Division III men’s lacrosse preview for Goucher Gophers

The return of an experienced defense and a large senior class make up the foundation for Goucher as the program attempts to earn a berth in the Landmark Conference tournament for the first time since 2014.

Wednesday’s entry is the sixth installment of a series taking a look at each of the eight Division III programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. Tuesday’s visit was with Washington College. This is Goucher’s turn.

Overview: After qualifying for the Landmark Conference tournament for the first seven years since joining the league in 2008, the Gophers have missed three consecutive postseasons. A 2-4 record in the league sealed the fate of last spring’s squad. Goucher’s 5-9 overall mark was the program’s worst since 1999, when that team went 5-10. Coaches voted the Gophers to finish fifth in the seven-team league’s preseason poll.


Reason for optimism: The wealth of the team’s experience is on the defensive side of the field, where opponents were limited to a modest 10.1 goals per game last spring.

The unit welcomes back all three starting defensemen in seniors Peter Cost (20 ground balls, 12 caused turnovers), Corey Hill (17 GB, 10 CT) and Michael Koropsak (17 GB, 8 CT), and senior goalkeeper Matt Messerle (9.63 goals-against average, .526 save percentage). Senior Logan Winn (25 GB, 8 CT) and sophomore Mick Togo (14 GB, 3 CT) will split the majority of the playing time at long-stick midfielder, and juniors Eric Bowden (11 GB, 5 CT) and Mason Gorman (13 GB, 2 CT), senior Jaryd Hartzell (20 GB, 2 CT) and sophomore Nicholas Patterson (40 GB, 1 CT) are the top four short-stick defensive midfielders.


“I feel like defensively, we’ve got a lot of depth,” coach Brian Kelly said. “[Senior defenseman] Jack Benziger is a guy that has started some games for us over the years. We have a [junior] transfer [from Frederick Community College] who came in by the name of Nick DeOto who is sort of a hybrid guy that can play long-stick midfield but can also play the close position. So we have some depth there, which is exciting. We feel really good about that end of the field.”

Reason for pessimism: Graduation and now injuries have taken a toll on the offense.

Starting attackmen Jake Ziegler (11 goals, six assists) and Nate Wilinski (5 G, 1 A) have graduated. Senior midfielder Ruel Ellis (19 G, 5 A) and senior attackman Leo Sementilli (11 G, 7 A) will miss the entire season because of injuries. Senior midfielder Derek Bitzer (10 G, 10 A) is the only returning player who scored 20 points a year ago, and Kelly knows that unit’s development could determine the team’s path.

“I think offensively, if you look at last year and you look at our stats, we didn’t have a single player that had more than 30 points,” he said. “So from that standpoint, we need to have some players really step up and become scorers. So that’s something we’ve been focused on. I feel like we have the depth and the talent for guys to fill those roles and really score. It’s just going to be a matter of who does it, who steps in and really assumes that role.”

Keep an eye on: Kelly is hoping that the addition of a Major League Lacrosse goalie to the coaching staff will benefit Messerle.

Messerle’s numbers from last season were respectable, but they were drop-off from the 8.28 goals-against average and .543 save percentage from 2016. Enter Mike Nugent, a member of the Denver Outlaws who joined the coaching staff as a volunteer assistant. The plan is to have Nugent, a four-year starter at Mercer who is that program’s career leader in saves (641), save percentage (.545) and goals-against average (10.57), help Messerle refine his play in the cage.

“He’s had the opportunity all fall to work with Matt and our other goalies, and I feel like Matt’s playing well and looks really solid and hopefully we can get some good consistency week to week from him between the pipes there,” Kelly said. “So defensively, I feel pretty good about where we are.”

What he said: With 13 seniors, that class is the biggest on the Gophers roster, and Kelly is hoping veteran savvy will translate into greater success this spring. The annual objective is to capture the Landmark Conference title and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and Kelly is counting on the seniors to help drive their younger teammates.


“This time last year, based on graduations from our 2016 class, we had a lot of guys that were going to be playing as juniors for the first time, and a year later, all those juniors have a year’s worth of experience under their belts and are now senior leaders, especially on the defensive end with Corey Hill and Matt Messerle,” he said. “So we’re excited.”