In his senior year for the UMBC men’s lacrosse program, Gunnar Schimoler has returned to becoming the full-time starter he always knew he could be. He’s just not at the position he imagined.
A highly decorated attackman and midfielder out of South River who has persevered despite the loss of both parents as well as an uncle and godfather, the Edgewater resident has started all five of the Retrievers’ games as a defenseman. In three previous years, he had lined up as an attackman, a midfielder and a short-stick defensive midfielder. But if there is one position he had not contemplated, he said, “I never would have thought that I’d be close defense, that’s for sure.”
So far, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Schimoler is proving to be a quick study for UMBC (1-4), which opens the America East portion of its schedule against Vermont (3-3) on Saturday at noon at UMBC Stadium. He leads the team in ground balls with 16 and ranks second in caused turnovers with six, trailing only fellow starting defenseman Colin Kasner’s 12.
Schimoler’s versatility is matched by his willingness to contribute wherever he can for the Retrievers, according to coach Ryan Moran.
“Gunnar is pretty athletic, but he’s more selfless than he is athletic,” Moran said. “He’s going to do whatever the coaching staff feels like we need him to do to put the team in the best position possible to win. I’m pretty sure that if we asked him to slice the oranges and pour the water, he’d do it with a smile. That’s the type of kid that he is. It speaks a lot. I don’t think there are a lot of players in college lacrosse that could play offense, switch to short-stick D-middie, and then play close defense.”
Schimoler’s career at UMBC has been a case study in flexibility. He began his freshman year as an attackman before shifting during the season to midfielder, which he played for 14 games as a sophomore (seven as a starter), finishing with five goals and three assists.
Last season, Schimoler moved to short-stick defensive midfielder, amassing 10 ground balls, three caused turnovers, two goals and one assist in playing all 13 games. He occupied the same role in fall workouts until he was approached by defensive coordinator Jamison Koesterer during the week leading up to the Feb. 15 season opener at Navy.
“Coach K asked if I would make the switch, and I said, ‘Whatever I could do to help,’ ” Schimoler said. “I got in with him a lot, and we started doing extra reps and stuff, and ever since then, I haven’t put it down.”
Senior midfielder Billy Nolan said Schimoler does not seem like a rookie starting defenseman.
“It’s kind of scary how well he’s stepped into it,” said Nolan, a Crofton resident and Arundel graduate who played on the same midfield line as Schimoler when they were sophomores. “It’s like he’s been down there for a couple years. He’s probably been watching the close defensemen that were down there, and he takes everything into his mind so that when he needed to get moved down there, he already had an idea of how to play close defense. He knows the whole game so well.”
Schimoler’s position switch was necessitated by unspecified injuries to a pair of 2018 starters, senior Jason Brewster and junior Nick Griffin (Liberty). Moran said there is no timetable for their return.
“We’re hoping to get them back before season’s end, but we don’t know,” he said. “They’re a little bit more of a day-by-day, week-to-week status now. … There’s still a lot of season left. So we’re optimistic that we’ll get both of them back at some point.”
Schimoler has been meeting with Koesterer every day at 7:30 a.m. to review film before heading to classes. During practices and games, Schimoler said the biggest adjustment is being more talkative with his teammates.
“When you’re a short-stick, you know you’re going to get dodged a lot,” he said. “When you’re on defense, it’s more off-ball communication, getting the defense in check. I would say that’s the biggest thing, going from an on-ball guy to off-ball. Clearing, too. Just trying to learn to run with the long pole and make my throws with the long pole. That’s been the hardest part of it.”
Moran said Schimoler has made the transition appear easier than it has been.
“He’s put a lot of work into it,” he said. “The coaching staff has watched a lot of film with him. As a senior, you kind of understand the urgency that’s at hand, and he’s really put a lot of extra time both on the field with his stick work and in the clearing game and film to put himself in the best position possible to be successful on the field. It wasn’t seamless, but it might appear that way with all of the hard work he has put into it.”
Schimoler said he is growing more comfortable with the 6-foot-long pole defensemen use.
“I’ll admit that the first game at Navy, it was pretty awkward,” he said. “But now messing around at practice, if I pick up a short stick, it feels pretty awkward. So I think I’m definitely used to the long pole now.”
Nolan said Schimoler has quickly embraced the opportunity to use the pole liberally — even against his own teammates during practice.
“He’s just like every other defenseman,” Nolan joked. “There’s no taking it easy just because we are old linemates from the past. That’s not how he rolls. He’s always 100 percent.”