Navy expects to be in thick of Patriot League Tournament chase

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Navy men’s lacrosse took a big step forward last season when it secured its first berth since 2010 in the Patriot League Tournament. The sixth-seeded Midshipmen were ousted in the first round, but the accomplishment marked progress for the program under coach Rick Sowell.

The Patriot League preseason poll, which was released on Tuesday morning, picked Navy to finish sixth for the second consecutive season.

Sowell, entering his fourth year in Annapolis, said the Midshipmen are not simply looking to make the conference tournament.

“We don’t want to just be in it; we want to win the whole darn thing,” Sowell said during the Patriot League men’s lacrosse teleconference on Tuesday. “Obviously, the first step is to get into the tournament. We feel we’re going to be right there in the thick of it as long as we continue to get better every day.”

Loyola, which captured the regular season and tournament championships in its first year in the conference, is the preseason pick to repeat. The Greyhounds, under the direction of 10th-year head coach Charley Toomey, received 12 of 18 first-place votes.

“It’s going to be a great race because it’s a very solid league. We learned that last year,” Toomey said. “Every team has its own unique personality. We learned about Bucknell’s 10-man ride, that Lehigh is going to play in-your-face lacrosse while Army and Navy are going to compete like crazy for 60 minutes.”

PATRIOT LEAGUE PRESEASON POLL
RANK SCHOOL POINTS 2014 RECORD CONF.
1 Loyola (12) 123 15-2 8-0
2 Army (1) 110 9-5 7-1
3 Lehigh (5) 109 13-5 6-2
4 Bucknell 81 7-8 4-4
5 Colgate 75 9-7 4-4
6 Navy 56 4-10 3-5
7 Boston University 46 2-11 2-6
8 Lafayette 26 2-11 1-7
9 Holy Cross 22 3-12 1-7

The Greyhounds went 8-0 against Patriot League opponents last season, but three of those games were decided by one or two goals. Navy narrowly missed an opportunity for an upset as Loyola escaped Annapolis with a 7-6 overtime victory.

“We know we’re going to get everyone’s best shot again. We were very fortunate to pull out some close wins last year,” Toomey said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the coaches in this league.”

Loyola graduated five All-Patriot League performers, including the Offensive Player of the Year (attackman Justin Ward), Defensive Player of the Year (Joe Fletcher) and Goalkeeper of the Year (Jack Runkel). However, the Greyhounds return plenty of top tier talent as they placed four players — attackman Nikko Pontrello, close defenseman Pat Frazier, midfielder Brian Sherlock and long stick midfielder Ryan Fournier — on the 13-man Preseason All-Patriot League squad.

Army was picked to finish second by a narrow margin over Lehigh, which lost to Loyola in the Patriot League Tournament final. The Black Knights received one first place vote and 110 total points while the Mountain Hawks garnered five first place votes and 109 points.

“Every team in the Patriot League is incredibly strong, and I think that reflects the parity in Division I lacrosse as a whole,” Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese said. “You know you are in for a real battle against any Patriot League opponent.”

Pollsters awarded Navy 56 points, 19 less than Colgate and 10 more than Boston. Sowell knows the Midshipmen could easily finish higher or lower than predicted.

If you show up and play good lacrosse, you have a chance, but if you don’t, there’s a very good chance you could get your butt kicked.
— Rick Sowell, Navy coach

“This league is good from top to bottom and across the board, there are no gimmes out there,” he said. “If you show up and play good lacrosse, you have a chance, but if you don’t, there’s a very good chance you could get your butt kicked.”

Navy graduated 13 seniors, including highly decorated long-stick defenseman Pat Kiernan and high-scoring attackmen Sam Jones and Tucker Hull. Jones and Hull are ranked 10th and 14th, respectively, on Navy’s all-time scoring list with 144 and 135 points. Kiernan is the program’s all-time leader in caused turnovers (74) and is fourth in ground balls (187).

“We graduated a significant class, not just in terms of size, but also impact. Last year’s senior class had been the core of our program since I arrived here and we graduated a lot of playing time for sure,” Sowell said. “We have a lot of new faces on the team this year and it’s been exciting to see the great leadership our seniors have provided and the team chemistry develop.”

Numerous freshmen are fighting for spots in the starting lineup, including Jack Ray and Dave Little on attack, D.J. Plumer and Spencer Coyle at midfield, Joe Varello as a faceoff specialist and Noah Pounds in the goal.

“Some of the freshmen have come in right from the start and been impressive,” Sowell said. “There is definitely some talent there and the work ethic has been strong.”

Navy has a returning starter at goalkeeper in junior John Connors, who posted a .535 save percentage in 2014. Sowell readily admitted that Connors is being pushed by Pounds, who was a two-time US Lacrosse All-American selection at Ridgewood High in New Jersey and spent last year at the Naval Academy Prep School.

“We’ve got competition going on and it’s for real,” Sowell said. “Both [Connors and Pounds] bring different attributes to the table.”

Navy only player on the preseason All-Patriot League squad was senior midfielder Gabe Voumard, who amassed 50 career points on the strength of 35 goals.

“Gabe is playing at a high level right now,” Sowell said. “If you look back to last year there were times that he was inconsistent and we have addressed that. He’s had a great preseason and we have expanded his role a bit, allowigng him to stay on the field more often on defense.”

Voumard and junior attackman T.J. Hanzsche (22 goals in 2014) are the only returning starters on offense. Sophomores Chris Fennell and Matt Rees are returning starters on defense. Also back is faceoff ace Brady Dove, who gave the Midshipmen a big boost by winning 56.4 percent of his draws and earning second team All-Patriot League honors for his efforts.

This article was written by Bill Wagner from The Capital, Annapolis, Md. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.