Wednesday’s entry is the first installment of a series taking a look at each of the eight Division III programs in the state according to their order of finish from last season. The series kicks off with St. Mary’s.
Overview: Last year proved to be a step backward for the Seahawks, who dropped their first eight games en route to going 1-14 overall and 1-7 in the Capital Athletic Conference – marking their worst record since at least 1992. They also were left out of the league tournament for the second time in a row. Only a 20-7 rout at conference rival Wesley on March 25 helped the squad avoid the embarrassment of a winless season.
Reason for optimism: An offense that scored only 9.0 goals per game last year could be much improved this spring.
The unit returns 80 percent of its scoring, including junior Max Groen (25 goals, 16 assists) and redshirt junior Steve Jones (24 G, 3 A) on attack and junior Ray LaPlaca (18 G, 7 A) and senior Connor Quinn (9 G, 7 A) in the midfield. Senior Dan Long’s (12 G, 10 A) move from attack to midfield opens a starting spot, but coach Jason Childs likes what he has seen from the competition between junior Connor Benhoff (5 G, 2 A) and freshman Ben Claffee (Fallston).
“Between [Groen and Jones], that’s a ton of minutes logged and a whole lot of experience. So we feel really good about those two guys,” Childs said. “And even Connor Benhoff, he was a midfielder for us last year, and he played a ton. So we feel really confident with him. And even with Ben Claffee being a freshman, he had a pretty awesome high school career. So I think we feel pretty confident with him, too. He’s a freshman, but he’s growing up pretty quick.”
Reason for pessimism: The offense’s ability to raise its scoring average might depend on how the faceoff unit progresses.
Sophomore Michael Bucci (49.5 percent on 148-for-298, 71 ground balls, 2 G, 5 A) appears ready to resume his role as the primary faceoff specialist. But Childs said that how well Bucci can win the draw cleanly and protect the ball and how much aid he can get from his teammates on the wings will go a long way in determining that unit’s success.
“I think it is a little bit of a question mark for us because we’re really trying to take care of the ball and be disciplined with the ball, and ball possession is going to be really big for us,” Childs said. “So we’ve got to get the ball to do that. … I think Michael is a very good faceoff guy, but we need to find a way to be better on the wings for him with first-time ground balls and taking care of the ball. Then I think we’ll start to see our team’s faceoff percentage go up.”
Keep an eye on: The graduation of Max Alderman (14.35 goals-against average, .479 save percentage) has opened the door for junior Ross Snodderly to position himself as the starting goalkeeper.
The Reisterstown resident and Franklin graduate has played in only four games with no starts in the past two seasons, but Childs is confident that Snodderly – who was mentored by Alderman – is ready to step into the spotlight.
“I think he has to get used to being in a game environment in the college level, and that may be a little bit of an adjustment for him,” Childs said. “But as far as him seeing shots and making saves, we’ve kind of been watching him do it for the last two years, and we’ve just watched him get better every day since he was a freshman two years ago to the point where I’m really excited to see what he does.”
What he said: Despite the kind of season that can cripple a program, only two eligible players from last year’s roster did not return. And Childs said the players’ determination to reverse last year’s record is infectious.
“No one’s forgetting anything before coming to practice. All the equipment is out there early,” he said. “We started a thing we call sandbox this year where a half-hour before practice, you can go out there and whatever you want to work on with the coaches, we have a bunch of drills set up and you can go through whatever you want to get done. We’re all out there as coaches, and everything is out there early enough. Every day has been the same intent of getting better. I think that’s a little bit of the definition of mental toughness. Even in the minutia of every day, you’re still excited and dedicated in bringing that energy, and they’ve done a really good job of that.”