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. Thursday's visit was with Frostburg State. Friday's visit is with McDaniel, which finished with a 6-10 overall record and a 1-7 mark in the Centennial Conference.
The good: After establishing a program-worst 12 losses in 2016 and winning only three games for the school's fewest since 1985, the Green Terror doubled the number of victories and lost two fewer games. That might not sound like tremendous accomplishments, but the developments signaled a slight upward trend for a team driven to erase the memory of being in the record books a year ago for the wrong reasons. The results were moderately encouraging to coach Keith Euker.
"We hit a lot of our internal goals that we had set for ourselves in terms of our ground ball play, our ability to control the game defensively," he said. "There were a lot of positives that didn't show up in the scoreboard, which certainly makes it tough. I think our offense matured a bit this year. We were playing a lot of freshmen. Offensively, we did OK. We didn't do as well as we wanted obviously, but I think despite the record, there were a lot of positives that we got out of the year."
» McDaniel's improvement in the win-loss column could be partially attributed to more production on offense. After scoring 6.4 goals per game and reaching 10 goals in only two games a year ago, the unit averaged 9.8 goals and touched double digits seven times. Euker was especially pleased to see that of the 10 players who scored 10 points or more, six were underclassmen.
"If you look at the guys we had out there, a lot of them were very young," he said. "That's one of the reasons why we're so pleased with the offense, that we did increase our average goals per game and we did it with a lot of younger faces. So I think that if we can continue to develop in the way that we have this year, I'm looking forward to seeing what next year looks like. We shot the ball a lot, too, which was one of our goals this year. The goal was to have between 40 and 45 shots per game, and I think we were close in a lot of those games. Offensively, we're still looking to develop, but I think we got some good results out of the guys this year."
» Senior defenseman Will Kroppe (63 ground balls and 59 caused turnovers) and senior faceoff specialist Zack Bicho (61.9 percent on 159 of 257, 76 GB and three assists) earned spots on the All-Centennial Conference second team, while senior defenseman Robert Breed (45 GB, 25 CT) gained honorable-mention status for the second consecutive season. But Euker said one of the more understated performances came from senior goalkeeper Brian Ruygrok, the Ellicott City resident and Centennial graduate whose 9.09 goals-against average and .526 save percentage were on par with 2016 starter Eric Ritchie's numbers of a 9.15 GAA and a .539 save percentage.
"I think one of the best surprises that we had was the performance from Brian Ruygrok in goal," Euker said. "There was a big question mark for that position this past fall into this year, and Brian really stepped up and asserted himself and really played like a different goalie than the one I knew last year. So that was one of the biggest moves for us this year, the way that he was able to step up and protect the goal."
The bad: The Green Terror's roller-coaster ride of a season was marked by a pronounced division between their league schedule and nonconference slate. They had a 5-3 record against opponents outside the Centennial Conference, but won only one of eight games in the league. The team dropped four conference games by a total of eight goals, but it was still a disappointing way to end the year.
"We were expecting to have a few more wins once conference play started," Euker said. "But we struggled at times. Our biggest issue was our consistency or lack thereof. We would come out and play lights out for a half and then not be able to reproduce that the next time out – whether that was the next game or the next half. So that was certainly frustrating, but I attribute that to our youth in the fact that we had so many young guys that were playing suddenly at a high level. So I think it was a little to be expected in terms of our inconsistency. That being said, we're still pretty disappointed with the way that our conference play went."
» Despite the overall improvement the offense made, McDaniel shot only 24.3 percent to rank eighth in the nine-team conference and 189th among 223 Division III programs. The unit shot less than 24 percent in five games, including a season-worst 5.7 percent in a 12-2 loss against Gettysburg in the season finale April 26. Euker said the coaches stressed the need for returning players to work on their accuracy during the offseason to avoid similar results next spring.
