College lacrosse: Navy men 'hungry' for a win
It's not a shock to see Navy men's lacrosse start the season 0-2. After all, it would have been an upset for the Midshipmen to beat Johns Hopkins or Maryland, which are now ranked fifth and second in the latest poll by Inside Lacrosse.
It was disappointing nonetheless for Navy, which came within a whisker of reaching the semifinals last season and was No. 11 in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll.
"They're good teams, but we think we're a good team, too," said head coach Rick Sowell upon completion of the difficult opening week, which saw Navy play at Hopkins on Tuesday night then host Maryland four days later.
Navy, which dropped to 17th in the latest Inside Lacrosse poll, now makes the two-hour trek across the Eastern Shore to Newark to take on an opponent it is expected to beat in Delaware (1-1). The Midshipmen narrowly won last year's meeting between the schools, 5-1 in Annapolis.
If Navy hopes to make the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season, this game along with non-conference contests against Pennsylvania and Dartmouth of the Ivy League could prove crucial.
"It's been a while since we lost two in a row. We definitely don't want to drop three in a row," Sowell said. "We need a win. Now would be as good a time as any to get one. Fortunately, we've had a little time to catch our breath and correct some things."
Sowell was thankful Navy had a full week to prepare for Delaware, which was nipped in its opener by Bucknell (14-13) then blew out Mount St. Mary's (18-5).
"There's still a lot of the season left. We haven't even hit our conference schedule," Sowell said. "So you hate to go out and say this is a must-win. We are hungry to get that first W, no doubt about it."
Sowell along with assistants Ryan Wellner and Michael Phipps had several issues to address in the wake of the losses to Hopkins and Maryland, both of which scored 15 goals on Navy. The Midshipmen have a well-earned reputation for playing stingy defense, ranking in the top four nationally for scoring defense 10 times since 2000.
"Navy and 15 goals allowed on defense doesn't go together," said Sowell, whose squad led Division I in goals-against average during the 2016 regular season. "We need to put it under the microscope and figure out some things. I have no doubt that our defense will live up to its reputation."
Sowell and Wellner, who serves as defensive coordinator, reviewed the Johns Hopkins and Maryland tapes carefully to figure out where the breakdowns occurred.
"We don't think we're far off. There are little things that need to be tightened up," Sowell said. "We need to improve our one-on-one play, we need to get better with our pick play, we need to make sure we're all on the same page when we slide and rotate."
Short stick defensive midfielder D.J. Plumer missed considerable practice time and did not play against Hopkins due to an injury. Sowell said several other members of the defense have been banged up.
"It's been really nice to have the whole defense together for practice this week. That only happened a couple times during preseason," he said. "They need to get on the same page and build that continuity you need on defense. On defense, you need all six guys working together. You can't have people playing on an island."
Two-time All-American Chris Fennell is the leader of the Navy close defense, which consists of a couple first-year starters in Michael Strack and Steve Hincks. Hiram Carter, who started every game last season, replaced Hincks during the Maryland game.
Sowell said Hincks would likely start against Delaware and emphasized that Navy's defensive issues against Maryland went way beyond one individual. Carter returned to working as a short stick defensive midfielder in practice this week.
Since 2004, Navy boasts a 94-27 record when limiting opponents to nine goals or less. The Midshipmen give up single-digit goals more often than not.
"That's something we really pride ourselves on. We're not getting it done right now," Fennell said. "We have two captains on the defensive end, a lot of returning players. We have plenty of talent on defense and it's just not showing itself. We have to go back to the drawing board and figure some things out."
Another topic open for discussion among the coaching staff involves the distribution of playing time within the midfield. Navy's first offensive unit took the majority of runs through two games and appeared to wear down in the second half of each.
Sophomore Greyson Torain, the team's most dangerous midfielder, also plays the wing on faceoffs and sometimes must drop back on defense as well. Senior Colin Flounlacker leads the unit in scoring with three goals and three assists.
One unofficial count had the second midfield, comprised of junior Ray Wardell along with sophomores Drew Smiley and Ian Burgoyne, getting into the game for 11 of 54 settled possessions versus Hopkins and Maryland. Smiley scored two goals against the Terrapins while Wardell banged the back of the net on the Blue Jays.
"When you lose the first couple games, everything is on the table. You look at personnel, you look at schemes," Sowell responded when asked if the second midfield would get more playing time moving forward. "Greyson Torain and Colin Flounlacker are going to play a lot. That's just a fact."
Sophomore attackman Ryan Wade has replaced Patrick Keena as the offensive quarterback primarily operating behind the cage. Wade leads Navy in scoring with 11 points on four goals and seven assists.
"What can you say? The numbers speak for themselves," Sowell said of Wade's early production. "I'm not surprised because he's a pretty good player."
Junior attackman Jack Ray, the team's leading returning scorer, was shut out by Maryland defenseman Curtis Corley on Saturday. Ray attempted seven shots, five of which were on goal, but could not beat goaltender Danny Morris.
"Jack has been locked in shooting-wise, but was just a little off (on Saturday)," Sowell said.
Sowell said he does not expect Ray to be held without a point too often this season but noted that Navy scored 12 goals nonetheless.
"When you score 12 goals, regardless of how you get them, I would venture to say you should win most games," he said. "It was good to see seven different guys score goals. If we can get contributions from a number of different people it obviously bodes well for our offense going forward."
This article is written by Bill Wagner from The Capital, Annapolis, Md. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.