College Sports

Navy men’s lacrosse ready to take a big step forward in fourth season under coach Joe Amplo

Navy’s Patrick Skalniak makes a move around High Point’s Pete St. Geme in the first quarter. The visiting High Point Panthers defeated the Navy Midshipmen, 14-13, in men’s NCAA lacrosse, Saturday, February 26, 2022, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

On paper, this should be the season Navy men’s lacrosse takes a big step forward — both nationally and within the Patriot League.

The Midshipmen have more depth, experience and talent than any previous point in the four-year tenure of head coach Joe Amplo. All-American midfielder Patrick Skalniak spearheads an offense that has plenty of firepower across the board. All-American Jackson Bonitz anchors a defense that returns totally intact.


Navy graduated just one starter from last year’s team that finished 9-6 overall and 5-3 in the Patriot League. The Midshipmen boast 26 returning lettermen and have added a very talented freshman class.

Amplo’s inaugural season in 2020 was cut short by the pandemic. Navy lost in the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament in both 2021 and 2022.


Amplo was hired to return Navy to conference dominance and national prominence. The Midshipmen haven’t captured the Patriot League championship since 2009 and have made just one NCAA Tournament appearance since then.

“I try not to put tangible goals out there, but I understand the expectations for this program are to compete with the best in the sport. That’s the standard for Navy lacrosse,” Amplo said. “We have a chance to do something special this season, but we still have a lot to prove. We’re not where we need to be yet.”

Navy is among the other teams receiving votes in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll and was picked to place third in the Patriot League preseason poll. The Midshipmen open the 2023 campaign this weekend with home games against Mount St. Mary’s and Queens.

“I like what I’ve seen out of this team so far in preseason. I think we have the ingredients to be pretty good,” Amplo said.

One of the important storylines going into the season involves a new offensive philosophy installed by first-year coordinator Michael Phipps. The Annapolis native returns for a second stint as a Navy assistant after serving as offensive coordinator at Georgetown for five seasons.

Georgetown averaged more than 14 goals per game from 2019 to 2022 as Phipps espoused an aggressive, up-tempo philosophy. The former Maryland All-American attackman is not backing off that style now that he’s at Navy.

Amplo said the Midshipmen will not hold the ball while substituting midfielders. They will attack at all times to keep the defense back on its heels.

“When we pick the ball up on the defensive end, that’s when offense starts. We need to use those times when there would be a start and stop to attack the goal,” Amplo said. “There are going to be some lapses, but for the most part we must maintain a continuous attacking mindset.”


Skalniak is the big gun on offense, a left-hander with a cannon of a crank shot. He was an honorable mention All-American last season after leading Navy in scoring with 48 points on 28 goals and 20 assists. The 6-foot-3 senior has the ability to dodge down the alley and shoot on the run or play off-ball and launch howitzers into the top corners of the net.

“There are not a lot of midfielders like Pat, who can handle the [long] pole and get to the goal, but also shoot off a pass. He’s a dynamic midfielder who is going to garner a lot of attention,” Amplo said.

Skalniak is part of a high-powered first midfield that includes juniors Dane Swanson and Max Hewitt. Swanson was Navy’s second-leading scorer with 38 points (21 goals, 17 assists), but must become more efficient as he had a .198 shooting percentage.

Amplo said the former McDonogh standout spent the offseason developing a quicker release and improving his ability to shoot on the run.

Hewitt is a slick dodger who totaled 32 points (20, 12) in 2022 and is considered one of the offensive playmakers by Amplo.


Lack of production from the second midfield has been the Achilles’ heel for the Midshipmen in recent seasons. Amplo believes that unit will be more potent this season led by junior Keegan Houser, a Broadneck graduate who is “playing the best lacrosse of his career,” according to the coach.

Jack Flaherty was a four-star recruit out of Chaminade High on Long Island and a real load at 6-foot-5 and 213 pounds. Amplo said the freshman has “some toughness and is probably the most skilled midfielder” on the team. Sophomore Evan Conway is a lefty whose strong shot earned some time on the extra man unit a year ago.

