Today’s entry is the third installment of a series taking a look at each of the eight Division III programs in Maryland according to their order of finish from last season. Thursday’s visit was with Frostburg State. This is McDaniel’s turn.
Overview: The Green Terror’s overall record of 6-10 in 2017 might not have seemed like much, but it was an improvement from the 3-12 mark in 2016. Last spring’s gain was built mostly on the team’s strength against non-Centennial Conference opponents as McDaniel went 5-3 against that group. But the program faltered against its league schedule, sliding to a 1-7 record and missing the conference tournament for the fifth consecutive year.
Reason for optimism: A three-year run as one of the most solid defenses in Division III might continue this spring.
Although the unit graduated starting defensemen Will Kroppe (63 ground balls, 59 caused turnovers) and Robert Breed (45 GB, 25 CT) and top long-stick midfielder Emmett Turley (36 GB, 21 CT), junior defenseman Cole Ostendarp (23 GB, 8 CT), sophomore long-stick midfielder Jack Myers (10 GB, 1 CT), and four short-stick defensive midfielders are back. Coach Keith Euker has high hopes for sophomore goalkeeper Jakob Katzen (10.33 goals-against average, .419 save percentage in six games, including one start) succeeding Bryan Ruygrok (9.09 GAA, .526 save percentage).
“The mentality that our defense has is one that you really want from your defense,” Euker said. “They take it personally when they get scored upon. They pull together when things are going wrong in practice and they figure it out. There’s not a whole lot of policing that I or our coaching staff has to do with our defense. It’s really more about teaching these guys different scenarios at this level and allowing them to develop and mature. For now, we don’t have quite that runway because we are throwing them right into the fire. But I feel good about our defense.”
Reason for pessimism: Avoiding injuries and illness might be the toughest assignment for the Green Terror.
There are only 33 players on the roster, and three of them are goalies. At times, the team has only had 25 players for practice. The lack of depth places a premium on the players taking care of their bodies, but Euker said no one is looking to use that as a crutch.
“Our numbers are very thin this year, but that’s just the hand that we’ve been dealt, and we’re going to not really allow that to be an excuse or affect us either way,” he said. “A lot of our guys are going to be pulling double duty during games because we just don’t have the numbers.”
Keep an eye on: If the offense has any hope of improving on last season’s average of 9.8 goals, it’s going to need some aid from the faceoff unit.
Gone is faceoff specialist Zach Bicho (61.9 percent on 159-of-257, 76 GB, three assists) and Turley, one of the team’s best players on the wings. Myers and junior Jack Paras (3 GB, 1 CT) will be asked to use their long poles to help, but Euker said that some of his confidence regarding the faceoff situation stems from the play of junior Jake Schoenick, who switched from long-stick midfielder to back up Bicho last year.
“We started that transition last year heading into the spring, and he really took to the job,” Euker said. “He didn’t sulk about it, he didn’t have a poor attitude. He just jumped right into faceoff technique and over the summer, he worked on that and worked on his conditioning. He lost 25 pounds in the offseason. So he’s really focused on his new craft and he’s done really well.”
What he said: McDaniel has been practicing from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily so that Euker’s assistants can take care of their responsibilities at work and school during the day. The darkness and cold are big challenges, but Euker hasn’t heard any complaints.
“In previous years, there’s been a few grumbles here and there,” he said. “This year, the guys are just jacked up for it. They get to practice early, guys stay afterward to shoot on the goal and throw the ball around. It’s 9:30 at night, and it’s pretty bitter at that point, but they just want to be out there. They love being with one another. So it’s a really good sign that we’re heading in the right direction.”