Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 15 Navy (Men)
Has the Navy men's lacrosse team turned the corner?
Coming off of their most successful season since coach Rick Sowell took the reins in 2012, the Midshipmen boast a stout defense and one of the best faceoff men in the country. But will it be enough to get them back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009?
Navy at a Glance
2015 Record: 9-5
3 Big Things
1. Navy should feel at home in another tightly contested Patriot League.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
For the first time in the Sowell era, the Mids' extra-man offense showed flashes of production, following three seasons that yielded an embarrassing 23 goals on 114 shots (20.2 percent). If second-year coordinator Michael Phipps can get this group to the next level, Navy will average double digits in scoring.
Once upon a time, the Patriot League was Navy's to rule, since few schools were committed to closing the competitive gap. Those days are gone. Even last year, when Navy rose up to take its first regular-season crown since sharing that title in 2008, the Mids had to win three of four one-goal decisions to finish atop the league with a 6-2 record. It won't be a shock in 2016 if Loyola, Colgate, Army, Bucknell, Lehigh or Navy takes the AQ route to the NCAA tournament. "Come May, there won't be a big difference between the first-place team and fourth place," Sowell said. "There are no gimmies in our league."
2. Colin Flounlacker could turn the first midfield into a dynamic unit.
After he produced a goal and an assist on the second line in Navy's 13-8 loss at Johns Hopkins in early March, Flounlacker got the first starting nod of his career against Lafayette. He made his presence felt from midseason on and started the final eight games, finishing with 12 goals and four assists. "We saw in the Hopkins game that Colin was a playmaker, and he showed continued growth throughout the season," Sowell said. Flounlacker could play off of senior midfielder Kevin Wendel (20 goals) effectively.
3. With Connors and Fennell leading, Navy should field Sowell's best defense.
A year after a broken leg ended his freshman season prematurely, Chris Fennell came back to become a third-team All-American and the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year. Matt Rees, a former close defenseman, made a smooth transition to long-stick midfield by leading the Midshipmen with 20 caused turnovers. John Connors came up big in clutch situations and might be the top goaltender in the Patriot League. The pieces are there for Navy to achieve some greatness. It helps to have a faceoff specialist as skilled as Brady Dove. That kind of possession weapon can keep a defense fresh over the long haul.
John Connors (Sr.)*
* returning starters
Keena scored 14 goals and dished out a team-high 22 assists as Navy’s top overall scorer. Keena could afford to be a little more selfish by taking more than the 47 shots he unleashed in 2015.
Torain, a product of DeMatha (Md.) who was recruited by Duke and Maryland, spent last year at the Naval Academy Prep School. He impressed so much with his versatility in the fall that Sowell said the midfielder could get serious playing time on offense or defense.
The junior emerged last year as an important piece in Navy's improved defensive midfield. Trainor tied Chris Fennell for second on the team with 17 caused turnovers. Trainor's 26 ground balls led Navy's short-stick midfielders.
Biggest Question Mark
Last year, Carter got his feet wet as a backup behind long-stick midfielder Matt Rees. The sophomore is the leading candidate in 2016 to join veterans Fennell and Jules Godino on the close defense, which has stabilized during the program's recovery under Sowell..
Patrick Keena is Navy's top feeder (22 assists) and could go to the rack more often in 2016. (John Strohsacker)
What rival coaches say about the Midshipmen
"Were very strong defensively last year and should be again in 2016. They need to find a way to score; that should happen this year as a byproduct of bringing back their top five scorers in Keena, Hanzsche, Rey, Wendel and Voumard."
"Very good on defense, FO and in the goal. Can they score enough to beat the Patriot League's best?"
"Rick Sowell saved his job in 2015. Can he do it again in 2016? Expectations are unrealistic in Annapolis. When the cupboard is nearly full, Sowell is one of the best at pushing talented athletes to be even better and to maximize their potential. Navy has talent and the fast-paced system Sowell is employing will allow his team to dominate the teams they are better than. But the question will be this: How do they do when the opposing team has equal or superior lacrosse players (Maryland, Hopkins and several of the Patriot league opponents)? I am rooting for Rick. If it does not go well, there could be a job open at the Academy this upcoming summer."
Number of regular-season wins against the Patriot League last season. In a year that featured Navy’s first winning record in conference play since 2010, the Midshipmen took a big step forward by earning the top seed in the league tournament.
6 Air Force
9 Johns Hopkins
13 @ Maryland
27 @ Boston U.
Feb. 13 at Maryland
After traveling to Johns Hopkins on a Tuesday night for their second game, the Midshipmen will go to College Park to face a defense that has suffocated Navy in recent years. The 91st meeting between the schools has never been played this early.
For the first time since 2003, the Midshipmen will play eight regular-season contests at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, including the first two games of the year against Air Force and Johns Hopkins. Patriot League games against Loyola, Colgate and Holy Cross could be pivotal.
Navy will be a factor in the Patriot League race. If the Midshipmen are going to continue their rise — specifically, by reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009 — the offense must pull more weight, especially in transition and man-up situations.
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