Part of the reason why people love sports is its unpredictability. A team expected to go to a championship game may be upset by a team that snuck into the playoffs during the last week. Conversely, a team that is expected to do terribly in the upcomign season could exceed expectations due to a number of factors.
With that in mind, In Lacrosse We Trust is identifying this year’s NCAA team that could surprise this year. Last year, several teams exceeded expectations such as Marquette and Georgetown who finished the season ranked in the Top 20 despite finding themselves outside of the Top 20 to start the season.
This year, this year’s version of Georgetown and Marquette is the Navy Midshipmen. Head coach Rick Sowell is used to rebuilding programs and has done so at each stop he has made along the way having had success at Georgetown, Dartmouth, St. John’s and Stony Brook. Sowell won his 100th game at Navy last season en route to the team posting a 9-5 while earning the No. 1 seed in the Patriot League Tournament. However, it ended quickly as they were upset by No. 4 seeded Army 11-7.
While the season ended sooner than they probably expected, Navy is due to put themselves back on the map this season and possibly be a darkhorse team in the NCAA Tournament, evoking visions of the 2004 team that went toe-to-toe with Virginia in the national title game.
The main reason why Navy will surprise next season is because of the combination of their stout defense along with their dominance at the faceoff ‘X’. Defensively, the Midshipmen are again going to be one of the best units in the nation. Last year, Navy held opponents to 8.57 goals per game which ranked them 13th nationally. They also allowed 10 or more goals in four of their 14 games. While senior Ryan Everson has graduated, the team returns its top three defenders in senior defenseman Jules Godino and juniors Chris Fennell and Matt Rees. Additionally, senior goalie John Connors comes back to man the net for the Midshipmen.
Fennell is the best player on this defense and doubles as one of the nation’s best long stick midfielders. Last season, Fennell had two goals, 40 ground balls and 17 caused turnovers on his way to being named a USILA Third-Team All-American, a First-Team All-Patriot League selection as well as being named the Patriot League’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Meanwhile, Rees led the team in caused turnovers with 20 and was second on the team in ground balls with 44. He was named Second-Team All-Patriot for his 2015 season and should come back as the team’s No. 1 defender down low. Godino had 22 ground balls and 13 caused turnovers for Navy last season and will be the team’s No. 2 defenseman.
Finally, Connors was a Second-Team All-Patriot League selection after finishing the year ranked 16th nationally in goals-against average (8.57) and posting a 50.9 save percentage. Connors should improve on those numbers with his top three defenders coming back and a third straight season of being the starter in cage.
The other reason Navy is due to surprise this season is because of their ability to control the action at the faceoff ‘X’ as junior Brady Dove comes back. Dove was a First-Team All-Patriot League Selection in 2015 and was on the Tewaaraton watch list heading into 2015 as well. Last year, Dove won 62.6 percent of his faceoffs which ranked 8th nationally! He also led the team with 78 ground balls. His ability to control the X and give an experienced Midshipmen offense more possessions will be vital to their 2016 success.
While the combination of the defense and faceoffs will be the team’s strength, the offense brings back eight of their top nine scorers from last season and 86.5 of the team’s total points from 2015!
The attack will lead the way as seniors Patrick Keena and TJ Hanzsche team up with sophomore Jack Ray to make up one of the best units in the Patriot League. The three of them are the team’s top scorers having registered 36, 32 and 26 points respectively.
At midfield the Midshipmen will have to replace the team’s fifth leading scorer in Gabe Voumard. However, senior Kevin Wendel and junior Colin Flounlacker will do the heavy lifting in the midfield as they both recorded 24 and 16 points respectively. Sophomores Spencer Coyle and Casey Rees will be good No. 3 options as both had 10 points in 2015.
With the combination of a airtight defense, dominance at the faceoff X and a very experienced offense, Navy will compete in every single game it plays no matter the opponent and should finally return the program to its status of regularly being among the Top 15 teams in the nation.