Lax Advances

It was little more than a week ago that the Navy lacrosse team appeared to be on the outside looking into the NCAA lacrosse tournament. Now the Mids are about to host a quarterfinal game, earning a rematch with Johns Hopkins after beating North Carolina, 8-7. It was a great win for a team that wasn’t even supposed to be there.

The Bad: During the pregame show on WNAV, Pete Medhurst mentioned that Coach Meade felt that his team needed to win at least 50% of the faceoffs in order to have a shot at winning. They didn’t even come close, only pulling out 6 of 19. Combined with UNC clipping Navy in ground balls (41-39), you’d think that it spelled bad news for the Mids. But that’s before you factor in…

The Good: …North Carolina’s atrocious 14-26 on clears. What used to be Navy’s biggest problem became their best friend on Saturday night, as the Tar Heels couldn’t solve Navy’s ride. Not only did UNC’s clearing problem lead directly to two Navy goals, but it also negated the posession advantage that usually comes from dominating faceoffs.

The Really, Really Good: Tommy Phelan was on fire with 12 saves, including several of the highlight-reel variety. Richie Meade felt that Phelan was the hot hand going into the game after this week’s practice, and his decision paid off.

The Better Than It Has Been Lately: For three quarters, Navy’s offense looked about as good schematically as it had all year. UNC’s defense was pushing out to challenge the Mids on the perimeter, which is the M.O. of a lot of teams the Mids have played lately. It led to some lousy passing and catching, but Navy also took advantage with much better shot opportunities than we’ve seen in the last several weeks. Tim Paul was the primary beneficiary with 4 goals, but the Mids generated a few shots from near point-blank range– something you’d expect to open up with a stretched-out defense. Unfortunately, Paul’s 4 goals were all that Navy’s set offense could generate.

The Ugly: That’s because Navy is probably the worst shooting team of any that is regularly in the top 10-15. Grant Zimmerman did make some nice saves, no doubt. But he didn’t always have to. Doesn’t it seem a little unusual that opposing goalies always seem to have career days against Navy? Think back to Bucknell, the second half of Maryland, Army, Hopkins, or even as far back as VMI and Mount St. Mary’s. Some good goalies, to be sure. But when great goalie play seems to be the norm, you start to wonder… Maybe it’s us. I’m not sure how to fix the problem, but it sure doesn’t seem like the Navy offense makes goalies work too hard. Johns Hopkins is good enough offensively that Navy will need to capitalize on those point-blank opportunities in order to keep up.

The incredibly frustrating: Navy went up 7-4 after 3 quarters, thanks to Paul’s 4 goals, a goal in transition by longpole Zack Schroeder, and a couple of gifts courtesy of Grant Zimmerman. Predictably, Navy put the brakes on the offense and stopped looking for shots.

SHOTS BY PERIOD       1  2  3  4  Tot
Navy……………………. 11 12 15  3 – 41
North Carolina………..  4 13  4 12 – 33

That includes 0 shots taken on a :30 EMO with about 10 minutes left in the quarter. And just as predictably, UNC fought their way back into the game, scoring three goals in the 4th. Fortunately for Navy, Nick Mirabito capitalized on an incredible gaffe in the UNC clearing game that left him with an empty net to shoot on. Otherwise, I might be writing a different story right now.

Let’s break this down a little bit. Navy had leads going into the 4th quarter against 5 teams that made the NCAA tournament field– Ohio State, Cornell, Colgate, Maryland, and UNC. In the 4th quarter of those games, Navy was outscored 13-4. The Colgate game was pretty much already out of reach. Against Ohio State and Cornell, Navy lost the lead. Against Maryland and UNC, both teams drew within a goal and had posession with a chance to score at the end of the game before making mistakes that ran the clock out. Navy lost a 6-2 lead against Ohio State, a 7-4 lead against Cornell, and put Maryland and UNC in position to tie the game after having 2nd half leads of 5-0 and 7-4, respectively. Whatever happened to putting an opponent away? The counter argument is that at that point, it’s more important to posess the ball than it is to shoot. But the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Turnover stats weren’t kept in the Ohio State game for some reason, but in the other 4 games, Navy averaged 3.83 turnovers per quarter through the first 3 quarters. In the 4th quarters of those games, Navy averaged 7 turnovers. Navy does a better job of maintaining posession when they’re actually trying to score. The same was true on Saturday, as long Navy posessions set the tone for the game in the first half. Defenses take more chances trying to get the ball back when they’re behind late in games, so it makes sense that they’d force more turnovers in the 4th quarter. But the flip side of taking chances is supposed to be that the opposing offense will make you pay, since playing too aggressively will create holes in the defense. After scoring only 4 4th-quarter goals in those 5 games, Navy doesn’t do that. They allow the defense to dictate instead of pressuring them right back. Consequently, no lead is seemingly ever safe against a team that’s any good.