Navy’s lone lost starter was attackman Nick Cole, the team’s third-leading scorer last season. The Midshipmen return one full-time starter on attack in left-hander Henry Tolker along with Jon Jarosz and Xavier Arline, who combined for nine starts.

Xavier Arline, who is also a quarterback on the Navy football team, is a junior attackman for the Mids.

Arline closed out the football season as the starting quarterback and will be juggling both sports this spring semester. With each passing day of practice, he looks more and more like the player who was rated the fifth overall recruit in the Class of 2020.

Amplo said Arline’s ability to dodge defenders from behind the goal and draw slides will boost the entire offense.

“Xavier is dynamic with the ball in his stick. His confidence level has risen exponentially the last few weeks,” Amplo said. “He definitely has the ability to make defenses move and has shown the propensity to make the right play.”


Tolker was superb as a spot-up shooter as a plebe, ranking second on the squad with 23 goals. The Loyola Blakefield product scored a point in 14 of 15 games. Amplo said the coaching staff plans to run him out of the box as a midfielder more often this season. That’s because Navy has another talented lefty attacker in freshman Mac Haley, a four-star recruit and Under Armour All-American out of St. John’s College High.

Jarosz, a Severn product, has shown he can use his superior size (6-5, 230) to power to the cage and score goals, producing 25 in two seasons. The Severn School alum must continue to work on protecting the ball as he has committed 27 turnovers.

“When Jon does what he’s supposed to do, he’s almost unguardable. He’s a big, strong dodger who can get to the goal and score,” Amplo said.

Bonitz was an honorable mention All-American last season and spent this past summer helping the United States Under-21 national team capture the gold medal at the World Lacrosse Championship. He’s a slick stick handler and has already amassed 28 caused turnovers, which ranks 13th on Navy’s all-time list.

“Jackson is a really reliable one-on-one defender and just an outstanding overall lacrosse player who understands the game,” said Amplo, who also praised Bonitz’s ability to pick up ground balls on the defensive end and factor in the clearing game.

Navy defenseman Jackson Bonitz has already amassed 28 caused turnovers in his career, which ranks 13th on Navy’s all-time list.

Bonitz is the marquee member of a veteran close defense that includes fellow juniors Nick Licalzi and Kyle Fairbanks. Licalzi (6-2, 190) is the biggest of the bunch and somewhat of a bruiser, while Fairbanks has been voted by teammates to wear the No. 40 in honor of former Navy lacrosse player and fallen Marine Corps officer Brendan Looney.

“I think we’ve got what I consider to be three No. 1 defenseman. We feel good with any of those guys guarding the other team’s top player,” Amplo said.

Navy also returns a talented long stick midfielder in Zach Snider, who was second on the team with 14 caused turnovers. Henry Rentz (Severn) and Jackson Peters closed out last season as Navy’s top two short stick defensive midfielders.

As part of Navy’s new attacking strategy, Amplo is giving the defensive midfielders the freedom to push the ball in transition.

“I want the defensive midfield group to be more productive than our second midfield because they play more minutes. We need to create scoring opportunities when they’re on the field,” he said.

Pat Ryan was solid in his first season as the starting goaltender a year ago, amassing 158 saves and ranking second in the Patriot League in goals-against average (10.07). However, the senior is being pushed by talented freshman Dan Daly, another four-star recruit and US Lacrosse All-American. Amplo said both netminders will see time this weekend.


Navy must improve at the faceoff stripe after winning just 47% in 2022. Nate Hammond took most of the draws (92-for-186), but the senior will share time with sophomore Anthony Ghobriel and freshman Colin Shadowens, a Severna Park grad, this season.

Shadowens is a highly-touted recruit out of Severna Park High who was named first team Public School All-State after winning 87% of faceoffs as a senior.


Mount St. Mary’s at Navy

Saturday, noon

Stream: ESPN+


Radio: 1430 AM