Here is the second 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. Monday's visit was with Mount St. Mary's. Tuesday's visit is with UMBC.
The good: After earning berths in 11 consecutive America East tournaments, the Retrievers (4-10 overall and 1-5 in the conference) have now missed two straight league tourneys. The team was eliminated from postseason contention after a 14-10 loss at Vermont on April, but battled gamely in its final three games, sandwiching a 9-8 overtime win at UMass-Lowell with a one-goal setbacks to Penn and then-No. 5. Albany. Don Zimmerman, who spoke before stepping aside as coach on May 2, appreciated the players' relentless attitude, especially in the 15-14 overtime loss to the Great Danes on April 30 that included a six-goal rally in the fourth quarter.
"Being down by six and coming back and tying it and sending it to overtime, I just thought it was a tremendous and gutsy effort and really showed the true character of our team," he said. "It was a loss and a disappointing loss, but the way the team performed in the face of adversity and really having nothing to play for but personal pride spoke volumes about this team."
**Nate Lewnes sat out three games due to mono, leaving many to wonder what might have been if the senior attackman had played a full season. In just 11 games, the Arnold resident and St. Mary's graduate scored 43 goals – the fourth-highest single-season total in UMBC history – and finished the season ranked first in Division I in goals per game (3.91). Lewnes, who tied a program record with 10 goals against Albany, wrapped up his career with 119, which ranks fifth on the school's all-time list. Lewnes, who was named an honorable-mention All-American, impressed all with his resiliency.
"It's never easy to come back from an injury," Zimmerman said. "But mono, it's really hard to keep yourself in any type of condition. You basically have to shut down, and Nate just did what he was supposed to do. When he came back, it was almost like he didn't skip a beat. Just the way he finished, I couldn't be prouder of Nate. He's an inspiration."
**Lewnes shared co-captain responsibilities with senior defenseman Zach Esser, who joined attackman Brendan Mundorf and midfielder Terry Kimener as the only Retrievers to be named to the America East first team three times. The Forest Hill resident and Fallston graduate finished the season ranked 15th in the country in caused turnovers per game (1.64), and his 79 career caused turnovers are second to Mike Camardo's program record of 87. Zimmerman said Esser never shirked his duties.
"Zach was always asked to cover our opponents' top offensive player and did so beautifully," Zimmerman said. "The growth I've seen in Zach over his four years has been really remarkable and rewarding. He came in – as all freshmen do – a young kid, the star player in high school who had to tone down and learn a new system and play with a little more control. He was very coachable and really developed into an outstanding defenseman."
The bad: Failing to qualify for the America East tournament once was disappointing. Falling short twice was terribly frustrating for UMBC and Zimmerman, who did not try to sugarcoat the team's slide in the past two springs.
"Our goal is to make the America East tournament," he said. "We didn't do it last year, and we didn't do it this year, and it's our first two years of not participating in that tournament. So it's very disappointing."
**Injuries impact almost every team in lacrosse, and the Retrievers were no different, especially on the defensive end of the field. Junior defenseman Garrett Hasken sat out six games because of a head injury, and others dealt with nagging ailments that convinced the coaches to give starts to nine different defensemen. The lack of continuity may have contributed to the defense surrendering an average of 11.7 goals per game this season.
"I think any coach would like to settle in on a starting group, a starting rotation," Zimmerman said. "We just weren't able to do that – whether it was injuries or some guys who started off strong and were replaced by players who were practicing at a higher level. It's consistency, and I think consistency is the key at all positions at all levels. So would we have liked to have settled in earlier? Yeah, but it just didn't work out that way."
**A year after ranking 54th out of 68 teams in faceoff percentage (43.7 percent on 124-of-284), UMBC slipped to 67th (31.2 percent on 105-of-337) this spring. The squad employed six different faceoff specialists with sophomore Brett Malamphy finishing with the best percentage (52.0 percent on 13 of 25). The lack of success on draws played a role in the offense scoring just 9.0 goals per game to rank 47th.
"The faceoffs hurt us," Zimmerman conceded. "But I think our kids overcame that. Sometimes the statistics can be misleading. If you look at our faceoff stats, they're definitely underwhelming, but a lot of the faceoffs that were originally won by the opponent, we were able to hustle and put the ball back on the ground and get possession. That's something we certainly need to work on."
Personnel changes: Junior Max Maxwell (15 goals and 30 assists) and freshman Jack Andrews (14 G, 15 A) appear to be fixtures on attack, but finding a replacement for Lewnes will be priority No. 1 for the incoming coach. At the time, Zimmerman declined to identify candidates to join Maxwell and Andrews as starters, but he pointed out there was similar consternation when Matt Gregoire graduated after putting up 48 goals and nine assists in 2014.
"Scorers like Nate don't come along every year and maybe not every four years," Zimmerman noted. "But two years ago, we had Matt Gregoire who did a great job for us in his fifth year as a senior. It's a ball movement offense, and we like to get high-percentage shots from the inside. So there will be guys who are returning and some new guys coming in next year who we will count on to fill in Nate's role."
**The midfield lost a starter in Jack Gannon, who posted 12 goals and 13 assists. Sophomore Max Haldeman registered 15 goals and seven assists in nine starts, and freshman Billy Nolan added four goals and five assists in 13 starts. Freshmen Pat Clipp (5 G, 3 A in 14 games including five starts) and Ryan Baker (7 G, 1 A in 14 contests including one start) also got runs, but Zimmerman said a player like freshman Gunnar Schimoler (South River) could contribute next spring.
"Gunnar Schimoler, here's a freshman who had surgery in the beginning of the year and missed the first six weeks of the season and is finally looking like the player we know he can be," Zimmerman said. "So he'll be ready to come back and step up. We're losing some seniors, but I also think we have plenty of returning players and a new crop coming in that can share the load and fill in these critical spots."
**Finally, filling the void created by the departure of Esser looms large. Hasken (18 ground balls and five caused turnovers) and sophomore John Tornabene (19 GB, 11 CT) made the most starts at eight and seven, respectively, among returning players, but Zimmerman was optimistic that a number of freshmen would take what they learned in 2016 and further their development next spring.
"Ian Junge was a freshman who played for us," he said. "Cooper Cuje was another freshman, [Jason] Brewster, [Tomas] Rodriguez. There's a lot of young names. So the playing time they received here is going to be invaluable as far as them coming back with experience and being ready to step up and take on a more immediate role."
Forecast for 2017: Stormy. UMBC returns seven starters, and the situation in the cage appears to have settled on junior Ruston Souder, who had an 11.03 goals-against average and a .516 save percentage in 11 games including eight starts. But the defense still surrendered 11.7 goals per game. And the offense mustered just 22 goals during Lewnes' absence. The program has a sizable incoming class with as many as 11 attackmen and midfielders in the group. But expecting them to make an immediate impact is a stretch, and then there's the matter of finding a new coach. America East rivals Binghamton, Hartford and Vermont are also searching for new leaders, but the Retrievers must worry about their doghouse first.