), junior Pat Candon (33 G, 26 A) and junior Matt Tompkins (36 G, 9 A). And Williams, junior short-stick defensive midfielder Dylan Muti (7 G, 5 A, 20 GB, 20 CT) and junior goalkeeper Connor Skeen (4.31 goals-against average and .629 save percentage) could hold down the fort until their teammates gain their footing.

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