Here is the first 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 begins with a visit with UMBC, which finished with a 5-8 overall record and a 3-3 mark in the America East.
The good: When the calendar turned from March to April, the Retrievers were 2-7 overall and 0-2 in the conference. But the tide changed when they upset then-No. 1 Albany, 11-7, on April 6, which kicked off a three-game winning streak that had the team in contention for a spot in the four-team league tournament. A win in the season finale at Vermont would have sent UMBC to its second straight postseason. While a 9-6 setback to the Catamounts on April 27 ended that prospect, second-year coach Ryan Moran took heart in what he viewed as some glimpses of the team’s potential.
“I think we showed at times that we can be a pretty good lacrosse team, especially that last month,” he said. “I feel like we started to trend in the right direction.”
» After allowing 9.1 goals per game last season – which ranked 20th in Division I – the defense was even better this past spring. Opponents averaged only 7.8 goals against the Retrievers, and that ended up being the best mark in the country. Only three opposing offenses reached the 10-goal mark against the unit, which benefited from the development of freshman goalkeeper Tommy Lingner (7.33 goals-against average, .541 save percentage), the return of all three starting defensemen, and the maturation of junior South River alum Gunnar Schimoler (10 ground balls and three caused turnovers) and junior Marriotts Ridge grad Pat Clipp (7 GB, 2 CT) at short-stick defensive midfielder.
“I think we had the pieces. I know we have the coaching,” Moran said, referring to defensive coordinator Jamison Koesterer. “They performed the way we all anticipated – at least in our locker room – they would perform.”
» With the graduation of attackman Max Maxwell and injuries to sophomore attackmen Mitch Howell and Ryan Frawley, there was a void on offense, which opened the door for junior midfielder Billy Nolan. The Crofton resident and Arundel graduate finished with career highs of 14 assists – which exceeded his previous two-year total of 11 – and 34 points. Moran said Nolan was even more valuable because of his willingness to do whatever was possible for the team’s success.
“We asked Billy to do a lot,” Moran said. “He was on man-up, sometimes he was on faceoffs, sometimes he was on attack. I thought Billy did a good job with his strength and conditioning to enable him to be that guy that is on the field for the majority of the game on offense, and he was definitely a guy from a dodge-count perspective that dodged more than anyone else on our team. And he was always drawing a team’s best defender every game. So those are really tough things for a player to have to do week in and week out, and for him to be able to do that and also have the production that went along with it, I was pleasantly surprised.”
The bad: As close as UMBC was to qualifying for a berth in the America East tournament, the end result is that the team was left out for the third time in four years. That absence is unfamiliar territory for Moran after previous stints as the offensive coordinator at Maryland and Loyola Maryland. A premature end to the season obviously does not sit well with the players and coaches, but Moran tried to find positive signs.
“I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “Two years ago, they had just finished their third year in a row of not making the tournament and in my two years on the job, you could noticeably sense from the staff and from the players that was definitely the expectation and then compete to win it. But we didn’t do enough in our conference play early on in the year – right around when we were trying to figure out who we were offensively with some of the injuries. We just had some untimely injuries, and we just didn’t get the development that we needed and improvement we needed to get some of those early conference wins.”
» As Moran mentioned, injuries took a toll, especially on an offense that ranked 69th out of 69 units in the nation at 6.9 goals per game. Howell, who had six goals and four assists in 2017, broke his foot in January and did not appear in a single game. Freshman attackman Trevor Patschorke (Severna Park) had nine goals and two assists in four starts before a torn ACL sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Frawley added nine goals and one assist in seven starts before suffering a season-ending torn thumb ligament. And senior midfielder Max Haldeman missed the team’s first six games after undergoing knee surgery in the fall. The number of injuries altered Moran’s plans for the offense.
“We came in saying, ‘OK, these are our parts, and they’re pretty good, and we have a scheme that fits them pretty well and allows players to make some more decisions on the field.’ And then you switch it to kids that aren’t ready to play, and you’ve got to be a little bit more deliberate and you kind of have to change who you are on the fly, and that was really difficult,” he said. “Losing Frawley for the second half of the year was a wild experience because he’s a great man-up player, and Trevor had 11 points through three games and two of them he wound up playing with a torn ACL. I’ve got to believe that if he stays healthy, he’s going to be a 30-goal scorer at least.”
