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Review & preview: St. Mary’s men’s lacrosse

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. Wednesday begins with a visit with St. Mary’s, which finished with a 1-14 overall record and a 1-7 mark in the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC).

REVIEW

The good: The Seahawks limped to their worst record in at least 24 years – a startling result after last season’s squad went 4-9 overall and 2-6 in the league in Jason Childs’ debut after succeeding Chris Hasbrouck. The team regressed in many major categories (more on those later), but Childs said the coaches and players have discussed how to attack the offseason to make the necessary improvements to be more successful next spring.

“It was a very difficult year and incredibly painful to go through, but I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I’m just an optimistic person, and we talked a lot while we were going through it about learning a lesson and what we needed to do better and what we needed to do differently and just constantly tried to learn from what was going on. So I think there are some positives that we found in this year that we’re really trying to work on and make better.”

>> As disappointing or frustrating or anger-inducing as the 2017 season was, the players continued to exert themselves in an effort to turn the tide in a positive direction. It would have been easy for the players to lose interest and go through the motions halfheartedly. But Childs said he was encouraged that the team worked diligently to collect victories.

“We tried a lot of different things with regards to shooting, and the guys always showed up to practice to shoot,” he said. “We changed what we were doing in practice as far as how we went about clearing the ball. So we did things, and I think the guys saw we were trying to change things and trying to work on those things. They were showing up and putting in the effort to do that. As bad as the year appeared on paper, they were incredibly resilient through all of that. At no point did they give up or quit. We just did our best to go to work every day.”

>> The 14.3 goals per game surrendered by the defense was a black eye for St. Mary’s, but that did not diminish the value of senior goalkeeper Max Alderman. The Lutherville resident and Calvert Hall graduate endured a season-worst 14.35 goals-against average and had a .479 save percentage, but he did rank second in the CAC in total saves with 192. Childs said those numbers might have been better if Alderman had gotten more support from his teammates.

“He actually played very well in a number of games and was an amazing captain for us,” Childs said. “It was just the number of shots he was getting and where those shots were coming from did not help him at all in any kind of box score. I did have a large number of opposing coaches tell me how good he was in the cage for us, and he really was. So as crazy as that sounds for how the year went, I think Max was a steady and great player for us when we needed him.”

The bad: The Seahawks’ slide to eighth place in the nine-team conference was surprising considering that the program was voted to finish sixth in the league’s preseason poll. The squad opened its overall schedule with eight consecutive losses before avoiding the humiliation of a winless year courtesy of a 20-7 rout at conference rival Wesley on March 25. With the benefit of hindsight, Childs pointed to the season opener Feb. 18 against Dickinson at St. Paul’s School as a harbinger of the future.

“The tale of our season was when we went into Dickinson with 14 healthy guys,” he said. “We had the flu that hit us, and then we kind of were in a wave of guys getting healthy and other guys getting sick. That carried on into probably right after Marywood. And then we played Washington College pretty tough, and after that, we were 0-4, and it was mentally challenging for the guys to feel like we could turn the season around. And we didn’t have the depth. We were a team of 38 guys, and the second that we started getting guys hurt or guys sick, we didn’t have the depth to turn on that. So I think that started to plague other aspects of what we were trying to do.”

>> After the offense averaged 11.2 goals in 2016, its production dropped to 9.0 this past spring. One factor could have been traced to the graduation of four players who scored at least 10 goals a year ago. But Childs pointed to a .227 shooting percentage as the primary culprit for the unit’s ineffectiveness. Childs, who said he has never had an offense finish a season below 28 percent, said he has picked the brains of at least a dozen other coaches to improve his team’s shooting woes.

“I think we missed the cage a lot,” he said. “We did a number of things to make that better throughout the season – different shooting drills, working on technique, trying to think as much outside of the box as we could to make that better. But we shot 23 percent on the year, and shooting 23 percent is not good. Our shots-on-goal [percentage] was 56 percent. So we really weren’t getting a good number of shots on-goal. I just feel like it really plagued us, and we tried a number of things to get better, and some of it worked and some of it didn’t. Some of it worked for some guys, and some of it didn’t work for others. We’re addressing that in recruiting, and we’re addressing that in different drills that we can do.”

