Review & preview: UMBC
Here’s the third installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Wednesday’s visit takes us to UMBC.
The good: The first half of the Retrievers’ season was mired in disappointment as they opened the campaign with a 1-4 record, including a four-game losing skid. A 16-5 setback to Stony Brook in the America East opener for both teams made things worse, but a 10-9 win against Towson kicked off a four-game winning streak and a berth in the America East tournament. “That game up in Stony Brook couldn’t have gone much worse, and this team showed a lot of guts and character by coming back three days later and beating Towson, a team that had beaten Stony Brook,” coach Don Zimmerman said. “I think that was the turning point of our season. But there’s still plenty to work on, and I think the key is, in my interview exits with the team, everyone seemed positive, encouraged, hungry and determined to keep it going in that direction.” … One bright spot was the play of sophomore Scott Jones, especially after he was moved from midfield to attack. Since moving to attack in a 15-6 setback to Maryland on March 18, Jones recorded 15 of 23 goals and six of 10 assists at that position. “Scott Jones, putting him back on attack and letting him play mainly off-ball attack inside, I thought Scott really blossomed and had a breakout year considering that he didn’t do much his freshmen year,” Zimmerman said. “I’m anticipating him coming back as a junior and really building on the progress that he made.” … After going with sophomore Adam Cohen as the primary goalkeeper in eight of 13 games last season, UMBC turned starting duties over to junior Brian McCullough, who posted a 10.29 goals-against average and a .473 save percentage in 11 starts. “Coming into the season, we had two goalkeepers in Brian and Adam Cohen,” Zimmerman said. “Both had their opportunities, and they knew they were going to be competing for that starting slot. Both worked very hard, but I just felt like Brian played well enough to start. He started off well, he broke his thumb and had to miss a few games, but he came back and played injured and gave us, I thought, a nice, consistent performance throughout the year. So we were pleased with that because that was obviously an issue in 2010.”
The bad: The Retrievers return eight of 10 starters. So why is that a negative? It’s not, but Zimmerman said the onus is on the younger players to improve on their own during the summer and in the fall. “Everybody was saying that UMBC was young this year and that next year, they get a lot of guys back, and boy, that experience is going to help,” he said. “While I think that’s true, our guys have to seize the opportunity and go out this summer and work hard and stay in shape and be able to come back in the fall without skipping a beat as far as lacrosse is concerned.” … Jones and junior Rob Grimm (17 goals, 18 assists) anchored the attack, but sophomore Joe Lustgarten (5, 8) and freshmen Ryan Johnston (6, 0), Matt Gregoire (4, 2) and Greg Korvin (3, 0) also got involved. Jones, Grimm and Lustgarten ended the season as starters, but Zimmerman said he’s open to shaking up the lineup. “You’d like to settle in and have a unit that can start to work together, and as a coach, I would love for that to happen,” he said. “But we also want it to be competitive in practice, and I think guys who come to UMBC know that they’re going to get a fair shot at showing the coaches what they can do. And if they do it in practice, we’re going to find time for them on gameday.” … Stony Brook dominated the America East until falling to Hartford in the conference tournament final. The Hawks beat the Retrievers in both the regular-season finale and the America East tournament opener. So UMBC not only has to overtake Stony Brook, but also Hartford looms as a tough out. Zimmerman said winning the conference is the team’s objective. “That’s always going to be our goal,” he said. “It’s easy to set goals. It’s tougher to go after them.”
Personnel changes: As mentioned previously, the team graduates just two starters. One is midfielder Jamie Kimbles, who registered 10 goals and eight assists despite missing a few games earlier in the season due to a hamstring injury. Freshman Zach Linkous (6, 4) made eight starts, sophomores Neill Lewnes and Jake Zimmerman could make the transition from defensive midfield, and Johnston could return to the midfield. “We’ve got some good candidates to come back and compete for those spots,” Zimmerman said. … The other starter is David Stock, who made the most starts of any defenseman. Sophomore Lucas Wood has the experience to fill the void, and redshirt freshman Ian Gray could return after a broken hand sidelined him for 2011. “We think he [Gray] has a very, very promising future,” Zimmerman said. “Here’s a guy who’s going to be a redshirt freshman who could come back and win a starting position. We’ve got some guys who are waiting in the wings.” … The incoming recruiting class includes a pair of defensemen in Jake Boliwar and Tom Gerwick and a midfielder in Avery Littlejohn. Zimmerman said he is not opposed to playing a freshman as a starter. “Sometimes freshmen will come in and are handed starting positions, and maybe they don’t appreciate what it is,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t think it’s bad that a freshman has to come in and pay his dues. But I’ve also never been a coach who doesn’t play a freshman because he’s a freshman. I’m going to put the best guys that we have on the field.”
Forecast for 2011: Cloudy. Grimm, Jones and Lustgarten should further their chemistry on attack, and sophomore midfielders Dave Brown and Scott Hopmann should complement the attack. Defense continues to be a priority as opponents averaged 11.1 goals against UMBC. McCullough must improve in the net, and he needs help from his teammates, including starting defensemen Aaron Verardi and Sam McKelvey. The Retrievers’ best shot at returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009 is going through the America East, but Stony Brook and Hartford are the teams to beat. And Albany and Vermont are on the rise.