When Towson offensive coordinator Anthony Gilardi brought up the idea of shifting Thomas DeNapoli from midfield to attack in their end-of-the-year meeting in 2012, the suggestion did not faze DeNapoli. That is because he had done it in the past.
A midfielder in his junior year at Lynbrook High School in his native New York, DeNapoli moved to attack in his final season there after graduation sapped that unit of several keep players. Fast forward to last summer, and DeNapoli found himself in a familiar position.
“I switched around in high school just like here,” the junior said Wednesday morning. “Whatever [Gilardi] wanted me to do, I was fine with that as long as I helped our team. He thought it would give us a chance to have a better offense, and it’s worked out pretty well.”
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Indeed it has. DeNapoli leads the Tigers (10-7) in both goals (41) and assists (18) and has emerged as the team’s quarterback on offense. When Towson, the Colonial Athletic Association tournament champion, meets third-seeded Ohio State (12-3) this Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament, DeNapoli will have the full attention of the Buckeyes and coach Nick Myers.
“He’s big-time lefty,” Myers said. “He loves to get to his left hand and they run a lot of different things for him to get him involved. They move him around the offense. They start him on the crease and then fade him off the crease, and they set picks for him. … It’s not an easy chore to slow him down.”
DeNapoli scored three goals on 14 shots and added three assists in the conference tournament, and he said that he noticed that Drexel and Penn State were quick to send another defender to slide when DeNapoli initiated.
“As an athlete, I definitely like that challenge,” he said. “Other teams try to put a lot of their focus on me, and I can actually see that in these last couple of games. Teams have been real quick to slide to me. So lately, I’ve been looking a lot more for the open pass because they’re sliding a lot quicker. I’m looking for the crease and the next guy to move the ball on. I’m not trying to be selfish and take on the double team.”
Tigers coach Shawn Nadelen acknowledged that there was some risk involved in moving DeNapoli from midfield, where he had paced the offense in assists (13) and points (28). But the play of junior Andrew Hodgson (24 goals and 14 assists) and sophomore Greg Cuccinello (22, 5) in the midfield helped affirm the decision.
“He likes to play pretty efficiently, and Thomas has really gained a lot of confidence this year with a good cast around him and understanding that he needs to be a big-time player for us,” Nadelen said. “He’s done a good job at that, and now that he’s gained a lot of attention from other teams’ defenses, he’s doing a real good job of making sure that other guys get the ball so that we can spread the wealth on the offensive end.”
Towson could use another strong outing from DeNapoli – who posted four straight hat tricks earlier in the season – against Ohio State, which knocked off reigning national champion Loyola and Denver in a span of three days to capture the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament. DeNapoli, however, insisted that the key is running the offense and getting his teammates involved.
“We’ve got a couple of other big leaders on offense like Andrew Hodgson, who is a three-year starter, and we’ve got a couple sophomores that have stepped up like Greg Cuccinello and Justin Mabus,” DeNapoli said. “All six of us work as a unit, and we do a pretty good job of communicating to each other and having an understanding of what we like to do.”