Review & preview: Navy
The end of last season kicked off a new series that checked in with the seven Division I programs in the state to evaluate the past and give a glimpse into the future. The series resumes with teams appearing according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. So Monday begins with a visit with Navy.
The good: One of the biggest questions the Midshipmen had to answer in the preseason was finding a goalkeeper to replace Tommy Phelan. Enter sophomore R.J. Wickham, who ranked fourth among Division I goalies in save percentage (.593) and 12th in goals-against average (8.55) en route to being named the Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year and an honorable mention All American. "I thought R.J. played very well," coach Richie Meade said. ... Navy averaged just 9.13 goals per game, which didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard. But Meade said he wasn’t terribly upset with what he saw from the offense, which lost senior attackman Tim Paul to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the second game of the season. "I thought we played well at times," he said. "I thought we had a pretty good scheme, and we banged around the ball pretty good. We created, I thought, a lot of good, high-percentage opportunities that we didn’t finish in some very important games." … Senior defenseman Gordon Lawson played in 12 contests, starting five despite a torn anterior cruciate ligament. "He kind of fought through that, and when we were having some problems defensively, we decided to play him at close defense to see if he could hold up and he kind of played through the whole season that way," Meade said.
The bad: As good as Wickham was, the defense surrendered 8.67 goals per game, the team’s highest average since 1998 when that squad allowed 10.23 goals per contest. At times, the unit seemed either slow or confused. "It seemed like we were always a step behind," Meade said. "Obviously, we’ve been very good defensively, and I felt like that we had the goaltender who had a very good year, but we let up a lot of easy goals. I think we got scored on six-on-six this year more than I can remember in a very long time." … Meade hates to talk about injuries and often cites other schools dealing with similar problems. But injuries sapped the Midshipmen of several keep players, including Paul (lost for 13 games), senior long-stick midfielder Jaren Woeppel (six), senior short-stick defensive midfielder Joe McAuliffe (six) and senior long-stick midfielder Zack Schroeder (three). "It’s tough for coaches to talk about things like this because it sounds like excuses, but you just never get any momentum or continuity when you have people hurt," Meade said. "You’re putting other people in and you just have a little uncertainty. And other people have to adjust. So I think it’s a fairly disruptive thing and especially when you have them in multiple positions." … An overtime win against Patriot League rival Bucknell preceded a seven-goal setback to Lafayette. A two-game winning streak ended with losses to Georgetown, Maryland and Army by a combined four goals. A 36-game losing skid to Johns Hopkins was followed by a loss to Army in the Patriot League Tournament final. That inconsistency was maddening, Meade said. "It’s hard to accommodate the fact that – despite their record – we beat Johns Hopkins and lost to Army," he said. "That’s nothing against Army. They had a great year and they worked very hard. But I kind of felt like a lot of the intangible things weren’t working in our favor. For our program and for our team, we’ve got to have all of that stuff working in our favor. We’ve got to come out and give unbelievable effort all of the time and create our own breaks. The big evidence of those intangibles not working was the groundballs statistic. I don’t have all the complete statistics, but in the previous five years, I don’t know if I can remember us being out-groundballed in more than five games in five years, and this year, it was hard to get on top of that for some reason. Again, I think a lot of it was intangible things – things that we started to work on the minute the season ended. That’s something we’re going to have to reverse next year."
Personnel changes: Navy graduates three of its top four scorers, including midfielders Patrick Moran (28 goals and 10 assists) and Joe Lennon (17, 7) and attackman Brendan Connors (20, 12). The first midfield could include a combination of sophomore Nikk Davis, junior Kevin Doyle and freshmen Jay Mann and Bucky Smith – a line based more on speed than brute force. "Pat and Joe were not the fastest guys in the world, but big, strong dodgers," Meade said. "I think we’re going to be a little bit quicker and a little bit faster in the midfield than we’ve been over the last several years. I also think we have enough guys where we can do some different things behind the goal when our midfield is inverted that we haven’t necessarily done just because of the make-up of the guys." … The defense returns a trio of starting close defensemen in junior Michael Hirsch and sophomores Matt Vernam and Ian Crumley, but filling the hole at long-stick midfielder will be key. … The Midshipmen bid farewell to face-off specialist Robby Battle (59-of-134 for .440), but sophomore Logan West (64-of-130 for .492) was an emerging player.
Forecast for 2011: Cloudy with rain possible. The offense loses a lot of punch, putting the onus on junior attackman Andy Warner (22, 15) and sophomore Ryan O’Leary (9, 8) to carry the load. The team’s attempts to develop a consistent second midfield now shifts to the first unit. And while the defense returns a wealth of experience, that group must communicate better and improve its play to give Wickham a chance to make saves. And Navy must still deal with Patriot League regular-season and tournament champion Army, which returns seven of 10 starters.