After opening the season with back-to-back losses, Washington College has racked up six consecutive wins and moved to the top of the Centennial Conference with a 3-0 record. And some of the team’s resurgence can be traced to an emerging defense.
A unit that surrendered 10 goals per game last year has trimmed that average to 6.4 in eight contests this season. Coach Jeff Shirk said close defensemen Bryan Botti, Michael Pierandri and Jack Vermeil, short-stick defensive midfielders David Lundquist and Morgan Braendel, long-stick midfielder Stephen Pappas and goalkeeper Peter Stewart have gotten comfortable in their second year in the unit’s schemes.
“I think a second year within the system has really helped,” Shirk said Tuesday. “With some of the mistakes that we were making last year trying to adjust to a new system, we had some growing pains. So I think the No. 1 thing is guys are more comfortable with the system. So there are fewer mistakes being made. But then you also have to look at the personnel. We’ve got a very good goalie, we’re winning a lot more faceoffs so we’re playing less defense, and we’ve got a veteran group down there with our close guys, our short-stick D-middies that feel comfortable and are excited and confident in what they’re doing.”
Shirk said the players have also grown accustomed to a defensive philosophy of coercing opponents into low-percentage shots. To Shirk, that doesn’t mean defending every attempt, but giving Stewart a chance to look at shots from areas that are difficult for shoot from.
“When they kind of accepted the fact that our defense isn’t designed to prevent shots but to prevent goals and we want to give up shots where our goalie has the best chance to save them, as soon as they understood that concept and bought into it, now all of a sudden Pete Stewart is seeing shots that he’s able to save as opposed to much harder shots that he saw last year,” he said. “To me, that was the biggest thing with the guys.”