There's a little bit of snow on the ground and the weather is near the freezing mark so that must mean one thing: lacrosse season is here.
Towson opened its second season in the Shawn Nadelen era at High Point on Friday, Feb. 8 with a 9-7 loss to the Panthers.
2012 Season Review
Last season, Towson started slowly but came on later with strong wins over Stony Brook, Hofstra and UMBC. However, the Tigers ran out of gas late in the season, scoring just 17 goals in their last five games. They ended up losing five straight to finish 7-8 overall and 2-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).
Newcomers and Rules Changes
This year, there are 14 freshmen and several transfers who could make a huge impact including junior attackman Paul Danko Jr. (Denver), senior midfielder Neil Hutchinson (CCBC-Essex), sophomore attackman Cory Dobyns (Drexel) and freshman midfielder Conor Pequigney (Syracuse).
Another change will be in the rules as lacrosse is finally attempting to speed up the game by implementing a of 30-second shot clock following a stall warning from the referees. Face-offs will change as a team will now be penalized for three violations in a half for pre- and post-whistle infractions with a 30-second penalty. There will also be quicker restarts and no sideline horns. That means on-the-move substitutions similar to hockey.
"It definitely has changed the game," said Nadelen about the rule changes. "More so without the sideline horn being available. Your middies have to be able to play both offense and defense. You can run into some serious problems. You give the other team odd number advantages if you look to sub those guys off. The new face-off procedure is an area of concern for our guys to be patient but to be aggressive."
Face-offs have been an area of concern for several years for the Tigers. Ian Mills (55 percent, 89-of-162) was the most productive face-off specialist last year, but he graduated. Sophomore Luke Pellizzi (5-10, 170) only faced-off nine times last year and won three draws. He's expected to compete for the top spot with Pequigney (6-0, 200), a powerful freshman who was ranked as the No. 6 face-off midfielder by ESPN High School.
"It's been great to see Luke's development in the fall," said Nadelen. "He wants to be the No. 1 guy. He's changed some of things he's done to be more diverse. He's getting challenged every day by Conor [Pequigney]."
Nadelen, whose team just scrimmaged Hobart and Bucknell last weekend, was impressed with Pequigney against Bucknell. He also mentioned freshman Zack Gregory (5-11, 180), who is coming off ACL surgery and junior Austin Lyons (6-2, 188), who played club lacrosse, as other options at the "X".
Towson struggled in several categories last season. One of them was ground balls, gathering 357 compared to 416 for the opponents.
"It was an entire team issue," said Nadelen. "That's something that we continue to focus on and emphasize. I thought we did a solid job this weekend of getting the ball off the ground. I thought we had [several] fastbreak opportunities [last weekend]. Last year, we missed those ground balls or went over top of them. All the emphasis on ground balls will hopefully help us this year."
Towson returns five of its top eight scorers but lose their top two in attackmen Matt Lamon (17 goals) and Sean Maguire (20 goals) to graduation. Towson was inconsistent on offense last season, shooting 30 percent and averaging 7.93 goals per game while allowing 9.9 per game.
Offensively, Towson will lean on juniors Thomas DeNapoli (5-11, 185) and Andrew Hodgson (5-9, 165) along with sophomores Justin Mabus (6-2, 210) and Rob Zoppo (5-10, 180). DeNapoli (15g, 15a), Hodgson (12go, 5a) and Mabus (4g, 11a) could all see time on attack as well as midfield.
"With the new rules and not having the sideline horn, we're looking to maybe keep some matchups on the field, said Nadelen. "It's almost going to be like hockey with running guys in and out. Guys like Hodgson, [senior Matt] Hughes, Mabus and DeNapoli can play up top and down low on offense. We're going to rotate attackman to keep those guys fresh."
Hughes (6-2, 185) is the most experienced player but is moving from attack to midfield to take advantage of his athleticism and size. He scored 14 goals and dished out 10 assists last year while scooping up 21 ground balls. "He'll have a guy with a short sticksaid Nadelen about Hughes' move to midfield. "He's not getting slashed and will have more room to run. He's fast and has good size."
DeNapoli and Hodgson have different games than Hughes. Hodgson is more of a freewheeler, who used to have no problem shooting the ball from just past midfield. His shooting percentage was 27 percent last year, an improvement over his freshman season (12 percent). DeNapoli made 36 percent of his shots.
"DeNapoli is an extremely talented and intelligent player," said Nadelen. "We are expecting a lot out of him this year. The other teams will give him a lot of attention. He's going to help our team get better. Hodgson will give us everything he has on the field. He has done a lot better job working on his shot and release. His shot selection is in question at times. He gives us everything as a complete player."
Zoppo (9g, 2a) has been battling injuries lately. But Nadelen expects a big season from the Calvert Hall product who gained confidence captaining the gold-medal-winning US U-19 team this past summer at the World Championships. He's a co-captain for this Tigers this spring and can play both ends of the field.
Mabus sees the field extremely well and was limited by injuries this fall. "He can be a pretty good player," said Nadelen. "He is very dangerous dodging up top and can see over defenders. That's what helps him on attack as a feeder."
