Head coach Rick Sowell expressed great confidence in the Navy offense and mild concern about the defense in the week leading up to Saturday’s season opener.
That’s because the Midshipmen had several proven performers and a handful of impressive newcomers on offense while the defense was very young and inexperienced.
One of Sowell’s worries involved the health status of goalkeeper Ryan Kern, who was expected to anchor a defense that included five sophomore starters. Kern missed almost two weeks with a back issue and Sowell did not know on Tuesday afternoon whether he would be ready to start the opener.
Kern did answer the bell, recording 13 saves to backstop a defense that was surprisingly solid as Navy opened with an impressive 13-8 victory over Vermont on a cold day at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“I thought I had a good practice on Thursday and was feeling confident going into the game,” Kern said. “Just being able to get that first save today is always a confidence-booster for the goalie. After that, I was like ‘I’m feeling fine, I’m going to be OK.’ I’m the oldest in the group, I have the most experience, but those youngsters were the ones giving me good shots to see.”
Kern made several spectacular stops that took away potential goals and also did a good job of directing the defense. Jacob Mandish, a sophomore out of Severn School and one of four first-time starters on defense, gobbled up five ground balls for a unit that looked cohesive as a unit.
“It all started in practice last week. We saw things coming together with those sophomore defensemen. Ryan coming back helped a lot and everything just came together at the right time,” Sowell said. “I think the defense had some really good practices and was getting more confident, which carried over into the game. We saw the things we have been working on and really stressing in practice pay off today.”
An announced crowd of 557 braved 30-degree temperatures and a wind chill that made it feel like 20 to see the Midshipmen execute fairly well on both ends of the field in controlling play from start to finish.
Senior midfielder Greyson Torain led the offense with six points on a career-high five goals to go along with an assist as Navy snapped a two-game losing streak in season openers. Torain, a Glen Burnie resident, became the ninth midfielder in program history to surpass 100 career points.
“That’s awesome to be one of the very few to score 100 points, particularly as a midfielder,” Sowell said. “Obviously, it speaks to Greyson’s abilities. I’m hoping he can get to 150 by the end of the year.”
Senior midfielder Ryan Wade scored a goal and dished off five assists for Navy, which outshot Vermont 48-30. Sophomore attackman Christian Daniel totaled two goals and two assists for the Midshipmen, who outscored the Catmounts 7-3 over the second and third quarters to take control.
“I anticipated that we would be a little excited and the nerves would be having an effect, but once we settled down and got into that comfort zone you saw some good things out of our offense,” Sowell said. “If we average 13 goals we’re probably going to win a lot of games. I think it does say something about the potential of our offense this season.”
Freshman attackman Nick Cole produced two goals and an assist in his collegiate debut. Senior Patrick Walsh, who moved from midfield to attack during preseason and earned his first career start, also scored two goals.
“Patrick Walsh has been doing that since August. He also got some tough ground balls,” Sowell said. “Nick Cole had a couple nice goals, particularly that one on extra man that probably sealed the game.”
Sowell said during an interview last week that Navy was placing a greater emphasis on riding and hoped to generate offense from it. Early returns were favorable in that department as Vermont committed 18 turnovers and finished just 12-for-23 on clears.
“We’re excited about what we can do with our ride game this season. It’s been a priority for us since our second day of practice,” Sowell said. “More or less it’s our attack. Any good riding team, it always starts with the attack – having guys that can make up ground and just harass the defense.”
Daniel made a terrific play on the ride by stripping a defenseman near the goal. The Owings resident scooped the loose ball and fed Torain for an easy goal into an empty net. That was one of the highlights of a 7-1 run that gave Navy a commanding 10-4 lead at the 12:17 mark of the fourth quarter.
“I use the analogy of a dunk in basketball – just an exciting play that is a real boost,” Sowell said. “When you get a turnover off the ride like that and score immediately, that is a momentum builder.”
Both teams were somewhat sloppy early on and the Midshipmen led just 2-1 after one period. Torain used a lightning-quick dodge to break the ankles of a defender to score unassisted for one of his two goals during the second quarter as Navy took a 6-3 lead into intermission. The DeMatha product tallied three more times, twice off wicked crank shots, in the third quarter as the Mids started to pull away.
“Offensively, we got off to a little bit of a slow start,” Sowell admitted. “Once we changed some things up offensively, started really going at them from the midfield especially, you could see we presented problems for them.”
Andrew McKenna, the lone returning starter, spearheaded a close defense that slid effectively. Mandish and Nick Franchuk completed the close unit while Jeff Durden pretty much went the distance at long-stick midfield and was joined by short stickers Tim Griffin and Brad Alexander.
“I thought they played really well. We’ve been talking about trust a lot, just trusting each other. I think that came together today,” Kern said. “If something went wrong, it was a matter of just communicating that to each other and fixing it. We did some things on the fly, some defensive adjustments on the field, and I thought it paid off.”
Sophomore attackman Liam Limoges scored two goals and dished off two assists for Vermont (1-1), which opened last weekend with a 21-6 rout of Utah — a first-year varsity program.
Navy and Vermont were among the school receiving votes in the Inside Lacrosse media poll.
Vermont (1-1) 1-2-1-4=8
Navy (1-0) 2-4-3-4=13
GOALS: V – Limoges 2, Milchling, Knight, McConvey, Iaria, Rischmann. N – Torain 5, Daniel 2, Cole 2, Walsh 2, Wade, Foster. ASSISTS: V – Limoges 2, Davis, French, Milchling. N – Wade 5, Daniel 2, Cole, Sweeney, Torain. SHOTS: V – 30. N – 48. SAVES: V – Washuta 7. N – Kern 13. FACEOFFS: V – 14. N – 11. GROUND BALLS: V – 32. N – 32. TURNOVERS: V – 18. N – 17.