2001 Men's Lacrosse Outlook
For all of his success in collegiate lacrosse, UMBC Head Coach Don Zimmerman has preached a very basic philosophy about the game. Wherever he has coached, his teams have always been well-conditioned, executed the fundamentals and played the game with a great deal of intensity.
With just five seniors and 25 players having one or no years of Division I experience, that philosophy must be clearly carried out by the 2001 Retriever squad. But the eighth-year mentor of the Retrievers is confident that the young team is more than capable of getting the job done.
"When meeting with the captains, I said that all I wanted out of this year is to be the best team that we can be," said Zimmerman. " I don't think we achieved that last season, but I like what I see with this year's team."
In 2000, the Retrievers went 7-7, 4-2 (third place) in the new ECAC Lacrosse League, after starting 0-2 in the conference. UMBC was ranked #18 in the final USILA poll and posted a school Division I mark of four straight seasons of .500 lacrosse or better. The Retrievers were a break or two away from a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, as an 11-10 loss at ECAC champion Georgetown, an injury-marred 13-11 setback at Duke and a mid-week 8-7 loss at Bucknell offset qualities wins vs .Penn State, Massachusetts, Rutgers and Towson.
"We got off to a very bad start," said Coach Zimmerman. "Not only with the loss to Navy, but injuries in pre-season put us behind from the beginning. Whenever we did get some momentum, something came up and bit us."
In 2001, the marquee players of past seasons have graduated and former role players and some talented young athletes must step in and produce. "We're not in a position to depend on one or two guys like we have in the past," said Zimmerman. "We do have a bunch of players who are effective. That should make us tougher to defend and it will be more fun for the guys because they know they'll get their opportunities. Our success will depend on how quickly we mature."
The most experienced unit on the 2001 squad will be the Retriever defense. The three starters on close defense, Eric Hester, Jon Smith and Dave Smith, and the starting netminder, Steve Cusa, have all faced the pressure of starting in critical games. Hester and Jon Smith are both red-shirt juniors who have both matured as defensemen in Coach Zimmerman's system. Hester possesses excellent size and is adept at carrying the ball out of the UMBC half of the field to initiate offense. Both Smith brothers are exceptional athletes who benefitted from their extensive roles on last year's defense. Sophomore close defender Matt P. Hall made dramatic strides late last spring and into the fall, and could press the incumbents for a starting position.
Former netminder Matt C. Hall was converted to defense this fall, and Coach Zimmerman feels he will contribute this year. Freshmen Jeff Clark and Sean McQuinn provide additional depth to the defensive corps.
In the net, senior and tri-captain Steve Cusa (11.11 save avg., .517 save percentage) started all 14 games last season and performed admirably in replacing his current position coach, Andrew Hampson. Cusa is outstanding out of the cage and is a vocal leader on the field. Junior Tim Flanigan and sophomore Ethan Harris are both capable back-ups to Cusa.
Another unit which is fairly set is the attack unit. Senior tri-captain Josh Hahn (20g, 10a, 00) will go from a supporting role to one in which he will lead a young Retriever attack. Hahn is an accurate shooter (43.6% for his career) and excels in garnering many loose balls. He has scored consistently during his tenure, tallying a goal in 18 straight games in the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Sophomore Joey Kestermann (3g, 1a, 00) and freshman Justin Smith are expected to start alongside Hahn. Kestermann played predominantly midfield last year, displayed tremendous potential as an offensive force at times, but must harness his raw talent and continue to develop his knowledge of the game. Smith, brother of UMBC's all-time leading goal scorer Jason Smith (94), demonstrated a great mind for the game in the fall and Coach Zimmerman is already referring to him as "a coach on the field."
Sophomore Luke Gilbert (2g, 00) saw action in nine games last season and is currently slated as UMBC's first attackman off the bench. The 6'4" attackman displayed improved skills in the fall and will see increased playing time in 2001. Junior Gavin Stringer returned to UMBC this fall after a pair of seasons at Essex Community College, and he and sophomore Rich Martinello give UMBC a pair of lefties on attack. Three freshmen, Brian Johnson, Jesse Buppert, and Chris Petrichenko are all players that Coach Zimmerman feels will impact the program over the next several seasons.
At midfield, UMBC has more quality depth than ever before, but only a few roles were clearly defined after fall practice. Senior tri-captain Brian Lawton was near the top of the nation's leaders in both face-off percentage (75-47, .615, 00) in ground balls per game (7.0) before suffering a hairline fracture in his leg in the first half of the Duke game. He will reprise his role as primary face-off specialist and short stick defensive midfielder in his senior season. Senior Charlie Gibson (16g, 6a) earned Second Team All ECAC honors last season, but a back injury kept him out of fall practice. Gibson's quickness and hard shot gives UMBC a potent weapon on a top offensive midfield unit. The other senior at midfield, Chris Ogle (3g, 00), should earn playing time based on his experience and steady play.
Junior Jon Harasym (11g, 17a, 00) came back from Canada in tremendous condition and with great focus this fall and Coach Zimmerman is expecting a breakout season from the talented midfielder. Harasym averaged 2.0 assists per game in six ECAC contests in 2000. Red-shirt sophomores Adam Shiley (5g, 1a, 00) and Scott Steele (2g, 1a, 99) have battled through injuries in the past, and appear ready to contribute more in 2001. Another pair of sophomores, Malik Lopez and Josh Dodson contributed as freshman defensive middies and could be used in the same fashion this season. Lopez took over the face-off duties (55-64, .462) when Lawton went down, and was a big factor in the Retrievers' win over Rutgers. Six freshmen midfielders are all capable of earning playing time in their initial season. Coach Zimmerman was especially impressed in the fall with Jerry Solazo and Dan Stansbury, but Mac Chase, Pat Muston, Franklin Berry and Matt Gallagher all have strengths which could earn them playing time in the short term.
Sophomore Greg Wojtech (40 gb) took over the long stick defensive midfielder role as a freshman and just needs to develop consistency to become a dominant player at that position. He will be backed up by freshman Tommy Tittsworth, a converted short stick midfielder.
"This could be a year where we put our top six offensive players on the field, a combination of attackers and middies," said Coach Zimmerman. "There could be many different groupings, so the battle for playing time will be very competitive."
UMBC enters its second year in the ECAC conference, and faces crucial early season tests at Navy in the opener (February 24) and vs. Georgetown at home on March 17. The Retrievers' non-league slate includes games vs. 2000 NCAA qualifiers Cornell and Maryland, while Army dots the schedule for the first time in UMBC history.
Despite the youth of the team, Coach Zimmerman thinks his 2001 can compete with any team on the schedule. "It is a high caliber group. From day one, the freshmen have been very coachable and the veteran players have set the tempo. Because of our heavier schedule, we were much more workmanlike in the fall. To the team's credit, they jumped right in."