Today’s entry is the seventh 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. Wednesday’s visit was with Goucher. This is Stevenson’s turn.
Overview: The Mustangs’ 14-6 overall record in 2017 included an 8-0 mark in the Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth that netted them their fifth straight regular-season and tournament championships. Not surprisingly, Stevenson has been voted the unanimous choice to capture the league title again. But the program has not advanced out of the first weekend of the NCAA Division III tournament since 2014, making the national championship it claimed in 2013 seem like a distant memory.
Reason for optimism: Despite the departure of four of seven starters, the defense will serve as the foundation.
Seniors Dominic DeFazio (69 ground balls, 44 caused turnovers, one goal, one assist) and Dylan Harris (60 GB, 26 CT, 3 A) are back as starting defensemen, and Tom Brown (23 GB, 11 CT) is a fifth-year senior poised to shift from long-stick midfielder to close defenseman. Senior Austin Howard (7 GB, 3 CT) will take over the long-stick midfield duties, while junior Chazz Collison (22 GB, 5 CT) is trading his long pole for a short stick and will line up as a defensive midfielder.
“I think the strength of our team is we’re pretty good defensively,” coach Paul Cantabene said. “We’re pretty senior-laden there. And we’re going to be mixing in three or four freshmen who we think are pretty good.”
Reason for pessimism: An offense that scored 14.6 goals per game a year ago will have to depend on a new-look attack.
J.T. Thelen is back after recording 54 goals and 27 assists as a sophomore, but senior Brandon Watson (18 G, 20 A) elected not to return. That means Thelen will be working next to two new faces from a group that includes sophomores Colin Mason (2 G, 1 A), Matt Bowman and Beau Schmeusser and freshman Gray King. Cantabene said he is prepared to give that unit some time to build cohesion.
“They’re just young,” he said. “You’re talking about three sophomores and a freshman that we’re looking at. So when you have young guys, the key is to be consistent all around and not have those peaks and valleys. When you’re young, you have those, but we’re working hard to get through it, and I think we’ll be all right in the end.”
Keep an eye on: The graduation of Ross Dinan (8.58 goals-against average, .490 save percentage) has opened the door for sophomore Sam Ross to start in the net.
Ross, a transfer from Maryland, played in only three games last season, compiling a 10.60 goals-against average and a .250 save percentage. But he has played well enough in the fall and preseason to separate himself from sophomore Marc Poust on the depth chart. Cantabene said he has simple expectations for Ross.
“We’re just looking for him to make the saves that he should,” Cantabene said. “We let in a few easy goals at times last year. We just need that consistency. If we can count on him to make the certain saves and he can steal a few, I think we’ll be pretty happy.”
What he said: No Mustangs remain from the 2013 team that captured the NCAA Division III championship. The players are aware that the team has not enjoyed much postseason success, but Cantabene said he wants his team to learn from how the 2017 season ended in a loss to RIT in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“We’d love to win national championships,” he said. “But we’ve got to make sure that we’re getting more consistent and make sure that we’re winning the game that we need to win. Last year, we had a couple games that we could have won that we just had some mental lapses that cost us.”