2014 lacrosse season preview for Division III Hood

Tuesday’s entry is the second installment of a series taking a look at each of the eight Division III programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. The Sun’s lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 7. This is Hood’s turn.

Overview: In 2011, the Blazers went 8-9 and qualified for the Capital Athletic Conference for the first time in school history. In the ensuing two seasons, they won seven games combined, including a 3-14 overall record and a 0-8 mark in the Middle Atlantic Conference in 2013. Coach Jeremy Mattoon was not on the sideline for the team’s regular-season finale, and assistant coach Brad Barber was promoted to succeed Mattoon as head coach. Can new leadership help Hood revisit the success of 2011?

Reason for optimism: The defense was not terribly effective at limiting opposing offenses, but the unit may be the team’s most experienced. Junior James Weger (58 ground balls and 41 caused turnovers) will return to long-stick midfielder, the position he played as a freshman, and sophomore defenseman Nicholas Galliani has transferred.

Senior Domenic Cetrone (26 GB, 16 CT), sophomore Tucker Palmer (17 GB, 9 CT) and senior Mark Filuta (18 GB, 14 CT) are competing to start on defense, and juniors Patrick O’Leary (35 GB, 10 CT) and Miguel Caruso (9 GB, 3 CT) are shifting from long-stick midfield to close defense. Barber said Weger is the anchor of the defense.

“He’s definitely one of our most versatile defensemen,” Barber said. “He can play up and he can play close. He’s a very, very strong athlete. If anyone gets injured, we’ll be able to place him on close, and [sophomore] Jared [Bileski] will take more of the reps [at long-stick midfielder] that way. But we’re going to start [Weger] off at LSM.”

Reason for pessimism: The offense has averaged just 5.8 and 5.2 goals in 2012 and 2013, respectively. And with sophomore attackman Zachary Speights (nine goals and five assists) having transferred and midfielders Alex Engler (11, 14) and Adam Patterson (4, 5) having graduated, the unit looms as a large mystery. Barber knows that the offense must prove itself this spring.

“[H]istorically, we haven’t been able to score much,” he said. “I’d say that our defense has always been our strong suit, but I think this year, I think we’re going to possess the ball a little more on offense. I’d say that in the past, that’s been our question mark, and I’m interested in seeing how much their hard work has paid off. I’m looking forward to the growth of our offense.”

Keep an eye on: The Blazers signed a large recruiting class, and several of the incoming freshmen could make an immediate contribution. Alex Villegas (Francis Scott Key) and Brett Humphreys could both start on attack, and Nick Druelinger (John Carroll) and Patrick O’Brien are poised to start in the midfield. Those four players have shown Barber some promise already.

“Brett Humphreys is a fantastic athlete, and Alex Villegas is as an attackman as well,” he said. “Then you have Pat O’Brien and Nick Druelinger. I think they’re all good athletes that are going to make an impact early in the season.”

What he said: Mattoon was never shy about voicing his expectations, and Barber seems to have echoed that trait when asked to evaluate his team’s potential in 2014.

“Last year, we went 3-14. That was unexpected, and we expected to do much better,” he said. “A step forward would be a better season than last, but I have higher expectations than that. I would like to get around .500. I think we have the talent to do that. I think we have the talent to compete. I think we have the talent to be in some very, very close games. Being a young team, those games could fall either way, but I think we’re prepared enough to let our win-loss [record] hopefully get around to that .500 level. So that’s the goal for the season. I told the guys that a step forward is to win more games than we did last year, but I don’t want to win just four games. As a team, we want to try to improve as much as possible, and I think looking forward, .500 is a good goal for us to have.”

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