Here is the opening installment of a series that checks in with the eight Division III programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. So Wednesday begins with a visit with St. Mary’s.
The good: After seven years with Chris Hasbrouck, the Seahawks turned the page under Jason Childs. One of the biggest changes Childs implemented was an emphasis on accelerating the team’s pace of play. Rather than turning a defensive stop or a turnover over to the offense to set up a 6-on-6 scheme, the players – especially on the defensive end of the field – were encouraged to attack opponents as quickly as possible. The strategy did not always work as St. Mary’s finished with a 4-9 overall record and a 2-6 mark in the Capital Athletic Conference, but Childs noticed a transformation among the players.
“I think some of the positives were just a renewed sense of energy,” he said. “I know everyone in lacrosse is talking about Brown and how the one word to define their season was 'fun.' I know that our guys would want a better record, but they just talked about how much fun they had this year and how much more fun everything was. I think the program fell back in love with lacrosse, that was a lot of what I heard. … We brought the energy back, brought the love of lacrosse back, and we saw the work ethic return to the field.”
** The offense fared well under Childs, a four-year starter at Dickinson who honed his coaching chops as an offensive coordinator prior to joining the Seahawks. The unit scored 11.2 goals per game, which ranked as the third-highest average since at least 2008. Players like senior attackmen Conor Jordan and Nicholas Wilkinson and junior attackman Brendan Steele doubled their point production from last season, and Childs attributed the team’s offensive prowess to the aforementioned emphasis on playing faster.
“We had graduated a ton of points the year before, and when I got the job, I was thinking, ‘Where is the production going to come from?’” Childs said. “The fact that we were able to do that was actually pretty impressive for me considering what we were returning. I think playing that up-tempo game increased our productivity.”
** Jordan (37 goals and 20 assists), Wilkinson (16 G, 12 A) and Steele (17 G, 8 A) each enjoyed career years. But perhaps the player with the most dramatic campaign was senior midfielder Austin Toland. Prior to this past spring, the Cockeysville resident and St. Paul’s graduate had accumulated two goals and one assist in 37 games as primarily a short-stick defensive midfielder. Starting all 13 games on the first midfield, Toland registered 17 goals and six assists, tying Steele for second on the team in goals and ranking fourth in points. Childs understood why the previous regime went with Toland on defense instead of offense.
“I think he was just such a good defensive player at the midfield that he got put in that position because from a role standpoint, there probably wasn’t a kid on our team that played better defense than Austin,” Childs said. “At the same time, he was good enough to play on the offensive end. He was a guy that we used both ways this year. We were completely fine when he got 'stuck' on defense. He didn’t really get stuck on defense. We were happy with him playing. Once I watched him play, I said, ‘Wow, this kid should have been playing offensive middie a long time ago.’”
The bad: The Seahawks finished below .500 for the third straight year and failed to qualify for the Capital Athletic Conference tournament for the first time since the league implemented a tourney-style playoff in 1999. The nine losses were the most since 2014 when that squad went 7-10. It was a disappointing ending for a program accustomed to competing for a shot at going to the NCAA tournament.
“The fact that our record was what it was, that’s on me and not on the guys,” Childs said. “They needed to be more prepared, and my job is to prepare them. So I kind of shoulder the responsibility of getting them more prepared. … That’s the thing we’re working really hard on. I’m not a sit-and-pout kind of guy. I’m a ‘this didn’t work and now we’ve got to try something else’ guy. We’re hard at work to try to fix any issues we think we have.”
** As effective as the offense was, the defense struggled mightily. St. Mary’s surrendered an average of 14.2 goals, which ranked 201st out of 223 Division III programs. A pair of starters from last year’s squad in goalkeeper Joey Casey and defenseman Tanner Lamberti did not return, forcing the unit to go with junior Max Alderman (14.33 goals-against average and a .460 save percentage) and freshman Benjamin Stevens (23 ground balls and nine caused turnovers). Overall, the defense’s youth showed.
