Division I lacrosse preview: UMBC Retrievers

Friday’s entry is the third installment of a week-long series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. Check back on Saturday for a preview of Mount St. Mary’s, and The Sun’s lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 8. This is UMBC’s turn.

Overview: The Retrievers’ three-year drought from capturing the America East coincides with the program’s three-year absence from the NCAA tournament. Last year’s team did go 3-2 in the conference and grabbed the second seed in the America East tournament, but fell to Albany in a tournament semifinal. UMBC has the potential to overtake reigning conference titlist Stony Brook, but the Retrievers also have to contend with the Seawolves, who were selected as the preseason favorite to win the Amercia East this season.

Reason for optimism: An offense that averaged 9.6 goals per season after posting 8.6 goals in 2011 is bolstered by the return of its starting attack of seniors Scott Jones (36 goals and four assists), Joe Lustgarten (8, 29) and Matt Gregoire (16, 1). Those three should provide a stable foundation until the midfield and defense are settled. “I think it does help to return your entire starting attack,” coach Don Zimmerman said. “But I think a real key for us is just depth. Everybody’s competing out there and with one another. We have a starting attack and they’re all seniors, but we have some underclassmen that we feel are very good players, and they’re hungry and they’re pushing those seniors. … We’re being very, very competitive in practices, and when you’re competitive in practice, you hope you’re going to be there in ball games.”

Reason for pessimism: The coaching staff is still assessing its first defense, but that unit might have to play before a new goalkeeper. Sophomore Wes DeRito is challenging senior Adam Cohen for the right to start in the cage. Cohen has the experience, but DeRito has flashed potential in the preseason. “It’s real close,” Zimmerman said. “Right now, I think Adam has the edge. But at this point, we’re keeping an eye on Adam and Wes DeRito. I think they’re both playing very well. They’re pushing one another. It’s still somewhat up in the air. I would say right now that Adam has the edge. Is it because he’s a senior? Maybe, but I don’t think there should be any entitlement factor. I think right now, they’re both playing well, and Adam has the edge.”

Keep an eye on: Junior Phil Poe won 54.4 percent of his faceoffs last season, taking an astounding 98.2 percent of the team’s draws. Poe is back and ready to pick up where he left off, but he won’t be alone. Senior Joseph Impallaria has returned after sitting out last season due to surgery to repair torn rotator cuffs in both shoulders, and he won 50.5 percent of his faceoffs in 2011. Zimmerman said he prefers having a couple options at faceoffs. “It’s good to have a 1-2 punch when it comes to facing off,” he said. “Phil had a good year for us last year. Joe’s back and Joe’s a senior and has really been showing us that he’s hungry to win that starting position.  I would tell you that at this point, it’s very, very close as to who’s going to take that opening draw for us this Saturday and beyond.”

What he said: Short-stick defensive midfielder isn’t usually a position of glory, but Zimmerman likes what he has seen from sophomore Kevin McDonough, a transfer from Binghamton. McDonough could start alongside senior Neill Lewnes, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and missed the team’s last six contests. Lewnes’ gritty, tough resolve was sorely missed by his teammates last season, and that’s why Zimmerman is delighted that Lewnes has been fully cleared by the medical staff. “It means the world,” Zimmerman said. “I thought when we lost Neill to the knee injury last year, it really affected this team – not only in a playing capacity, but also in a motivational component. Neill did so many things for us in the field. He plays hard, and he’s so willing. Neill had his surgery and sat out the fall. He didn’t play and chomping at the bit to get back out there and now he’s been cleared and is ready to go. It’s good to see him back.”

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