Monday’s entry kicks off a week-long series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in the state according to their order of finish from last season. Check back Tuesday for a preview of Towson, and The Sun’s lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 17. This blog is centered on Navy.
Overview: Last season was one for forget for the Midshipmen (4-9 overall and 2-4 in the Patriot League), who finished out of the top four in the conference and failed to qualify for the league tournament for the first time in school history. After capturing six Patriot League tournament championships in the past seven years, Navy has gone two consecutive years without a tournament crown. The nine losses set a season-low for Richie Meade, who was eventually ushered out as coach after 17 seasons. The Midshipmen have dropped three straight contests to rival Army, matching the program’s longest losing skid in a series that dates back to more than 80 years.
Reason for optimism: The offense returns its entire starting attack of sophomores Tucker Hull (the Patriot League Rookie of the Year after amassing 23 goals and 15 assists) and Sam Jones (23, 15) and senior Taylor Reynolds (10, 2), and sophomore Harrison Chaires (11, 2) could break into the starting lineup. Add sophomore Austin Heneveld and Tyler Nechanicky and coach Rick Sowell sounds enthusiastic about the unit’s potential. “We think we have a pretty good darn attack, and probably the difference between the Navy of 2012 and my Stony Brook team the past couple years is we obviously had some really good players – Kevin Crowley, Jordan McBride,” Sowell said. “We were top heavy and those guys were just point-producing machines. I dare say that we don’t have players of that caliber, but in terms of depth, it’s not even close to the depth we have here.”
Reason for pessimism: The arrival of Sowell not only meant a change in leadership at the top, but a shake-up of the entire staff. In addition to Meade, gone are assistant coaches Stan Ross and Anthony Gilardi. They have been replaced by Ryan Wellner and J.P. Reppert, and Sowell also added former goalkeeper Mickey Jarboe as a volunteer assistant coach. “We call them transition pains, and there’s a lot of anxiety about not knowing what to expect out of the new coaching staff,” Sowell conceded. “We’ve had our good days and our bad days. The effort was certainly very good. Can’t fault the effort, but it’s just all part of change and what you go through. And I think any coach would tell you that you’re going to experience these types of situations. But I think now, we’ve settled down.”
Keep an eye on: For the first time since 2001, Navy will open the season with three of its first four games in the friendly confines of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. The team will get VMI at home (Feb. 11) and then travel to Jacksonville (Feb. 19) before welcoming top-20 opponents North Carolina (Feb. 25) and Bucknell (March 3) to town. How the Midshipmen fare in the first four games could determine their development for the remainder of the season. “Years ago, you could look at your schedule and say, ‘If we show up, regardless of how we play, we’re probably going to have a good chance of winning this game.’ I think those days are long gone,” Sowell said. “So you can’t sit there and try to predict. You just have to focus on that next game. … There are going to be battles, we anticipate. Hopefully, we’ll get ourselves off to a good start. I think that would do our programs wonders to build some confidence. That is the key to the lock.”
What he said: After an uncomplicated fall, Sowell said the coaches have raised the level of detail they want the players to understand. “It’s not always easy because sometimes we push them pretty hard,” he said. “You’re trying to get them in shape, you’re trying to [add] more strategy because we did keep things somewhat bland. We didn’t throw a lot at them this fall. More just basic concepts. But now we’re getting a little more detailed, and there’s competition. So there’s a lot going on. So you’re not going to have an ideal practice every day, I suppose. But for the most part, our guys are working hard. We feel at the end of the day that, ‘Man, we are getting better.’”