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Division III men’s lacrosse preview for Hood Blazers

Monday’s entry is the fourth 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. Friday’s visit was with McDaniel. This is Hood’s turn.

Overview: After winning four games in 2014, six in 2015 and five in 2016, the Blazers jumped to eight victories last spring, matching the school record for wins set by the 2011 squad. But excitement over the team’s 8-9 mark was tempered by a 1-7 record in the Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth for the second year in a row. Hood was voted by the league’s coaches to finish eighth again in the conference’s preseason poll.

Reason for optimism: An opportunistic attack that fueled an offense that finished last spring ranked 84th out of 223 in Division III is sparking optimism for coach Brad Barber.

Juniors Grayson Zubradt (52 goals, eight assists) and Zak Kooser (8 G, 41 A) are back. Sean Murphy (10 G, 6 A) has graduated, but Barber likes what he has seen from a trio of freshmen in Connor Smith, Jason Jaworski and Gavin Combe in their competition to be that third starter.

“We have a couple other younger guys that we brought in that will be able to fill in and play some good, valuable minutes to support the others,” he said. “So we are much stronger at attack than we were last year, which is very exciting. We used to be midfield-heavy as far as our strength. Now I would say that we are very strong on both ends of the offense.”

Reason for pessimism: Speaking of that midfield, there are some lingering questions within that unit.

Alex Villegas (18 G, 4 A) graduated and another fellow starter in sophomore Tristan Moreno (23 G, 10 A) transferred to Cortland to be closer to home. Junior Eddie Somerville (25 G, 8 A) and sophomore Patrick Hurley (7 G, 4 A) are expected to fill the first line, but they are the only sure pieces in the midfield.

“The rest is up in the air,” Barber said. “We have a tremendous amount of talent that we’re still evaluating. We’ve got some first-time freshmen and then some returners. [Sophomore] Matt Dees moved from attack and will be in the midfield. We’ve got some good young players in [freshmen] Michael Mullen, Bentley LeBarron, Josh Patterson. So we’ve got some good guys across the board that are able to fill in and get some valuable minutes while they’re young and help them progress in our offense over the next four years.”

Keep an eye on: Sophomore Ben Gilbert (50.0 percent on 29-for-58, 39 GB) has cemented himself as the successor to Zach Kauffman (66.9 percent on 224-for-355, 118 GB) as the team’s primary faceoff specialist.

Gilbert learned under Kauffman’s tutelage, but Barber said Gilbert will need assistance from his teammates on the wings. The hope is that players like senior long-stick midfielder Will Clampitt (34 GB, 21 CT, 6 G), senior short-stick defensive midfielder Danny Capps (4 GB) and Somerville and Hurley will help turn the possession battle in the Blazers’ favor.

“When it was a 50-50 ball last season, when I thought it should have ended up in our possession, it ended up going the other way,” Barber said. “But we’re a lot more mature on the wings. So that’s an area where I would like to see us continue to progress. … I’d like to clean up the wing play to create more offensive possessions on our end in our favor.”

What he said: Goalkeeper John Hoffman (10.29 goals-against average, .496 save percentage) has graduated, and junior Noah Waterlander (9.25 GAA, .417 save percentage) has the edge to start in net. But Barber said sophomore Kyle Morgenroth and freshmen Trenton Lazorchak and Jesse Myers could see some playing time.

“Each guy has come up in practice and shown us something different each day,” Barber said. “Some guys have better days than others, and that makes it tough on us. But it’s our job to put a guy in the cage that we think is going to do the best for our team. … We’re not opposed to using a two-goalie rotation. We’re not opposed to using a guy that’s hot that week, that’s having a great practice. We’re going to play the goalie that gives us the best chance to win on game day.”

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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