When 19 of 41 players are newcomers to the program and 65 percent of the team are freshmen and sophomores, there's bound to be a learning curve.
"The guys practice very hard, they compete and get after it, said head coach Shawn Nadelen about the 2013 edition of Towson men's lacrosse. "We are such a young team, and we work to understand the speed, pace and work ethic for a DI program. It's understanding how important the ball is and really understanding the offense and the clears and the nuances of the game and being able to operate those at a very high level."
To help guide the newcomers, the Tigers return four All-Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) honorees in junior co-captain Thomas DeNapoli (Second Team), junior John Fennessy (Second Team) and sophomores Justin Mabus (All-Rookie) and JoJo Ostrander (All-Rookie) as well as starting goalkeeper and co-captain senior Andrew Wascavage. All five were instrumental in leading Towson back to the CAA Tournament after a one-year absence and improving to a 7-8 record after going 3-10 in 2011.
Wascavage is one of the four seniors on the squad. He returns to anchor the Tigers in goal. Wascavage played in all 15 games last season, starting 13. He earned the starting spot during Towson's 10-9, come-from-behind win at Stony Brook on March 17. He posted a goals-against-average (GAA) of 9.57 for the year and made 159 saves.
Behind him are junior Jake Graves and redshirt-freshman Tyler White. Nadelen says Graves has done a great job of continuing to develop his game, calling him a "great team guy who brings great energy to practice." White's strengths are his size, good hands, composure in the goal and his solid outlets. Freshman Ryan Adler made a huge improvement over the fall. Nadelen says of all the freshmen, Adler has grown the most. He has worked on tweaking his game to match the type and volume of shots common to the college game.
Fennessy, who was named CAA All-Rookie in 2011, started 14 games last year. He picked up 18 ground balls and caused 14 turnovers - second-most on the team. He fought injury issues throughout the fall and is working to get back into top form. Ostrander earned CAA All-Rookie honors last year after playing in all 15 games and tallying 18 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers.
Junior Billy Choiniere came into his own in the fall after turning a corner in his game last spring. He played in 10 games in 2012 and is pushing for a starting spot on close defense in 2013. Freshman Mike Lowe impressed the coaching staff in the fall. Nadelen calls him a "big, strong kid who plays with good aggression." He and sophomore John Horner are both very coachable and hard working. Senior Ty Murphy is a dark horse in this position. He has been plagued by injury but he has experience within the system.
Long Stick Midfield
Each athlete competing for a spot here is a true freshman. Aaron Moroney played on the silver medal-winning Canadian team at this year's U19 World Lacrosse Championships in Turku, Finland. That tournament and his national team's achievements gave him a lot of confidence coming into thecollege game. Moroney has an excellent stick off the ground and is great in transition. He has worked through the fall to adjust to Division I game speed and strength. Pat Conroy and Patrick McGuire are "energy guys" for the Tigers. They work extremely hard in practice and want to learn. Nadelen says they have developed well throughout the fall.
The Tigers return senior Jordan Fortmann and junior co-captain John Paukovits at defensive midfield. Paukovits returns to provide leadership in the midfield. The Army veteran has an ability to help in transition and gives the Tigers composure on the field.
Freshmen Nick Neale, Dan Livingston and Reece Bartell will compete for time as well. Neale has benefited from the fall scrimmages in adjusting to the college game. He has great size and athleticism and the coaching staff is excited about his potential. Livingston was injured over the summer and spent the fall working himself into the mix. Nadelen says he has a good head for the position, understanding angles and using his strong lacrosse IQ. Nadelen says Bartell is a player very similar to Fortmann. Bartell is a relentless worker who is good on transition and understands how and when to be physical.
The only returning Tiger with face off experience is sophomore Luke Pellizzi. He has good hands and is very explosive out of the face-off "X." He is very athletic and has great speed. Junior Austin Lyons joined the Tigers this season as a face-off specialist. A former member of the Towson club lacrosse team, Lyons is a competitor with good technique. He can adjust to his opponent's technique and counter it.
Freshman Conor Pequigney transferred from Syracuse and is eligible this spring. A local product from Archbishop Spalding High School, Pequigney can be a two-way midfielder. He has good size and good face-off technique. ESPN High School ranked him No. 77 nationally among high-schoolers and No. 6 at the face-off position.
The Tigers have a solid pool of talent in the offensive midfield. Nadelen calls junior Andrew Hodgson "the Energizer Bunny. If we didn't call him off the field, he'd never come off."
He played in all 15 games last season, scoring 12 goals and posting five assists for 17 points. He has improved his shot selection and refined his scoring ability. He provides good leadership on the field.
Sophomore Rob Zoppo has moved from the defensive midfield position. Last season he scored nine goals and tallied two assists. He was a captain on the gold-medal-winning US U19 World Championship team this past summer and is one of four Tiger co-captains this year. Nadelen says Zoppo has been impressive in the fall with his ability to play two-handed. He has a great shot and great speed, and the coaches expect good things from him this season.
Sophomore Greg Cuccinello played in 14 games in 2012 with one goal and two assists. He has improved his focus and is a solid, strong dodger. He has good field awareness and can make plays regardless of whether he has the ball.
Senior Matt Hughes and redshirt-freshman Ben McCarty round out the offensive midfield returners. Hughes has moved from attack to the midfield. He brings good speed and improved stickwork. Last season he scored 14 goals and had 10 assists in 15 starts. McCarty has worked hard in practice and the results have shown in his productivity on the field. He has great quickness and balance and can make plays in traffic. His shot selection and percentage in the fall were strong.
Senior Neil Hutchinson and freshmen Chris Vetter and Brian Bolewicki are the newcomers in this position group. Hutchinson is a transfer from CCBC-Essex with a hard shot and good size that he is able to use to his advantage.
Vetter turned it on at the end of fall practice, showing good passing and creativity. Nadelen says he could be a dangerous player for Towson. Bolewicki sees the field well and consistently puts the ball in the net.
Towson's attack features the most familiar faces. Junior Devin Grimaldi had a strong fall. Nadelen calls him a slick and savvy player with good stick skills. He played in 10 games in 2012, recording two assists.
Drexel transfer Cory Dobyns is a lefty who brings energy to the field. He is a great finisher around the cage. Dobyns is creative and has the freedom to take tough shots. Junior co-captain Thomas DeNapoli and sophomore Justin Mabus will move between attack and offensive midfield this season. DeNapoli is the Tigers' leading returning scorer. He totaled 15 goals and 13 assists on the year.
Mabus, a 2012 CAA All-Rookie honoree, spent much of the fall rehabbing but has made good progress. He played in 13 games last year, starting 10, and scored four goals and posted 11 assists. Nadelen says he has great vision and should be pretty dynamic. Nadelen believes Mabus can be someone to lean on to make plays.