“I don’t think they were used to playing at the level we’re playing at,” Childs said. “So this was almost like their freshmen year on the field in a sense because they were getting used to everything. … While our offense got better as the season went along, our defense did not. They did get better, but they didn’t progress as well as our offense. So that’s one of the things we’re really looking at and trying to see what we can do.”
** Whether it was a lack of experience or cohesion, St. Mary’s frequently found itself on the wrong end of runs. Five of their losses were highlighted by opponents embarking on significant spurts. Washington College went on an 8-0 run in the first half en route to a 10-4 victory, Dickinson scored seven consecutive goals in the first half to cruise to a 13-3 triumph, and Christopher Newport, Mary Washington and York enjoyed 5-0 spurts for comfortable wins. Childs said the players have to build their mental fortitude when facing adversity
“We had a habit this year of going down and putting our head down and getting beat up a little bit, and then once we focused, we were able to fight back and kind of stop the bleeding and get back and make the games a lot closer and have a chance of winning,” he said. “But we were just very bad with runs, and that’s something we’re focusing on for next year.”
Personnel changes: The attack will look much different after the graduation of Jordan and Wilkinson. Steele is penciled in as a starter, and sophomore Steve Jones (8 G, 1 A), freshman Ray LaPlaca (4 G, 4 A) and some incoming recruits could fill out the rest of the unit. Childs is especially optimistic about Jones, a Cockeysville resident and Loyola Blakefield graduate.
“Someone who will be back for us that I don’t think anyone is honestly paying attention to is Steve Jones,” Childs said. “He got hurt very early in the year and came back for our Salisbury game. I think he scored two against Salisbury and played against Illinois Wesleyan and had six goals and one assist in three quarters, and the only reason he played in three quarters was because he broke his thumb in the third quarter and was out for the whole season. So in two games, he had eight goals and one assist. I think he’s going to be a massive part of our offense next year, and I’m really excited about what he’s going to do.”
** The midfield also has some big holes to fill. Toland and Matt Carney (10 G, 1 A) are gone from the first line, and J.G. Hahn (4 G, 1 A) is no longer on the second unit. Junior Luke Eshleman (9 G, 6 A) should return to anchor the starting midfield, and junior Mike Becraft (8 G, 3 A), LaPlaca and freshman Marshall Rhodes (3 G, 3 A) will vie to join him. Reloading in the midfield is a huge concern for Childs.
“My big thing is in the midfield, and we’re going to need some guys to step up next year,” he said. “The ball’s in their court. We’ve talked to them about what they need to do to get better, and we’re excited about those guys coming back.”
** The team won just 44.6 percent of its faceoffs, but graduated its top two specialists in Teddy Secor (45.9 percent on 79-for-172 and 23 ground balls) and Caleb Jardeleza (43.6 percent on 58-for-133, 17 GB). Sophomore Bayard Maiser, a transfer from Maryland who played in just three games, could get some reps, but Childs is excited about an incoming recruit he declined to name. Childs said he has few reservations about handing the faceoff duties to a first-year player.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “I guess I would say no because if it’s not him, I’m not sure who it’s going to be. I will say Bayard Meiser is a kid who joined our team late and started working out with our faceoff guys and did a pretty good job relearning and redeveloping that. So I think he’s someone that with fall ball work can be a guy we count on if the inexperience holds that young man back. But I don’t anticipate any problems. I think [the incoming freshman] is that good, and I think we should be OK.”
Forecast for 2017: Stormy. A year after being faced with several voids on defense, the script has been flipped as St. Mary’s now faces challenges in replenishing its offense. Steele and Eshleman should return, but expecting that unit to maintain its pace from this season might be too much to ask. The defense anchored by junior defensemen Mike Freiji (33 ground balls and 17 caused turnovers) and Javier Flores (34 GB, 8 CT) must prove it can cover the gaps opposing offenses exposed. And the unit might be under duress considering the lack of experience on faceoffs. Returning to contention for the CAC tournament should be a priority, but getting to that stage could take longer than originally anticipated.