Of course, I pray that Navy is in position to blow a lead against Johns Hopkins this weekend, since that would be a huge improvement over the Mids’ last performance against the Jays. When you think about it, things are shaping up about as well as Navy fans could have hoped for. We had a first-round game against a UNC team that Navy had historically played well against, had a hit-or-miss offense, and was badly overseeded at #4. And now we have another crack at Johns Hopkins, which is always a welcome opportunity. The seniors have an opportunity to wash the bad taste of the last Hopkins game out of their mouths, having been given a second chance that you just know they’re fired up about. And they get it at home in front of what will probably be a crowd of 20,000+. After the miserable way the regular season ended, could things have worked out any better? I don’t think so.

32 thoughts on “Lax Advances

  1. goat7ed

    as a fan of more shooting, I actually thought that Navy played a very winnable formula against UNC. I thought our team play was solid, and there was some real step up play on some individuals’ parts. The only problem is when you have a breakdown, the road to recovery is harder with Meade’s style of play.

    I don’t see the Clement and Mirabito goals as flukes, but as the type of play that is needed to make your own luck when on paper you are overmatched. The main concern I had were some the pass exchanges with Mirabito that got turned over. After the second time I almost wondered if he was not feeling well. This team can’t afford uncharacteristic play from guys like him. Second concern came on D when we opened a seam by the crease that UNC jumped on.

    We need to be in the game on faceoffs, but If we execute the playing part like we did, less those hiccups, we can control most any game (granted Hopkins and Duke may adjust more quickly and often than UNC) and make the game ours to lose.

  2. thebirddog

    I thought Navy played a very winnable formula too… Until the 4th quarter. Before then, it was some of our best lacrosse of the year.

    The Clement, Mirabito, and Higgins goals were all flukes in my opinion. Yes, they hustled and made plays, so maybe “fluke” is the wrong term to use. But the goals were the result of some pretty bad mental breakdowns on UNC’s part, and we won’t be able to rely on those kinds of goals from game to game.

  3. Navyblue12

    Very good analysis, and impossible to argue with.

    Long has some good thoughts on Swezey’s blog.
    He says we need to shore up the team when we play the stall/slowdown. Designate players who can run and are deceptive.

    I thought it was a very interesting concept from an expert.

  4. randyrad

    Navy was trying to score with their normal sets all game, right up until the t.o. with 3:21 remaining (the one tv eavesdropped on). Even then, RM told Durkin to stay out front, in order to have his hottest long shooting mf in a position to take advantage of the shooting lanes most likely opened up by his instructions for whoever drew the shortsticks to take the ball behind & “run, run, run” in hopes of burning clock, drawing the D & their focus behind & opening things up for Durkin out top. He was also trying to generate a Standen v short stick matchup, working the iso behind.

    I wouldn’t overstate the :30 EMO as proof of anything. Navy used a 4 corners with Clement & Mirabito inside. Navy made 15 passes around the 4 corners. Eact time a wing had the ball, he looked for the guys inside. Each time a point had the ball, he looked for a shooting lane. UNC zoned it perfectly (it was only a :30 emo) & Navy opted to retain possession in hopes of maintaining possession beyond the emo, rather than take a low % shot fron the point, likely to be caught by Zimm or blocked by a pole, or try to force a pass inside to guys on the crease who never broke open for a quick stick opportunity. Not a very good emo, because no high % opportunities were generated, but none were passed passed up. Q on tv criticized it, saying Navy would need 9 or 10 goals to win & the Navy should have tried to force it inside. It didn’t work out that way. When the opposing goalies stopping everything your settled offense can generate, your goals are just coming from “flukes” generated by pressing turnovers, & you’re losing possessions on FO’s, your higest % strategy is to maintain possession, rather than try to force low % scoring opportunities. If you have the ball, the other team can’t go on a run.

