Here is the sixth installment of a series that checks in with the eight Division III programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Tuesday’s visit was with Washington. Wednesday’s visit is with Goucher.
The good: After getting stunned by Scranton in the Landmark Conference tournament final in 2011, the Gophers made amends by running the table to earn the top seed in the league tournament and outlast Drew for the championship. Capturing the second title in three years was an objective the team did not shy away from. “It wasn’t unspoken. It was loud and clear from the start that our No. 1 goal was to win the Landmark championship,” coach Kyle Hannan said. “That’s what our sights were on from the time we first came back in the fall. We wanted to make sure that we were doing everything we could to not only be in that game, but to win it. So I think there was a lot of motivation after being the No. 1 seed last year and losing in that championship game on our home field. As much as that stung, I think it was a pretty big learning experience for a lot of our guys, that you have to finish the season off, and we were able to do that this year.” … En route to an 18-2 campaign, Goucher rattled off 15 consecutive wins between an 8-5 loss to Gettysburg on Feb. 29 and a 12-4 setback to Salisbury in the second round of the NCAA tournament on May 12. But that achievement paled in comparison to collecting the program’s first NCAA tournament victory, a 5-4 decision over Washington College on May 9. “Win streaks are neat. You always want to win games, but sometimes long winning streaks can hurt a team as well,” Hannan said. “So we don’t really keep tabs on that.” … Upperclassmen, especially seniors, paved the way for the Gophers, but they also got a fair number of contributions from freshmen. Attackman Sam Morgan and midfielder Sam Woodruff each finished with 17 points, long-stick midfielder Ethan Haddaway registered 35 groundballs and 17 caused turnovers, and midfielder David Waligurski posted two goals, three assists, 18 groundballs and five caused turnovers as a two-way midfielder. “I really believe that we have people within the program that are returning that are going to do a super job and keep the program moving in the right direction,” Hannan said.
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The bad: Despite an impressive overall record and the status as the Landmark Conference champion, Goucher was actually seeded below Washington – an opponent that the Gophers had defeated, 8-6, on Feb. 25 – and was forced to travel to Chestertown for a first-round contest in the NCAA tournament. Hannan said he learned the importance of beefing up his program’s non-conference schedule to burnish the resume. “I did like our schedule, but being on the NCAA regional advisory committee and understanding strength of schedule, if I had to do it all over again, we would’ve played a couple of those [top 20] teams,” he said. … The season-ending loss to Salisbury occurred just three days after the squad used every ounce of energy to edge the Shoremen. Traveling back and forth from Towson to Chestertown and Towson to Salisbury during exams week may have taken a toll, Hannan conceded. “I think it’s definitely tougher traveling twice in one week while we’re in exams than it would be to be home,” he said. “Sure, it was a little more challenging, but never did the coaching staff or the players complain about that situation. We were excited to be in the tournament, we were excited to advance after Washington College. It’s tough to say if that was a major factor. But you’d certainly like to be in a position to play home games.” … As many contributions as the team got from freshmen, the squad still leaned on the upperclassmen to lead the way. The offense’s top three scorers were seniors, and the second midfield did not get nearly as many runs as the starters. “Getting some younger guys a few more minutes I think might have helped us not only down the stretch when guys are tired and beat up a little bit,” Hannan said. “Early on, we didn’t give guys as many minutes as we probably should have. I think that’s the main area that – looking back – I can say, ‘I wish we would have had a few more fresh bodies.’ I could’ve done a better job of monitoring minutes and giving minutes to younger guys so that at the end of the year, we would’ve been a little deeper through that playoff run and a little more fresh.”
Personnel changes: Replacing two starting attackmen in Kyle Boncaro and Rory Averett could be a monumental task. Boncaro is the program’s all-time leader in points (273) and set a single-season record for goals (58). Averett is the school’s all-time leader in goals (190). Morgan and freshman Alex Malinowski (four goals and two assists) and Gavin Wilson (2, 1) are poised to compete for starting roles, but Hannan said it may require a collective effort. “We’re just going to have to find ways to have other people step in, and it’s probably going to take a couple guys to replace one of them,” he said. “So it may take four guys to replace those two, and that’s something that we’ve already started talking about as a staff. We’ve talked to our returning players about more people stepping up and being able to score points for Goucher lacrosse now that those two prolific scorers are gone. We do have good players that have kind of been waiting for their turn, and I’m excited to see how they’re going to perform when they’re on the big stage.” …. Goucher also bid farewell to midfielder Matt Lynch, who racked up 35 goals and 39 assists and became the first player in program history to earn a spot on an All-American team as he earned a spot on the third team. Hannan said one option of replacing Lynch is returning junior attackman Zachary Fratella to midfield, which is where he opened the season. “With Zach Fratella, we’re not sure because he played both attack and midfield last year, and we may keep him in the midfield a little bit,” Hannan said. “I certainly think that [sophomore] Pierce Ingram is going to be a very good midfielder and he could run with Zach Fratella and Sam Woodruff, who ran with the first midfield down the stretch. So we do return some capable players. David Waligurski ran on our second line as a freshman and got a lot of quality minutes, and I think he’s ready to step up into more of a playmaking role.” … Defenseman Heath Thumel (30 groundballs and 18 caused turnovers) also graduated, but moving Haddaway isn’t an option. Hannan said freshman Dan Pufnock (5 GB, 11 CT) is likely to join juniors Paul Taylor (68 GB, 44 CT) and Bryce Carson (55 GB, 40 CT) as starters. “He was really in our mind a starter this year because he played so many minutes,” Hannan said of Pufnock. “… That is definitely going to be the core of our team. Our defense is going to have to play well and let our young offense find its way early in the year.”
Forecast for 2013: Partly cloudy. Goucher’s four-year reign atop the Landmark Conference appears to be in jeopardy. The offense will no longer be able to rely on the Big Three of Boncaro, Averett and Lynch, who combined to account for 59.1 percent of the team’s points in 2012. Thumel was a steady presence on defense, and the squad also has to find a new faceoff specialist to succeed D.J. Shelton (182-for-339 for 53.7 percent and 86 GB). But Hannan is encouraged by the potential among the younger players, and a defense anchored by Tayor, Carson and junior goalkeeper Connor Mishaw (5.52 goals-against average and .659 save percentage) should keep the Gophers in the conversation. But conference foes like Drew, Scranton and Catholic are eager to replace the king.