Navy seeks second straight upset in neutral site meeting with No. 19 Penn

Bill Wagner
Contact Reporterbwagner@capgaznews.com

Coming off an impressive victory over then No. 20 Bucknell, Navy men’s lacrosse will try to make it two straight against ranked opponents when it meets Pennsylvania on Tuesday night at Tierney Field on the campus of US Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks.

Penn comes to the Baltimore area at No. 19 in the latest Inside Lacrosse poll and looking to rebound from an upset loss to Penn State, which entered the rankings at 20th this week.

“It’s a mid-week game against a really good opponent with not a lot of preparation time,” Navy head coach Rick Sowell said. “Both teams played on Saturday so it’s a short turnaround. It will be interesting to see how we play. We have a lot of respect for Penn and know this will be a great challenge.”

Navy put together its most complete effort of the young season on Saturday in Lewisburg in beating Bucknell, 13-8. Senior attackman Jack Ray scored five goals while junior midfielder Greyson Torain totaled five points as the Midshipmen dominated on both ends of the field while outscoring the host Bison 11-4 over the final 45 minutes.

Senior Michael Strack was named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week on Monday after holding Bucknell star attackman Will Sands scoreless. Freshman close defenseman Andrew McKenna was credited with four caused turnovers as the Mids held the Bison to just three goals in the second half.

Torain and fellow midfielder Ryan Wade netted two goals each as Navy took control of the contest by outscoring Bucknell 6-2 in the third quarter.

“It’s been a long time since Navy lacrosse put together a quarter like that. We had seven possessions and scored six goals. That was pretty darn impressive,” Sowell said.

The Midshipmen then salted the game away in the final frame, controlling possession and outscoring the Bison 3-1 to pull away.

“What really impressed me was the way we closed the game out in the fourth quarter. We won faceoffs, chewed up the clock, got good shots and scored some insurance goals. That was very encouraging,” Sowell said.

Navy (3-2) has now won three in a row and is off to a 2-0 start in Patriot League play with Sowell equally pleased about a 10-8 come-from-behind win at Boston University. Torain scored two goals and dished off an assist as the Mids closed the contest on a 3-0 run.

“We beat Boston University the same way they had beaten us the last few years,” Sowell noted. “That was a great win that provided a big confidence boost.”

One issue the coaching staff wants to correct involves slow starts. Navy fell behind 4-2 to Bucknell and had to overcome a 3-0 deficit versus Boston.

“We got behind again, which is becoming a habit. Either the pregame speech or the warmup isn’t working,” Sowell said. “We have put ourselves in a hole in every game, which is something that needs to change. Now the good news is that we fight back.”

Ray has come to life and shown the scoring ability he has always possessed, totaling 10 goals in the last two games. The imposing 6-foot-6, 248-pounder has shown superb accuracy in scoring a team-best 12 goals on 19 shots.

Injuries have hampered Ray over the course of his career and he appeared in just seven games and amassed seven points last season.

“Being healthy is a big part of it. I also think the light just came on,” Sowell said. “I noticed a different Jack in practice the week before the BU game. I saw he had some giddy-up in his step. Jack has really taken the bull by the horns and become our leader on offense. He wants the ball in his stick and is getting things organized.”

Torain was recently named to the Tewaaraton Award watch list and has proven worthy of such an honor, leading Navy with 15 points. The Glen Burnie resident has stepped up at crunch time, scoring the go-ahead and clinching goals at Boston University while sparking the third quarter turnaround against Bucknell.

Navy has also gotten a lift offensively from freshman attackman Christian Daniel, who has 13 points on six goals and seven assists. Sowell describes the left-hander as “slick and crafty” and said he fits perfectly into the offensive scheme.

“Christian has a really high lacrosse IQ and is making great decisions with the ball,” Sowell said.

Senior midfielder Casey Rees is still rounding back into form after missing all of last season while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained in January. Rees, who was an honorable mention All-American after scoring 34 goals as a sophomore, has managed just five points (three goals, two assists) so far.

“Casey isn’t pressing or forcing bad shots. He’s getting open looks and just not finishing them,” Sowell said. “I think Casey just needs to see a couple go in then the floodgates will open.”

Wade, who moved from attack to midfield this season, has emerged as a playmaker and is tied with Daniel for the team lead with seven assists.

“I’ve been talking about the potential of this offensive group. We really have the talent to put points on the board and have shown that here of late,” Sowell said. “Hopefully, we are turning the corner.”

Sophomore netminder Ryan Kern has anchored a defense that has been rock-solid, allowing just 8.6 goals per game. Strack, McKenna and senior Hiram Carter comprise the close defense for the Mids, who have really buckled down after allowing 22 goals in losses to Jacksonville and Maryland to start the season.

“We have a lot of seniors on defense. They’ve been in the program and know what we expect,” Sowell said. “They are hard-nosed and very coachable players. There is a lot of unity and chemistry on that end of the field.”

Navy figures to get stronger on the defensive end with senior Steve Hincks (South River) making his first appearance of the season on Saturday after sitting out four games while recuperating from a detached retina. Freshman Nick Franchuk, who started the opener on close defense, has moved to long pole to add depth at that position.

Penn, which is led by ninth-year head coach Mike Murphy, stunned top-ranked Duke 10-9 on Feb. 24 in Philadelphia. That upset moved the Quakers up to No. 14 in the national rankings, but the 10-7 home loss to the Nittany Lions on Saturday caused them to drop five spots.

Junior attackman Simon Mathias and senior midfielder Kevin McGeary lead Penn in scoring with 12 and 11 points, respectively. The Quakers scored six transition goals in beating the Midshipmen, 11-9, at Franklin Field last season.

“Penn is very good at going defense to offense because the defensive midfield unit is very dangerous,” said Sowell, praising the play of short stickers James Farrell and Joe Licciardi.

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