Last year in the division I play-offs, Princeton beat Towson by one goal before winning the National Championship over Syracuse in overtime. As close as those scores were these teams may even be more evenly matched this year. In fact, very little has changed since last year and what has is virtually identical. They all lost longtime starting goalies in John Horrigan, Trevor Tierney, and Rob Mulligan. This position has the capability of making or breaking each team. None of the three has a clear cut starter no questions asked. 'Cuse and Towson lost face-off specialists who were at the top of that world in Chris Cercy and Justin Berry respectively. Princeton lost more middies than the other two with Towson and Syracuse coming back with everyone. John Desko, Tony Seaman, and Bill Tierney represent three of the top coaches of not only today, but in history. It would be impossible to pick a clear favorite between these three, but they will certainly factor in the play-offs come May. Here's a breakdown of each team. The order is irrelevant.
Once again, Towson is a team that lost very little coming off a historical year with the biggest one season turn around in wins vs losses. They lost a great goalie in John Horrigan and one of the most talked about face-off players in Justin Berry, but that's it. Everyone else is back, maybe(if they're eligible).
At attack Brad Reppert will work from behind. Reppert is the classic double threat from X. If you go out and play him he can burn you with his speed, but if you play off him he'll pick you apart with his vision and quick feeds(evidenced by a well rounded 35g, 35a). What makes Reppert even more dangerous is a finisher like Kyle Campbell. Campbell scored 53 times last year, but if he doesn't score well in class he may have to sit out this year. Head Coach Tony Seaman said it,"depends on his last two marks during the winter session." They will know this week. Ryan Obloj rounds out the deadly trio working from the wing also displaying a well rounded game(35g,25a).
They will be joined by the first midfield of Hunter Lochte, Brian Meyers, and Josh Tankersly. It's exciting just thinking about these six guys playing the game they way Seaman has them playing it. Seaman described the teams style of play this year. " Run and Run and Run some more. Aggressive defensively with fewer fouls I hope." When Towson lost to Princeton by one goal last year it was despite a myriad of penalties against. Back to the midfield, after Springer from Syracuse, Hunter Lochte has the deadliest outside shot in college lacrosse. Josh Tankersly is basically a fourth attackman out there displaying all the fine skills usually relegated to that position. Meyers can be a little bull headed running into traffic, but that's probably because he got used to running over three guys somewhere along the line. He's a physically imposing athlete who will create match up problems. Josh Cornett, Brad Monaco, and Jay Horowitz will make up the second line. This second unit combined for 45 points last year, yet another testament to the strength of this offense.
Replacing Berry in the face-off circle will be either Zack Smith or Ben Defelice. The defensive midfield will be Danny Cocchi, Drew Pfarr, and Alex Fountain.
The defense all returns for Towson including Neil Adams, Adam Baxter, and Wesley Speaks. When you play run and gun you need to have a defense who can handle the transition offense and these guys have plenty of experience. Of the three Adam Baxter stands out as a very special defenseman. If he plays the way he did last year he should be in the running for defenseman of the year. He's the kind of player we would want to build a team with. Baxter plays defense straight-up with his stick on the opponents hands. He's in great position all the time and his speed and awareness allow him to slide exceptionally quick to help his teammates. What puts Baxter in a class by himself is the way he can move the ball upfield once he gets it either with his foot speed or a seed for a pass.
Once again, the goalie is the big question. Right now John Hunt will get the start, but freshman Reed Sothoron is breathing down his neck.
Coach Seaman made an important observation on a big difference between this year and last year. " We believe we are a good team, we have worked very hard over the summer and fall to get ready for the season, but now we are the hunted instead of the hunters. We feel good about our team but we know that it will take hard work, team play and some luck to be in position to play for t the National Championship in May."
The team doesn't lack leadership and focus. Seaman talked about his leaders and team. "Jay Horowitz, Brad Reppert and Wes Speaks are not only the captains but are truly this teams leaders. Their work ethic, their actions on and OFF the field, their ability to relate to our team and staff are all characteristics that set them a above any leaders that I have ever coached. The loss to Princeton has given this team a great motivational factor that has carried them over the year in the weight room, on the practice field and in the classroom. They want the chance to be in Rutgers in May."
Princeton, defending champions, have lost the most of the three teams, but as always they have guys to fill in. They were hit hardest at the midfield and defense. On defense they lost two all Americans in goalie Trevor Tierney and defenseman Ryan Mollett. At the midfield they graduated Rob Torti, Matt Streibel, Chris Harrington (scoring threats), Matt Bailer and Winship Ross (defensive demons). The good news is they have last years three top scorers and starting attack returning.
The attack will be run from behind by sophomore Ryan Boyle who lived up to last years preseason hype by leading the team in scoring with 16 goals and 37 assists. BJ Prager will be the inside finisher and Sean Hartofolis will work from the wing with a canon for a shot and the speed to dodge. Head Coach Bill Tierney said,"We think it's a good group....Obviously, those were our top three scorers. They all returned so we're pretty excited about that attack group coming back." Brendan Tierney will be the fourth attackman coming off the bench. Of note, missing from the mix is Jason Donegar. Last year as a freshman he chipped in nine goals on limited playing time, but the sophomore took this year off because of a big course load. He's minoring in Spanish and spent the fall semester in Spain and will do an internship in Washington, DC this semester. Tierney looks forward to having him as a three year starter when he returns next year.