Hutchinson (6-1, 200), redshirt freshman Ben McCarty (5-8, 160) sophomore Greg Cuccinello (5-9, 184), and freshmen Brian Bolewicki (5-11, 195) and Chris Vetter (6-2, 185) could all be in the mix. Nadelen and offensive coordinator Anthony Gilardi will shorten the rotation and try to find the best mix of players. This has a chance to be a very talented and balanced unit before it's all said and done.
Now with Mabus, DeNapoli and Hodgson seeing some time on attack, that should keep the regular unit fresh. The Tigers could have two transfers in the starting lineup in Danko (5-10, 165), who just arrived right before pre-season began and the lefty Dobyns (5-9, 175).
Junior Devin Grimaldi (5-11, 175) is likely to take the feeder role while sophomore Max Siskind (5-6, 160) is also in the mix. Danko is a Gilman grad who scored two goals in the 2011 NCAA Tournament with Denver and had three points last season. Dobyns scored 199 points with Georgetown Prep and was recognized as 2011 top attackman by Lax Power.
"Paul Danko is a strong shooter from the right wing or up top," said Nadelen. "Devin had a strong pre-season. We are feeling confident that he'll have a bigger role this year. He might draw attention from the other teams' best guys but I think he's capable of handling it. Dobyns will be floating in and out like a Danko or Max Siskind. Withing two scrimmages, they got a lot of play and touches. We ran a lot of different combinations and saw what worked."
On defense, Towson is led by senior goalkeeper Andrew Wascavage (9.57 GAA, 56.4 percent). With a lot of youngsters in the mix, there's a great benefit to having an experienced goalie running the team.
"Andrew really has taken a lot more of a leadership role this year," said Nadelen. "His confidence and his passion has been displayed on the field and in the locker room. The younger guys have embraced that. How he plays will impact how we perform and the outcome of the games. He played well in the cage this weekend. We need to be better in front of him."
Defensively, the Tigers lose two starters in Sean Sheehe and long stick defender John Kenyon (26 ground balls, 18 caused turnovers).
Nadelen and defensive coordinator Dan Cocchi will lean on sophomore JoJo Ostrander (6-0, 175) and junior John Fennessy (6-0, 196).
"John Fennessy is as healthy as he's been in awhile," said Nadelen about his pre-season All-CAA selection. "It's good to get him back on the field and running around. You see the defensive level play elevate when he's out there. He still is far away from being 100 percent. JoJo is playing a little bit more aggressive and at ease. He's great in the clearing game and off the ground. He's maturing as a defenseman."
Most likely, the third defender on close defense will be junior Billy Choinere (6-1, 195). The Tigers could also rotate a very impressive freshman in Mike Lowe (6-1, 185), who has good athleticism along with improving sophomore John Horner (6-1, 180).
Replacing Kenyon as the longstick midfielder will be tough, but Nadelen has some very good youngsters in the fold.
"He was extremely talented off the ground and also talented longstick middie," said Nadelen about Kenyon. "We are very young. They are all freshman basically. Two of them are very good off the ground and have very good motors and hand coordination. We might run into a learning curve for them getting acclimated and engaged in our defensive scheme."
Aaron Moroney (6-0, 185), who played for the silver-medal-winning U-19 Canadian team at the World Championships this past summer, is vying for playing time with Pat Conroy (5-10, 185), another freshman.
"He has very good hands off the ground," said Nadelen about Maroney. "Aaron brings a bit of that to the long-stick midfield. He has to be a little bit more physical and get his hands on guys. Not just rely on his stick. Conroy has a non-stop motor. He's tenacious on ground balls and gives good, hard checks. He continues to learn defensive schemes and to get better."
One of the top returning players is junior Jordan Fortmann (5-9, 175), who scooped up 24 ground balls and caused seven turnovers last year.
"Jordan will play a ton of minutes," said Nadelen. "We'll rely on him because he has a good head for the game. Junior John Paukovits (5-11, 185) is in the mix here along with a couple of freshmen who are green to Division I lacrosse."
[Nadelen was referring to freshman Nick Neale (6-3, 200), Reece Bartell (5-11, 165) and Dan Livingston (5-8, 175).]
The schedule is no walk in the park. Towson added Duke later last fall.
"It's no doubt one of the tougher [schedules] out there," said Nadelen. "Our guys see it as a great challenge. It's going to prepare us for the CAA playoffs and NCAA Tournament. Being able to add Duke was a great thing. It takes away a home game, which was frustrating, but we have [Johns] Hopkins and Loyola [at home]. Every team on our schedule is going to be a challenge. We have to stay focused and engaged and know we are going to get everyone's best."
Towson was picked sixth in the CAA out of seven teams. Nadelen relishes the underdog role.
"I'll take any role," he said. "You have to get out there and face any opponent. We're a team that has not proved anything yet from where we finished last year. We have to earn it. Battle it in practice and on game day. Nobody is going to hand it to us. It's going to be grind. We have to execute it to the best that we can and give every ounce of effort that we have. That's how we are going to have to win games."
With 21 new players and a limited amount of experience on the bench, Towson could use a little luck this season staying healthy.
"With our lower numbers this year, we aren't as deep as we'd like to be," said Nadelen. "We have to stay to the game plan and execute it. We have to attack our opponents and not be worried about other distractions and adversity. Just come together as a team and be able to compete."