"The guys understand what needs to be corrected for next year," he said. "We're getting opportunities to shoot the ball, but we were just unable to can those shots. So that comes down to individual effort versus team effort because the team effort will get you opportunities to shoot the ball, but the individual effort has to be there to finish the plays. Again, I attribute that to our youth and our ability to mature as an offense, and my hope is that they will come around if we keep working the way that we have been."
» The offense averaged 40.2 shots but lacked a true distributor. Senior midfielder Troy Becker led the team in assists with 16, but the Green Terror ranked seventh in the league in total assists (86) and assists per game (5.4). Euker said the coaches were depending on senior attackman Timothy McNichol and freshman attackman Carson Marshall – who tied for second on offense in assists with 11 each – to be the facilitators.
"We were kind of looking at Timothy McNichol and Carson Marshall to really fill that role, and I think that while Carson certainly did a lot for us, he was still a freshman," Euker said. "I think he will develop over the next couple of years. Our offense really kind of struggled with an identity this year in terms of having someone that could really step up and really fill the role of leading the offense. So I'm interested to see who that is going to be next year because we talked about that as a unit, that we need to find our identity in terms of who we are as an offense and what type of offense we are and how we play. I think that's going to be a bit of a process because it's up to the guys to really step up and fill that void."
Personnel changes: After losing only three starters from last year's squad, the Green Terror graduated seven starters, including four of their top six scorers. Attackmen Timothy McNichol (24 goals, 11 assists) and Dylan Chaikin (12 G, 9 A) could be replaced by freshmen Frankie Kratovil (4 G, 6 A) and Bryce Brookhart (2 G, 2 A). And midfielders Becker (13 G, 16 A) and Quinn Lykens (14 G, 4 A) could be succeeded by freshman Jackson Reilly (11 G, 5 A) and junior Chase Hartman (7 G, 6 A). The key, according to Euker, is growing players who can take on multiple roles.
"We need guys that are versatile," he said. "The style of offense that we want to play requires guys to be versatile anyway. You can be an attackman dodging from up top or the high wing or you could be a midfielder with the ball behind and dodge from there. So we'll see what work they put in over the summer and see how they develop."
» The defense was not spared either as Kroppe and Breed graduated. Freshman Jack Myers (10 GB, 1 CT) could move from long-stick midfielder to join sophomore Cole Ostendarp (23 GB, 8 CT) as a starting close defenseman. But Euker is encouraged by an incoming class of freshmen that features several more options.
"We have the guys that are returning, but we're also bringing in a lot of new poles this year," he said. "We looked last year at who we were going to be losing this year, and we said that we had to beef up our defense. So I wouldn't be surprised if we had some young guys starting on that side of the field for us. I'm pretty excited about the guys that we have coming into be able to do that."
» And for the second straight year, the team must replace its goalie. Ruygrok started 15 of 16 games, but freshman Jakob Katzen made one start, finishing with a 10.33 goals-against average and a .419 save percentage. Freshman Justin Corcoran (Chesapeake-AA) and incoming recruit Bailey Gunter will vie for the spot, but Euker said Katzen appears to be the incumbent for now.
"He got some minutes this year when we were either up or down," Euker said. "He finished the second half of our game against Gettysburg for us and had an outstanding game. He has the ability. It's just a matter of getting him the experience and getting him accustomed to the velocity of shots that he's going to see."
Forecast for 2018: Stormy. After a disastrous 3-12 season in 2016, a cynic might argue that McDaniel had no choice but to go up. Still, this year's modest improvement is nothing to sneeze at. The team watched an inexperienced but energetic offense grow steadily and paired that with a defense that ranked into the top 100 in the nation in fewest goals allowed per game for the third consecutive season. So is a repeat in the cards? If so, it won't be easy. The offense lost 47.5 percent of its scoring, and the defense bade farewell to three pillars on its side of the field. Even if the Green Terror were to make a huge leap in progress, anything short of capturing the Centennial Conference tournament crown might not mean a berth in the NCAA postseason as Franklin & Marshall was the league's sole representative in the tournament.