TOWSON — Ben McCarty still remembers the parting words from Andrew Hodgson, Justin Mabus and Greg Cuccinello to their younger teammates jockeying for the chance to replace them as starting midfielders for the Towson men's lacrosse team.
"They were like, 'Go have a great year. You guys are going to be good,'" McCarty said, paraphrasing the trio.
McCarty, a senior, and juniors Mike Lynch and Tyler Young are validating the previous group's faith. The three starting midfielders – all of whom hail from the Baltimore area – have contributed to an offense that is averaging 11.3 goals, the program's highest mark since 2003 when that squad scored 11.9 goals per game.
McCarty ranks third in goals (13) and fourth in points (18) among the No. 8 Tigers (8-1), who open the Colonial Athletic Association portion of their schedule on Saturday at noon against Drexel (4-5) at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson. Young ranks third in assists (six), and Lynch is tied for fifth in points (12) with Young.
But the statistics are not as significant as helping create offensive chances for a team off to its best start since 1990 and eager to capture its third conference tournament crown in four years.
"Our midfield line, we like to think that numbers don't mean everything," Lynch said. "Within our offense, as long as you're doing one-sixth, then we're going to be successful. As long as we're dodging and we're creating a slide, that's going to benefit our offense tremendously."
Blessed with the return of three starters on attack and six of seven starters on defense, Towson's primary concern was replacing the line of Hodgson, Mabus and Cuccinello, who totaled 147 goals and 111 assists in their careers.
Enter McCarty, a Westminster resident and South Carroll graduate; Lynch, a Forest Hill resident and Boys' Latin graduate; and Young, a Crofton resident and Arundel graduate. But their relative inexperience as starters and as a trio fueled skepticism about their readiness, which in turn motivated them in the offseason and preseason workouts.
"I think that kind of encouraged this," McCarty said. "We've never been a team that gets a whole lot of press. We've always been the quiet team in Baltimore with Hopkins and Loyola right next to us. So being a middie line that really hadn't played together completely and hadn't started together, we were just excited to get the opportunity to show everybody what we had."
Although McCarty and Lynch live together in an off-campus house, they didn't know each during their prep careers, and Young was a short-stick defensive midfielder last spring.
"At first, it was a little rough," Young said of his transition. "I was little more behind than I thought I would be, and I think that's a testament to how good everybody else is on the first line and second line. But having the whole fall to work with the coaches and Ben and Lynch and everybody else really helped me to transition over."
Lynch insists that it has taken the trio long to find a level of comfort with each other.
"I think our chemistry level is awesome because we all play similarly," he said. "So we know each other's tendencies within the offense. We know how to find the right spot at the right time. We know how each one is going to dodge so that we can get out of the way for him."
Although Lynch is regarded as the fastest midfielder, McCarty is the strongest and Young may have the hardest shot, all three are adept at initiating and forcing opposing defenses to slide. Their similar skill set was a point of concern for Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala.
"Their first midfield, we felt we were looking at three guys that looked like Kieran Eissler," Pietramala said after a 14-8 victory over the Tigers on March 12, referring to one of the Blue Jays' quickest dodgers. "They were small, quick and fast, and usually you face guys that are quick or fast, but not necessarily both. So it's a pretty athletic group."
The emergence of McCarty, Lynch and Young may be a shock to many, but not Towson coach Shawn Nadelen.
"I wouldn't say they've played better. I would say they've played up to expectations knowing what each guy individually is capable of as well as a unit," Nadelen said. "… With the way our offense moves and the motion style that we run and share the ball, a first midfield that can initiate well, break down defenders, and create slides and work the ball off of that or create their own shots definitely helps our offense get off the ground when they're on the field."
Lynch has missed the team's last two games with what is described as a lower-leg injury, but redshirt junior Brian Bolewicki has stepped in. The Cockeysville resident and Calvert Hall graduate has registered four goals and one assists in two starts for Lynch.
The offense is still headlined by junior attackmen Ryan Drenner (17 goals and 13 assists) and Joe Seider (17 goals and three assists), and that's fine with the midfield.
"Our job is to really just to create space for the offense as a whole," McCarty said. "If that means getting a hockey assist where we draw a slide and move it so that the next guy gets the assist, we're fine with that. As long as we're getting the win and we're helping the team, that's all that matters."