>> A defense that gave up 14.2 goals per game in 2016 was slightly more generous this past spring at 14.3 goals. And for the second straight year, the unit was crippled by too many turnovers and a low clearing percentage. St. Mary’s coughed up the ball an average of 19.7 times and cleared the ball 75.7 percent of the time. Childs noted that those miscues gave opponents too many high-quality scoring opportunities.

“We gave other teams a counterattack a lot of times,” he said. “When you clear the ball 75 percent of the time and we were turning the ball over, we were playing a lot of defense, and we were playing a lot of defense after making a stop and not being able to clear the ball. When you clear the ball at 75 percent, that means a large portion of your turnovers are coming in your clear. So our transition defense was tested this year a tremendous amount, and we didn’t handle that well throughout an entire game.”

PREVIEW

Personnel changes: A year after graduating two starters in Austin Toland and Matt Carney from the midfield, the Seahawks bade farewell to two more members of the first midfield. Brendan Steele scored 17 points on 12 goals and five assists, and Luke Eshleman added nine points on three goals and six assists. Steele’s speed and Eshleman’s downhill dodging will be missed, but sophomores Marshall Rhodes (4 G, 4 A) and Connor Benhoff (5 G, 2 A), freshman Erich Wuesthoff (2 G, 1 A) and junior Connor Quinn (9 G, 7 A) are candidates to join sophomore Ray LaPlaca (18 G, 7 A) as starters. Childs is also feeling positive about some midfielders in the incoming freshman class.

“I feel like we’ve attacked it in recruiting, and I think you just go back to work on the practice field,” he said. “We feel really good about who we have returning. We’re really excited about them.”

>> The graduation of Alderman saps the team of one of its top leaders and workhorses. Alderman played all but 26 minutes of the season, with sophomore Ross Snodderly earning the remaining playing time. Snodderly, a Reisterstown resident and Franklin graduate, is the leading candidate to start in the cage next spring, according to Childs.

“In some regards, I think Ross could be a better ball-stopper than Max,” he said. “I think in some regards, Ross could help with our clearing game a little better than Max. If he truly works on his craft over the summer, we’re excited to see what we will have in the goal next year. I think the ball’s in his court. Leaving campus, he was excited about the opportunity, and we’re looking forward to him putting in the work.”

>> In addition to Alderman, the defense graduated starting defenseman Javier Flores (30 ground balls and nine caused turnovers) and backup long-stick midfielder Jack Elliott (22 GB, 18 CT). But replacing short-stick defensive midfielder Mike Becraft (28 GB, 7 CT, 10 G, 6 A) figures to be an offseason priority. Childs said the positive sign is that freshman Jaylen DeCarlo (1 GB) is poised to join junior David Fritz (20 GB, 9 CT, 1 G, 2 A) as the starters there.

“We’re really excited about Jaylen and David carrying the torch that Mike Becraft did for us,” he said. “And we feel like we have two incoming freshmen that could challenge those guys to play right away. So I think that depth there has gotten much better.”

Forecast for 2018: Stormy. It’s not going to be easy to turn around a program that just slogged through its worst season since at least 1992, but there are a few signs of hope. The offense lost only 20 percent of its scoring via graduation and is expected to return its top four scorers, including the entire starting attack of sophomore Max Groen (25 G, 16 A), redshirt sophomore Steve Jones (24 G, 3 A) and junior Dan Long (12 G, 10 A). But the offense will be under duress if the defense cannot keep opponents off the scoreboard. Seven opposing offenses scored 15 goals or more, and that number could increase with a new goalie in the net. Childs is leaning on an angry and motivated core to lead the way back to redemption – and a berth in the six-team Capital Athletic Conference tournament.

Twitter: @edwardleesun

Email: edward.lee@baltsun.com

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