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Review & preview: Towson men's lacrosse

Here is the fifth installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I 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. Thursday's visit was with Navy. Friday's visit is with Towson.

REVIEW

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The good: The Tigers' 12 victories were the most in a season since the 2001 squad won 14 games and their six losses were the fewest since the 2006 team dropped six contests, too. Those achievements paled only slightly in comparison to the program capturing its second Colonial Athletic Association tournament crown in three years and second in coach Shawn Nadelen's four-year tenure. Nadelen was even more impressed that the tournament championship came on the heels of back-to-back regular-season losses to Hofstra and Drexel.

"I was so excited for the guys and proud of them for how they were able to regroup," he said. "The game against Hofstra couldn't have been more of a display of what Towson lacrosse isn't about with regards to our lack of production and poor play. Credit Hofstra for coming out and putting it to us right from the start. And then against Drexel in that first half, we continued that from Hofstra and then in the second half, we came back. It goes to the leadership and resiliency of our group being able to put the last two regular-season games behind us."

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**Like many teams, Towson endured its share of injuries, but those ailments threatened to damage the team's hopes. Junior midfielder Brian Bolewicki was playing on the first line in the fall, but a torn anterior cruciate ligament sidelined him for the entire 2015 campaign. Redshirt senior midfielder Andrew Hodgson entered the Tigers' eighth game of the season tied for the team lead in points (19) and ranked second in goals (15) before suffering a foot injury that ruled him out for the remainder of the season. And junior defenseman Andrew Cordes sat out eight contests with an undisclosed ailment after starting the first six games. But Towson massaged its personnel to mix and match players, maintain cohesion, and continue its run to the NCAA tournament.

"I think we were a team that was able to handle adversity well," Nadelen said. "… Our guys' ability to move forward and understand that we're a deep team and a talented team helped us handle a lot of the adversity and injuries and some games that didn't go our way."

**In his first season as the full-time starting goalkeeper, Tyler White fared decently, recording a 9.63 goals-against average and a .502 save percentage in 2014. This past spring, the redshirt junior was even better, ranking fourth in Division I in goals-against average (7.57) and ninth in save percentage (.567). White, who shared third-team All- American honors with Bryant junior Gunnar Waldt, developed into the leader that the defense needed, according to Nadelen.

"Tyler was extremely consistent," he said. "I thought he took a lot more control of the defense, and the defense really rallied around him with the way that he was playing and the confidence that he instilled in them. He started to demand more in practice and games from players, and you saw that permeate through to guys like [senior defenseman] JoJo [Ostrander], who isn't a very outspoken guy. But you saw him really start to be more vocal and be more of a leader on the field and he was an All-American [honorable mention] for us, too, and had a terrific year."

The bad: For all of the success Towson enjoyed, the offense went through some rough patches. In 11 games, the unit scored less than 10 goals and never scored more than 12 goals in a contest. For the season, the offense averaged 8.6 goals, which is only slightly better than the 8.5 average last year's unit registered. Nadelen acknowledged that losing both Bolewicki and Hodgson impacted the offense's productivity under associate head coach and offensive coordinator Anthony Gilardi.

"It was tough," Nadelen said. "When you lose Brian in the preseason, you have time to figure it out and Coach Gilardi did a great job with the way he worked with [junior] Spencer [Parks] and moved him between attack and midfield and [sophomore] Tyler Konen playing some more midfield. When Andrew Hodgson went down, that was definitely a blow to the entire team with the attention that he drew and the production that he was having. … We took our turns individually hitting some bad spots. I think it was an issue of guys taking turns of not being able to be consistent."

**In the previous two springs, the offense had been quarterbacked by attackman Thomas DeNapoli. The past season, that role went to Hodgson, but when he was lost for the season, the responsibility went through senior midfielders Justin Mabus and Greg Cuccinello. Nadelen is hopeful that sophomore attackman Ryan Drenner will develop into the offensive leader that DeNapoli was.

"Ryan Drenner is continuing to work into that role," Nadelen said. "The ball was constantly in his stick, and I think he can be that guy for us. With him only being a sophomore, I think he's working his way into that leadership role."

**Mabus and Cuccinello were three-year starters in the midfield, but this past spring may have been their most difficult statistically. After compiling 18 goals and 33 assists in 2013 and 2014, Mabus recorded 13 goals and 11 assists. After collecting 43 goals and 15 assists in two seasons, Cuccinello posted seven goals and four assists. But Nadelen valued the duo for their contributions behind the numbers.

"They still gave us a lot beyond putting numbers up on the board," he said. "They gave us a lot of leadership in practice, they gave us a lot of insight into the team as captains. … Even though they weren't scoring or getting assists, they were still allowing the offense to move and generate and make the smarter plays. Obviously, they had their struggles, but I still think they had an impact on our team success throughout the year. I would think that individually, they're probably a little frustrated that they weren't able to do more for the team. But deep down, I think they understand they had a big impact."

PREVIEW

Personnel changes:  The Tigers graduated four starters, and three composed that first midfield of Hodgson, Mabus and Cuccinello. The good news is that because of injuries and ineffectiveness, junior Ben McCarty (10 goals and six assists) and sophomores Michael Lynch (10 G, 2 A) and Tyler Konen (5 G, 6 A) got some time as starters, and the team is banking on the return of Bolewicki from his ACL injury.

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"Next year, we've got a good idea on the guys," Nadelen said of the first midfield. "Brian is still recovering from his ACL, so we'll see what kind of form he comes back to. But getting Brian back into the mix full-go with Ben and Michael Lynch definitely brings some experience back to the table."

**The other starter to replace is Ostrander, who ranked second on the team in caused turnovers (13) and third in ground balls (37). The close defense does return Cordes (20 ground balls and four caused turnovers) and fellow juniors Mike Lowe (22 GB, 11 CT) and Nick Gorman (18 GB), but Nadelen conceded that he is looking for a candidate to emerge as the next shutdown defender.

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"As an all-around defender, we don't have that guy that we can just insert into the lineup," he said. "I do feel like we have some nice options coming back on the defensive end. Mike Lowe returns, Cordes returns, Gorman returns, but those guys have to stay sharp. And then we've got a guy like [freshman] Brett Hall who had a little bit of action and was on the scout team all spring but was kind of on the bubble of breaking through in that next mix."

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**The injury to Hodgson forced Parks to shift from attack to midfield, and that opened the door for Max Siskind to start 10 games on attack. The redshirt senior responded with career highs in goals (21) and points (22). With his graduation, Parks figures to return to his more natural position on attack, but Nadelen said Parks should expect to face some competition in fall workouts.

"That's something we'll see in the fall in terms of who has done his work over the summer and who has earned the opportunity to be on the field offensively," Nadelen said. "We're going to put the guys out there that are going to help us be successful. Spencer on paper looks to be a guy that can come back and do it, but he's got to put the work in over the summer and come back with a mindset of being able to earn those opportunities."

Forecast for 2016: Partly sunny. The current roster didn't boast a plethora of superstars, but Towson fared just fine en route to the conference tournament crown, a victory over High Point in an NCAA tournament play-in game, and a solid outing in a 12-10 loss to Notre Dame in a tournament first-round contest. And the future looks bright with the return of much of the starting attack, entire defensive midfield and faceoff unit. The key will be to further develop the team's younger and more inexperienced players, but the Tigers can rely on one of the better defenses in the country. They should be a favorite to retain the CAA championship they earned this past spring.

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