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 Navy. Tuesday's visit is with Mount St. Mary's, which finished with a 4-10 overall record and a 1-5 mark in the Northeast Conference.
The good: The Mountaineers opened their schedule with four consecutive losses to Delaware, Towson, Richmond and Furman, and all within the friendly confines of Waldron Family Stadium in Emmitsburg. But they bounced back with an 18-7 rout at Bellarmine on March 11 and then opened their Northeast Conference schedule with a 6-5 decision over Bryant – the league tournament's eventual winner and NCAA participant – seven days later. The Bulldogs would lose to only two conference rivals, Hobart and Mount St. Mary's. Coach Tom Gravante said the victory over the Knights was crucial at that time.
"It really started with the Bellarmine game over spring break," Gravante recalled. "That was our first win after a tough start, and we just kept moving forward. … And always starting with a win in the conference is good for any team. It just puts you ahead of other teams in the conference."
>>The Mountaineers have not been shy about playing freshmen, which they did for the second consecutive year. Attackman Brenden McCarthy had nine goals and 10 assists in 13 games, including six starts; midfielder Matt Haggerty had four goals and five assists in 14 games, including eight starts; midfielder Joe Bethke had four goals and three assists in 10 games, including six starts; and defenseman Joshua Davies had eight ground balls and four caused turnovers in 10 appearances, including four starts. And there were several others who contributed quickly in their college debuts.
"I think that we showed a lot of promise in our underclassmen, which certainly makes the future look bright," Gravante said. "I think that our underclassmen have shown a lot of promise, and we're excited about them, and we're excited about our incoming freshman class."
>>After amassing seven goals, six assists, 47 ground balls and 21 caused turnovers en route to being named to the Northeast Conference's All-Rookie team in 2016, Jack Mangan outdid himself as a sophomore. Making the switch from short-stick defensive midfielder to offensive midfielder, Mangan led the team in assists with 11 and ranked third in points with 24 and fourth in goals with 13. And he led Mount St. Mary's in ground balls with 49 thanks to his effort on wings on faceoffs.
"Jack Mangan always stands out to us," Gravante said. "He's a young man that doesn't take a play off. So we're very excited about him, and we're trying to get more players onboard."
The bad: As thrilling as that win against Bryant was, the rest of the conference schedule was not kind to the Mountaineers, who failed to win another league game the rest of the season. An 11-10 overtime loss at Robert Morris on March 25 proved especially devastating as the team could not protect two one-goal leads in the fourth quarter. It marked the second consecutive year that a setback to the Colonials sent Mount St. Mary's into a tailspin.
"In the long run, it ended up disappointing when we think about the season and try to figure out at what point it turned on us," Gravante said. "We just felt that two years in a row, that RMU game was physically and mentally draining to us, that we couldn't fight through that and get back on track. After Robert Morris, we faced Sacred Heart, and had we beaten Sacred Heart, we would've been 2-1 and back on track, but we couldn't recover. These are memories that we're going to have to hold on to and make sure that we address them going into next season."
>>An offense that graduated three starters in attackman Mark Hojnoski and midfielders Justin Gosnell (Havre de Grace) and Evan Gormley did not appear to fully recover from those blows. After averaging 9.6 goals last spring, the unit's production dropped to 8.8 this season. And the defense did not go unscathed either, surrendering 11.4 goals per game compared with 10.1 goals a year ago. The struggles on both ends of the field frustrated Gravante and the coaching staff.
"I'm not going to point the finger at either, but we realize as a staff that the job in both areas wasn't done as well as it needs to be done to win ballgames," he said. "In our end-of-the-year meetings, we addressed this with our players and said that there has to be an uptick. … We didn't put enough points on the board to win a ballgame versus what happened on the other side of the field with our defense. There were times when we shut teams down to less than nine goals, but we couldn't score more than nine. And when we scored more than nine, we couldn't shut them down to less than nine."
>>After graduating Nick Haley and Mike Celmer who each won more than 50 percent of his faceoffs in the past two seasons, the Mountaineers clearly missed their presence this spring. Freshman Shawn Raum was the team's leader with a 40.1 success rate (75 of 187), while sophomore Shawn Milione was not too far behind at 37.3 percent (44 of 118). Although they combined for only 23 ground balls, Gravante said he anticipated a drop-off because of their youth and inexperience.
"Shawn Raum did a nice job as a freshman, and there's a lot of promise there," he said. "But we knew that there were more mature players on other teams that we were going to face. And Shawn Milione was really a freshman at the faceoff X even though he was a sophomore. So we did as best as we could in trying to develop these young men in the battle, and they did a nice job. We knew that we were up against the competition with more experience on the other team."
Personnel changes: The attack graduates a pair of starters in Bubba Johnson (22 goals, 10 assists) and Spencer Smith (11 G, 3 A), and it appears that McCarthy will fill one spot. Sophomore Austin Short could be a candidate to join McCarthy and sophomore Chris DiPretoro (29 G, 9 A). But the bigger issue is, who will replace Johnson as the offense's facilitator?
"Filling that spot is going to be in question," Gravante acknowledged. "There was a lot of promise from Brenden McCarthy. Chris DiPretoro has some really great ability. And we have some freshmen coming in that show a lot of promise. The fall will give us some indication of what the future looks like for the spring."
>>The midfield lost one starter in Ryan Lamon (14 G, 4 A) to graduation. But freshman Brendan Doyle is poised to replace Lamon. Doyle had six goals and two assists in 14 games, and like Lamon, he is a left-handed shooter who could easily join Mangan and Bethke on that first line.
"It's nice to have another lefty come back in Doyle," Gravante said. "Brendan saw some limited time here and there, and he did a nice job as a freshman and got some experience underneath him. So we're looking for a bigger season from that young man next year."
>>The only loss on defense is long-stick midfielder Tommy Lyons, who scooped up 31 ground balls and caused nine turnovers. Junior Spenser Urban (4 GB, 4 CT) backed up Lyons at long-pole, but Gravante said defensive coordinator-associate head coach Tim McIntee prefers to move Urban back to close defense. Sophomore Robert Beckwith (5 GB, 4 CT) is a candidate, but Gravante said it would not be a surprise if redshirt senior Kevin Verkler, who had 24 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers this spring, made the transition from close defenseman to long-stick midfielder.
"Kevin can pick up a ground ball," Gravante said. "He doesn't have tremendous foot speed, but he's got enough to get in there. He's solid and a strong kid. … When we double-poled, Kevin would be the guy that we moved up with Tommy Lyons."
Forecast for 2018: Stormy. In addition to Verkler, Mount St. Mary's returns senior short-stick defensive midfielder Mike Pascali, who had eight ground balls and two caused turnovers in three games but was lost for the remainder of the season because of an unspecified injury. But as noted above, the defense was a bit too generous. Can a unit that returns pretty much intact make the necessary changes to be more frugal? And the offense finished in the bottom third of major categories such as scoring (56th), shooting percentage (53rd) and assists per game (50th). Locating and developing an offensive quarterback would appear to be a high priority. And both units need some assistance from the faceoff play, which can provide the offense with more opportunities and keep the pressure off the defense. If those areas don't improve, earning a spot in the Northeast Conference tournament could be a far-fetched proposition.