Here is the second installment of a series taking a look at each of the eight Division III programs in the state according to their order of finish from last season. Wednesday’s visit was with St. Mary’s. This is Frostburg State’s turn.
Overview: In 2017, the Bobcats had their fifth consecutive year with an above-.500 record, but their 9-7 mark included their fewest number of victories since 2012 when that team went 2-15 in its second year of existence on the Division III level. Last spring’s squad also finished fifth in the Capital Athletic Conference to qualify for the six-team league tournament, but was promptly bounced from the postseason by Mary Washington in the first round.
Reason for optimism: In 2016, the defense ranked 22nd in the country in goals allowed per game at 7.3. In 2017, that unit ranked 29th at 8.1.
The defense figures to be strong again. Senior Bradley Jones (18 ground balls, 10 caused turnovers) and junior Joey Lucas (12 GB, 9 CT) are back as starting defensemen, sophomore goalkeeper Jack Marks (7.99 goals-against average, .547 save percentage) returns to man the net, and junior long-stick midfielder Nick Mattis (17 GB, 7 CT) and senior short-stick defensive midfielder Brian Kilonsky (3 GB, 1 CT) anchor the defensive midfield.
“We return a lot of guys there and have a lot of depth,” coach Tommy Pearce said. “But we’ve kind of said that this is obviously a whole new season and when you look at last year, what we want to take away from that is we were 9-7 with a one-goal loss, four two-goal losses and one three-goal loss. So we thought we were pretty close last year and if our defense can have another year like they did last year, then our offense really needs to embrace scoring a few more goals every game. If we can do those things, we think we can have a pretty successful season.”
Reason for pessimism: As Pearce mentioned, all eyes will be on an offense that ranked 173rd at 8.6 goals last spring.
The hope is that the attack of senior Keegan Colegrove (32 goals, eight assists), junior Jake Horwath (7 G, 3 A) and sophomore Paul Ruppert (9 G) and the midfield of senior Adam Gross (29 G, 13 A) and sophomore Jimmy Lucas (11 G, 7 A) will be more seasoned. The return of a pair of injured starters in senior attackman Nate Collins (knee tendon) and senior midfielder Ryan Baukhages (broken thumb) is also welcomed, but Pearce said the onus is on the unit to be more productive.
“It’s comforting,” he said of returning five of six starters, “but at the same time, a lot of those guys back are the guys we had last year, and we weren’t really happy with our offensive production last year. So we kind of said that it’s great that we have everybody back, but everybody’s got to get a little bit better, and everybody’s really got to buy into having a really great offseason, that we’re going to be better on offense because we’re improved. … We say that it’s great if we make it a good thing for us. If we get the same guys back and don’t score more goals, then that’s not a huge benefit.”
Keep an eye on: Graduation sapped the Bobcats of their top faceoff specialist in Kyle Horak (55.7 percent on 160-for-287, 84 GB).
Sophomore Sam Natvig (48.0 percent on 12-for-25, 6 GB) performed well enough in the fall to emerge as the leading candidate to replace Horak, but a back injury has limited his reps in the preseason. Although Pearce anticipates that Natvig will be available for the season opener against Ursinus on Feb. 17, freshmen Matt Pagliaro and Mike Thorne and junior Drew Mash are getting work in Natvig’s absence.
“We’re going to be careful with Sam,” Pearce said. “We don’t want him to come back early and get hurt again early in the season. So we’re going to try to hold off Sam as much as we need to so that when he does come back, he’s hopefully good for the season.”
What he said: Although Frostburg State finished two games above .500, the team did not quite enjoy the success it had come to experience from 2013 to 2016. Some players might use that memory to drive themselves and their teammates, but Pearce said he has no intention of using last season as a motivational tool.
“I want them to not care about last year any longer and just focus on this year,” he said. “Last year was a long time ago. We’re looking forward to this season. I don’t want them to be angry. I don’t want them to think about it a whole lot. I want them to be focused on 2018.”