    Navy didn’t need those 9 or 10 goals to win. The strategy used is dictated by the players available & their relative strengths & abilities as they matchup vs the current opponent. You play to your strengths.

  5. randyrad

    Totally agree. That needs to be improved for the strategy to be more effective.
    We’re closer to improving that, rather than a creating a new high scoring offense at this point of the season.
    You make best use of the tools you find in your toolbag.

    It’s never going to be pretty. You lose possession eventually – the goal is to burn as much clock as possible in the process. A good % of the last 5:00 was battling for possession in the neutral zone. When UNC gained possession, they were gassed & pressing & only had one good 6 on 6 set. Navy’s D was controlling the game at the end, just like vs MD & Bucknell (& OSU I suspect, but I didn’t see that one).
    That’s 4 very potent offensive teams that Navy’s D held off at end game. You play to your strengths. Navy’s #1 D rating is not just a statistical anomaly.

  6. thebirddog

    Except it isn’t working. We enter the 4th quarter with a comfortable lead, and end the 4th quarter in position to lose it. The whole idea behind maintaining posession is so you don’t reach that point. That’s “making best use of your tools?” I don’t think so. The numbers show that we do better when we don’t sit on a lead.

  7. randyrad

    You don’t have any numbers to support the alternate strategy since it hasn’t been tested in comparable situations – & even then, each team is different w/ different matchups.

    The more possessions you give the opposition, the more they are going to score as well. Lacrosse is a game of runs. The key is to not let the opposition go on a run.

    Not every theory is proveable statistically, given a limited amount of game data.

  8. Do you need numbers to prove that the current strategy is making games closer than they need to be? Birddog cites the games where Navy blew leads in the 4th quarter. Obviously we do a shoddy job of keeping possession for long periods of time. Yet you claim “you make the best use of the tools you find in your toolbag.”

    Why do we continue to use the same players in the same situation and hope for a different outcome then?

    Getting outscored 13-4 in the 4th quarter against the NCAA tournament teams we played this year speaks volumes.

  9. randyrad

    “Blew leads” ? Navy is 10 -1 when leading entering the 4th Qtr. 4-1 v top 20, 3-1 v Tourney teams, 2-0 v higher seeded teams still playing.

    Allowing 3 goals spread over a qtr is not a “run.” Especially when you score 1 as well. Need a relevant example of a 4th qtr run – look no further than last years playoff game at UNC. 7-7 entering final qtr. Zimm was hot in goal that night too. Navy outshot NC & won 4 of 4 FO in the 4th Qtr, but NC went on a 5 goal run & won going away. & that was a Navy team with a lot more firepower.

    Perhaps this Coach knows more about the relative strengths & weaknesses of his team & what it takes for them to win than you’re giving him credit for. He’s one of only 8 coaches still playing & he beat 2 of the other higher seeded teams still plating, despite “blowing” 4 qtr leads to them.

  10. randyrad

    Correction to previous post : Navy won 6 of 6 FO’s v UNC in 4th qtr of last year’s playoff game.

    re. “current strategy making games closer than they need to be.” – this Navy team has yet to display the firepower needed to put away top teams like OSU, Cornell, MD or UNC. The more chances you give those very potent offenses, the more they’re going to wear down the Navy D & reduce the chances of Navy holding the lead. That’s why maintaining possession & shortening the game is even more critical at the end. If you let the game get away from you in the 4th qtr – it’s like Chapel Hill last May.

  11. pills91

    Great write-up BD. The other problem with our “stall” strategy is that if a team can rally back, we’re completely out of our attacking mentality to get back in it.

    Possessions in LAX are obviously extremely important. Goals help make them less so.

  12. football dad dan

    Excellent piece tbd, … and like an earlier poster stated, … tuff to argue against (from a reasonable man/fan stand-point). —> Even though randyrad gives it a “yeoman’s effort”.
    What saved Navy in the 4th quarter of that game last Saturday was UNC’s extremely sloppy ball-handling (after we kept giving it away trying to “stall” possession after possession).
    BEAT JHU!!!

