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Robert Morris at Mount St. Mary's: Three things to watch

Mount St. Mary’s has won four of the six all-time meetings with Northeast Conference rival Robert Morris. The Colonials have won two of the last three games, but the Mountaineers are 2-0 in this series at home.

Robert Morris (3-4 overall and 0-2 in the league) is coming off a 13-9 victory over Jacksonville on Saturday and has alternated wins and losses in its last four games. The Colonials are one of just two teams with two players ranked in the top 10 in caused turnovers per game. Senior defenseman Sean Meagher is tied for third in Division I at 2.9, and senior long-stick midfielder Luke Rankel is 10th at 2.2.

Mount St. Mary’s (0-8, 0-0) had never opened a season with eight consecutive losses until this season. Sophomore attackman Bubba Johnson, who leads the team in goals (seven) and points (10), has recorded six goals and three assists in his last three starts. Freshman midfielder Mike Pascali ranks second in both goals (four) and points (six).

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Waldron Family Stadium in Emmitsburg on Tuesday at 4 p.m.

1) Beware Robert Morris’ midfield. The Colonials boast a pair of starting attackmen in sophomore Luke Laszkiewicz (14 goals and seven assists) and freshman JonPatrik Kealey (11, 5) who would garner plenty of attention from opponents. But they also start a pair of midfielders who are nearly as productive. Sophomores James Rahe (13, 5) and Eric Rankel (10, 7) rank 2-3 in points and figure to be a matchup problem for many defensive midfields. Mountaineers coach Tom Gravante has faith in short-stick defensive midfielders like seniors Kyle McDonough and Mike Fields, junior Braedon Graham and Pascali, but conceded that the defense could double-pole Robert Morris’ midfielders.

“It’s a consideration,” Gravante said. “… So we’ll have to sort that out.”

2) Take advantage of faceoffs. The Colonials have encountered plenty of troubles at the X, having won just 41.9 percent (70-of-167) of their draws. That would seem to bode well for Mount St. Mary’s, but the team has similar woes, having won just 39.2 percent (65-of-166). The Mountaineers could get a boost from the return of junior Nick Haley (44.3 percent on 51-of-115 and 19 ground balls), who has sat out the past two contests due to a wrist injury. Gravante said Haley’s presence could aid the team’s ability to slow Robert Morris’ transition game.

“It can certainly help us out with more possessions on offense,” Gravante said. “… We have to make sure that we cut the field in half and play very good, very patient six-on-six offense and not get beat back to the hole. It’s like the Wild West. They go, and they have no problem pulling shots from 12 and 15 yards out. If they have a shot, they’re going to take it.”

3) Playing with passion. Getting to the NCAA tournament via an at-large bid was going to be a difficult task, but that possibility is out of the picture now. So Mount St. Mary’s best and only route involves making the Northeast Conference tournament and winning the tourney to earn the automatic qualifier. Gravante said the players and coaches know that conference play is their only option.

“It’s all about the conference now,” he said. “It opens up a brand-new season. We’re 0-0 going into these six games. Robert Morris already has their backs to the wall because they’re 0-2. I don’t feel as if we’ve been practicing like an 0-8 team. … It’s not time to sulk. Not with this schedule. We have to move on and I’m pretty confident. Their spirits were high, and we’ve got to keep at it. The good thing is this opens up a brand-new game.”

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