As mentioned before, the midfield was hit the hardest by graduation. Coach Tierney refers to the midfield,"a little thinner numerically. We had a lot more guys last year." In fact, Tierney has often said that his biggest problem last year was he had so much talent he wasn't sure who to put out on the field. At the midfield they get Matt Trevenen back who took a year off. Others who will figure in the offensive mix will be Owen Daly, Brad Dumont, Josh White, Will McColl, Danny Clark, and Mark Peligrino. Drew Casino brings a great deal of experience to face-offs and will also play some man-up. The defensive midfield unit will be Anthony Perna, Greg Golaszewski, and Kyle Baugher. When coach Tierney referred to Baugher he said,"Kyle Baugher, who we think is the best defensive middie in the country." Tierney has confidence in the group although he's not sure how the line-up will go yet as he explains,"That's probably the spot(midfield) that we have to do the most fiddling around with and tweaking between now and the end of February to see who plays best with who, but we think it's a strong group."
The defense is rock solid despite the loss of Ryan Mollett. Scott Farrell will anchor the unit as the slide man from the crease. Damien Davis will most likely draw the other teams top threat while Joe Rosenbaum, Brian Lieberman, and Ricky Schultz will round out the defensive corps. With the exception of Scott Farrell Coach Tierney feels comfortable starting all of them as a longstick middies. "Defensively we'll be able to get after people a little more with so much experience back there,"claims Tierney. He does concede, however, that losing Mollett may hurt the transition game a little.
The big question for all three teams is the goaltender. Julian Gould is a junior and spent the last two years as Trevor Tierney's back-up. He'll start for the Tigers and Tierney has confidence in his ability. The question is how effectively Gould can become the leader of the defense or if he even has to. It's all purely speculation at this point with Gould. Tierney described the situation aptly. "When he's been in there he's done well, it's just a little different being the starter."
We talked to Coach Tierney about his overall view of the team and this string of quotes tells the story. "I like this team, it's probably as balanced a group as we've ever had. They can score goals. We can play defense, we can win face-offs so it'll be interesting to see how they gel....I look at Kyle Baugher and really think he defines the personality of the team. He's the most unsung of the best players in the country...This senior class loves lacrosse. They've been very successful, but they're a little more low keyed, like having fun with lacrosse as opposed to thinking it's a job...I think one of the keys for us as coaches is to make sure we play into that personality because I think that's how they play best...They have the ability to push it a little bit, free lance it a bit, and kinda' do their thing a little bit, but certainly under some guidelines; that's for sure. It wouldn't be any fun for me if we just let them play."
Syracuse was great last year, but despite losing a stellar goalie in Rob Mulligan and starting attackman Liam Banks, they'll be a year stronger and wiser. They'll also have the sting of losing in the finals last year to inspire them. Mulligan will be tough to replace, but Syracuse is loaded with offense so finding a replacement for Banks won't be a problem.
At attack Josh Coffman, Mike Powell, and Mike Springer will start with Powell and Coffman able to run midfield as well. They combined for 94 goals last year and a total of 175 points. Powell and Coffman are two of the most versatile offensive threats in the country. Actually, Powell is the biggest threat in the country. The two of them will burn guys all day and if Springer's man slides he'll be open to release the 100+ mph shot. Actually, these three make up a better attack unit than the unit with Banks and the emergence of some dominating middies make it an easy move. If Powell or Coffman do move to midfield they can insert sophomore Brian Nee who got most of his playing time on man-up last year with his lefty canon.
At midfield Brian Soliday and Spencer Wright are two pillars of dominance. These guys are both 6'3" and can run. Spencer Wright scored a one handed goal last year in the play-offs, that's how strong these guys are. Wright chipped in 18 goals last year while Soliday scored 20. With these two out there along with the starting attack there will definitely be some mismatches. Pat Hogan could have a break out year at midfield as well in his junior season. He had eight goals last year, but seems to be on the cusp of a much larger contribution.
On defense "Cuse gets back all of there starters. All Americans John Glatzel and Billy Saint George will flank the big man Soloman Bliss. Glatzel and Saint George will throw a lot more checks while Bliss will throw the body. These guys have played many games together on top of being extremely talented. They'll have to come together and play even better in front of whoever plays goalie.
Alex Mummolo was the first guy to go in last year when Mulligan was no longer needed, but as Tierney said being a starter is a little different. In fact, Desko won't really know who'll replace his goaltender or his face-off man(Chris Cercy had the best face-off percentage last year). Desko commented on these positions. "I don't want to say that the players we are looking at to play those positions are a weakness, but to expect any of them to have the success that these players(Mulligan and Cercy) had this year would be difficult." Desko explained the difficulty of finding guys to play. "Certain players will be doing certain things in practice. All of the sudden, you get into a game situation and they'll show you a little more or a little less."
Some freshman that have impressed Desko are Jake Plunkett(face-off guy), Joe Sabasteanski (defenseman), Zak Wallace (attack), and Jarrod Park(Big East Freshman of the Year in soccer). Desko likes these young athletes, but admits,"It's going to be difficult for a freshman to break into the line-up."
Desko added,"Our goal is to stay focused on each opponent. Any team like a Syracuse can tend to look into the future...I think we've been in the final four 19 years in a row and you can't take that for granted. You can't think that 's just going to happen by itself."