  13. thebirddog

    Randyrad, you talk out of both sides of your mouth when you say 1) that Navy tries to maintain posession to keep scores low, but 2) 3 goals is not a “run.” In a low-scoring game, 3 goals is a huge swing. And why are you ignoring the turnovers? I know maintaining posession is important. BUT WE AREN’T DOING IT.

  14. randyrad

    No bd, you’re refusing to see the distiction. I offered last year’s NC 4th qtr as an example of what ‘s meant by a “run” in usual lax parlance.Several goals in a short period to close a gap & /or pull away is a “run”.

    What 3 goal swings? Navy 4th qtrs this year:
    Cornell 3-1, Buck 2-1, MD 2-0, NC 3-1.
    A 2 goal differential spread over an entire qtr would not be commonly called a “run” by writers or commentators. Navy’s ball control & time of possession style prevented those 4th qtr differentials from becoming “runs”.

    When holding a lead, it’s a viable strategy to trade time of possession for scores. Navy’s not the only team that does it & there’s numerous analogies in other sports.

    By the 4th qtr, you know what your team’s capable of doing vs the opposition that day, on both offense & defense. Plus, as pointed out in the analysis, the other team will make 4th qtr adjustments if behind.
    If your offense is not lighting it up in the first 3 periods & you’re scratching for every goal, it’s a falacy to think the same players, facing the same opposition, are going to develop new offensive skills in the 4th qtr. Your relative strenghts v the opponent determines the strategy.

    This is the strategy that gives this year’s Navy team the best chance for winning. To think otherwise presumes capabilities that have not been reliably demonstrated & that you just optimistically theorize.

    This Navy team has done much better & gone much farther than any of the “experts” predicted, based on the loss of offense & impact of injury to key offensive returnees. That success has been due, in large part, to the coaching, not despite it.

  15. randyrad

    Increased turnovers in 4th qtr due to opposing D’s pressing out & doubling/tripling more as time runs down.

    In the endgame (final 5:00 after Navy regained 2 goal lead) UNC doubled Standen after 1:00 t.o.p gained possession. Next Navy possession, a NC pole stripped Mirabito in the open field . Poor execution on offense. Navy had forced & unforced t.o.’s all game – another reason not to take for granted 4th qtr Navy scoring at the same pace as Carolina if you let it become a shootout.

    They’re gonna get the ball back eventually, the key is how much time’s involved in the process. That’s why I pointed out that UNC only had ~ 1:00 TOP in its offensive end in the last 5:00 –>. 80% of the endgame, UNC was denied the opportunity to score. They were only able to run one settled 6 on 6 set & it yieled a solid goal which could have happened at any time in the game.
    Navy’s D controlled the game at the end – better than relying on the Navy offense in a 4th qtr shootout.
    Play to your strengths.

  16. thebirddog

    So the next time we have a comfortable lead going into the 4th quarter and end up in extremis at the end, I’ll just suck it up since it’s all part of the plan!

  17. randyrad

    Given this team’s limitations, I think it does, & I’m not anxious to dissect those limitations in an open forum.
    capiche ??

  18. Navyblue12


    Do you agree with Long that we could play the stall better? Or, is he wrong also?

    With our offense, a 3-1 ratio, while in the stall is not good, unless we have a huge lead.

  19. randyrad

    Absolutey, we could play stall better – we could do everything on offense better. Then maybe we wouldn’t have to resort to stallball. It’s about minimizing the impact of your limitations.

    Huge lead ? A 3-1 4th qtr ratio is acceptable when you enter the qtr with a 3 goal lead. It’s like playing the hated prevent D to give up FG’s or time consuming TD drive’s rather than quick strike TD’s.

    It’s not fun to watch & nobody likes it particularly (Coaches included), but sometimes it’s what you gotta do to give your team the best % of winning.
    Winning Ugly, I believe it’s called.

  20. thebirddog

    randyrad, if you begin the 4th quarter with a comfortable lead, and end the 4th quarter in position to give up that lead, then your plan has failed. Anything else is just spin.

  21. Dave'69

    TBD – If you begin the 4th quarter with a comfortable lead, and end the the quarter winning the game, your plan has worked. If you end up losing the game, your plan has failed. Everything else is just sports talk.

  22. Dave'69

    I’m just paraphrasizing something I was taught about 39 years ago – “There is no arguing with the irrefutable logic of success!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s