Here is the fourth installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division III programs in the state to evaluate the past and offer a glimpse into the future. Tuesday, we take a visit with Washington.
The good: The Shoremen made slight progress from 2010, going 5-9 from 4-10, averaging 7.9 goals from 7.8, and surrendering 10.0 goals per game from 10.4. Coach Jeff Shirk, who completed his inaugural season at Washington, said he was more impressed with the team’s demeanor and work ethic. “I got a good feeling after the season because I liked the way the guys played,” Shirk said. “They played hard, they were physical, they gave us a chance to be in almost every game that we played. I think we had some hiccups along the way, some youthful growing pains, and I think that accounted for our four one-goal losses and a two-goal loss. I think if we move forward and continue to play hard and work hard but with a little more experience and better decision-making, I’m excited about the strides that we made this year.” … The offense continued to evolve despite the loss of starting senior midfielder Doug Herdegen, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in a 9-8 loss to Ursinus on April 6. Seven different players registered at least 14 points each, and five different players scored at least 10 goals each. “I think that just shows that we spread things out,” Shirk said. “… One guy would step up and then the next day, another guy would step up. Some guys, especially our freshmen, had ups and downs, where for some games, they showed up, and for other games, they just weren’t there. I think that’s going to bode well for the future, too, because we don’t rest everything on one guy’s shoulders. It’s everybody playing their part.” … The offense got more opportunities courtesy of an improved effort in clears. Washington successfully cleared 81.4 percent of the time, which is 7.2 percent better than last year’s showing. “We really focused hard on the clearing game because one of the things we stressed was not giving second-chance opportunities,” Shirk said. “So it might have just been a thing to the guys where it was new to them last year. With more practice this year, they understood it a little bit better. Maybe we explained it in a couple different ways where it clicked with them. But the guys definitely did a good job in the clearing game.”
The bad: As mentioned previously, the Shoremen made some progress statistically, but those numbers didn’t impress Shirk. He said the indicators of growth are there, but he is hoping for greater improvement. “If you look at it from a strict numbers standpoint, I’m disappointed – from our faceoff percentage to our goals allowed to our goals scored,” Shirk said. “But I think in terms of the big picture and from being on the inside, I’m really excited because of the guys’ attitude.” … Faceoffs were a huge liability. After winning 44.9 percent (133-of-296) of draws last year, the unit’s success rate dipped to 39.1 percent (116-of-297). Shirk said a few approaches to resolving the issue include bringing in four faceoff specialists as incoming freshmen and hiring former LeMoyne faceoff specialist Corey Bulken, who led Division II in faceoff percentage (69.2%) and was named the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Division II Specialty Player of the Year, as a graduate assistant coach. “So we’ve tried to really hit it from every aspect,” Shirk said. “We’re just going to work at it, and I think we’ll see a big improvement at it next season.” … Washington’s 5-9 overall record and 2-6 mark in the Centennial Conference might have been better if the team had fared better in four one-goal losses and one two-goal setback. In a four-game stretch against conference foes, the Shoremen won once and dropped three one-goal decisions. Shirk said the team’s youthfulness played a role in its inability to protect a lead or overcome a deficit. “It was one of those things where we just didn’t have the experience and guys that have been through it before to step up and lead the young guys,” he said. “I think next year, with more confidence, more experience, we’re looking to have those outcomes be different.”
Personnel changes: The Shoremen graduate just five players, and only two were starters. Shirk said the number of returning players will allow the coaching staff to focus their introduction effort on the incoming freshmen and potential transfers. “We did everything different this year, and there was a big learning curve for guys to kind of adapt to doing something new when they were used to doing something entirely different in their previous time here,” he said. “So it does get me excited that this fall will be us working on what we do, but teaching the freshmen as opposed to teaching the entire team. Experience goes a long way, and I’m excited that we’re going to be an experienced team next year.” … That being said, the two starters to replace are midfielders Shane Kaski (11 goals and 5 assists) and Herdegen (3, 3). Citing sophomore Patrick Coyle (13, 10) and junior Billy Stafford (9, 5) as leading candidates to replace Kaski and Herdegen on the first line, Shirk said the departure of Kaski and Herdegen leaves the team with a void. “I’m hoping that returning guys step up, and there’s always a big improvement between a freshman and a sophomore or a sophomore and a junior. But those two guys are going to be hard to replace,” Shirk said. “We don’t want our next Doug Herdegen. We want a new name. We’ll honor Doug and that No. 14 jersey will always remind me of Doug, but we want that next name. That’s kind of what we’ll stress.” … The strength of the team figures to be the defense with the return of all three starting close defensemen (juniors Bryan Botti and Jack Vermeil and sophomore Michael Pierandri), both starting short-stick defensive midfielders (juniors Dave Lundquist and Michael Pancottine), starting long-stick midfielder (sophomore Jonny Poe), and starting goalkeeper (junior Peter Stewart). “It makes me excited because I think we did a pretty good job – minus a couple of games – on the defensive end,” Shirk said. “To have a goalie like Pete coming back to where the entire team believes in him and a defense that has experience, understands our system, and has a goalie behind them that they can trust, it has me excited. But I’m also excited to see what freshmen come in to push the guys because nobody is guaranteed a starting spot.”
Forecast for 2011: Partly cloudy. As Shirk pointed out, Washington still has some areas to address. Faceoffs were a prickly thorn in the team’s side, and the offense scored seven goals or less in six games, which resulted in a 1-5 mark. The defense also has some holes to fill, but the return of all seven starters on that side of the field should be a positive. A starting attack of sophomores Bennett Cord (19, 8) and Matt Lewis (10, 4) and freshman Jim Cusick (16, 3) should be a calming influence as the midfield re-tools and tries to develop chemistry and depth. The Shoremen still play in one of the tougher leagues in the country with reigning tournament champion Dickinson, 2011 NCAA tournament qualifier Gettysburg and competitive Haverford.