Navy’s season ended Sunday evening in the first round of the NCAA lacrosse tournament with a 12-8 defeat at the hands of North Carolina.
It’s a hard loss to take. Navy outshot UNC, but after scoring 4 goals in the first ten minutes, the Mids’ offense could only muster 4 goals out of 31 shots over the last three quarters. North Carolina trailed 6-5 at the half, but came out in the 3rd quarter playing a zone defense that seemed to catch the Mids off guard. The offense never recovered.
So, thus endeth the season. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I’ll ever call 11-4 with a Patriot League championship a disappointment. That said, I admit that I had higher hopes than a first-round loss for the senior seasons of Dingman, Billy Looney, Dow, Barger, Wallace, and Wallin. I really thought that this group had a chance to go far. And before I turn into Debbie Downer, in a way they did. They are, of course, the winningest class in Navy lacrosse history. I guess I just wanted more for these guys. They were a big part of what’s become a renaissance for Navy lacrosse. But as the saying goes, deserve’s got nothing to do with it. In the end, five UNC goals in the 4th quarter is all that matters.
One line in Bill Wagner’s recap caught my eye:
Meade knew it would be important for Navy to create a half-field, six-on-six type of game and prevent North Carolina from scoring in unsettled situations. His worst fears came to fruition as the Tar Heels got goals off fastbreaks, substitutions and rebounds.
Once upon a time, that was Navy’s bread and butter. The 2004 team lived off of running teams into the ground by sending in wave after wave of fresh-legged midfielders and scoring goals in transition. What happened to that? What’s changed? Not that there’s anything wrong with settling down and playing 6-on-6 lacrosse, of course. It’s simply a matter of style, and there’s obviously more than one way to win. But in three years, Navy went from the running and gunning team in lacrosse to a team where you hold your breath on every clear attempt. We’ve won both ways, so I’m not complaining as much as I am curious about the apparent shift in coaching philosophy. The only thing I can think of is perhaps the coaches don’t feel that the midfield is quite as deep, but that is just pure speculation.
Speaking of depth, there are a couple of obvious questions that need to be answered about next year’s team. Who’s next on the Ray Finnegan goalie production line, and how are we going to replace the sheer goal-scoring production of Ian Dingman? The answer to the first question will probably be Matt Coughlin, a rising junior who was a two-time All-American in high school and standout at NAPS. At 6-2, 209, he’ll definitely be the biggest goalie we’ll have seen between the pipes in Annapolis in a long time (should he win the job, of course). The answer to the second one might seem less apparent, but with Ian Dingman’s “Adventures in Commissioning” it’s a problem we’ve faced before. When Dingman sat out the 2005 season, John Tillman turned to his midfielders to pick up the slack. With an offense designed around Jon Birsner feeding cutting and slashing midfielders, Navy scored 157 goals in 2005 with all three starting midfielders and Birsner earning All-America honors. If that’s the route that Tillman wants to take the offense next year, he should have the horsepower to do it with Basil Daratsos, Terence Higgins, and Tim Paul. Bruce Nechanicky looked like he was on his way to a fantastic season before going down to injury against Georgetown. He would fill Birsner’s role nicely. Nick Mirabito and his team-leading 44 points returns on the attack. If Tim Paul switches from attack back to the midfield next season, Nechanicky and Mirabito would probably be joined by Matt Guido or Matt Bitter. Jordan DiNola and Brendan Teague will once again anchor a solid defense.
With Bucknell and Colgate on the rise in the Patriot League, 2008 will be a very entertaining year.