» In addition to ranking last in offense, the Retrievers were at the bottom in man-up offense, ground balls per game and faceoff percentage. The latter category is somewhat surprising considering the team went from .312 in 2016 to .468 in 2017. But the faceoff unit slid to .363 despite the return of sophomore Jake Brothers, who slipped from 48.8 percent on 127-for-260 and 50 ground balls in 2017 to 37.4 on 73-for-195 and 34 ground balls. While noting that he was expecting more contributions from the Mount St. Joseph graduate’s teammates on the wings, Moran said the coaches will take an in-depth look at trying to find ways to improve the position.
“It’s certainly an area where I think if you look at our offensive efficiency and you look at our defense and the numbers there, you’d be somewhat happy with them,” he said. “But the faceoff component of it is really staggering when you’re going into games and winning only three or four draws out of 20-plus. It’s a very tough life to live, and we need to do a good job of recruiting and hopefully do a good job of developing Jake Brothers more, and hopefully, that can be an area that we can develop more into a strength than a weakness in the 2019 season.”
Personnel changes: UMBC graduated only one starter in defenseman John Tornabene (23 GB, 13 CT), but the Havre de Grace resident and Archbishop Curley graduate started 32 of 40 games in his last three seasons, including all 12 this past spring. Reserves like freshmen Justin Barragan and Corey Gaines (Archbishop Spalding) saw little playing time, which could mean a greater onus on junior Jason Brewster (19 GB, 9 CT) and sophomore Liberty grad Nick Griffin (19 GB, 14 CT) to anchor the close defense until a replacement can be found.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Moran said. “We do have a lot of pieces though that are going to be competing, and we’ve got to keep the other guys who are starting healthy as well. I think the fall is going to be a great opportunity to see who fits in that spot best with Jason and Nick because they’re pretty known commodities right now. But I have a ton of faith in the guys we have right now and some of the freshmen coming in that there’s going to be healthy competition for it.”
» Although technically not a starter, long-stick midfielder Billy O’Hara (South River) was a critical cog in the defense as he led the team in caused turnovers with 23 and was tied with Brothers for the lead in ground balls with 34. The positive news for the Retrievers is that freshman Nick Doyle served as O’Hara’s backup and played in all 13 games. While his numbers of six ground balls and one caused turnover are a far cry from O’Hara’s, Doyle appears to be on the cusp of succeeding O’Hara next spring.
“He certainly comes back with the most experience at that position,” Moran said. “So we’ll see how that develops and how that shakes out. I anticipate him to continue to play and probably have a larger playing role, but we’re talking about things that are pretty far off in the future. So it’s hard to project, but he’s probably in a better position than anyone else based on how much experience he got this year.”
» Although three other players dabbled in faceoffs this past spring, Brothers was the only true faceoff specialist on the roster. Without a teammate or a few to push him in practice, Brothers did not get the necessary reps to refine his technique. Moran noted that the incoming freshman class includes a faceoff man, but said he and his staff have do a better job of finding more players at that position to aid Brothers’ progress.
“We need to recruit more depth at that position to be able to develop those kids better,” Moran said. “That’s really where we have a lot of our stymieing right now. What he sees in the game is just really impossible for us to even come close to replicating in practice. So it was just a revolving door of a really tough time for Jake. I feel bad for Jake because I think he’s really talented. He doesn’t lose a faceoff in practice. So it’s just a tough situation for him. Hopefully, we can get a little bit more depth at that position and add a little more competition to help him improve.”
Forecast for 2019: Cloudy. The early end to the season gives the Retrievers time to address several areas of the game that underperformed. Although the offense clearly missed the three attackmen, that unit must find more sources for production. And the offense could use more possessions provided by a faceoff unit that can get within shouting distance of the 50 percent mark. At least the defense provides a solid foundation, but UMBC must prove that it can be a more consistent presence in the America East for a shot at returning to the conference tournament.