The Tigers came into fall ball as something they hadn’t been since 2005 – reigning Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) champions. To those outside the program, Towson was an unlikely champion – starting 0-3 and needing to defeat two ranked opponents in a row to claim the conference tournament crown.
Towson Lacrosse knew all that effort and energy expended in the spring could lead to a letdown over the summer and into the fall.
Coming back strong
“We didn’t want to play catch up,” said Head Coach Shawn Nadelen. “We wanted to make sure we returned in the fall at the level we finished in the spring.
“I think that’s hard, in the summer, to keep that intensity and level of play with guys having jobs and internships and taking a step back from the game after going hard for the full academic year. Especially our top guys, our seniors, making sure they came back ready to go. Not only for the team but for the competitiveness of what we knew we would be encountering [in the fall] with the incoming freshmen. We wanted to set a good example for those guys.”
It proved tough for some of the returners to ward off complacency.
“Our returners came back not ready to execute and compete at a high level,” noted Nadelen. “You finish at such a high end somewhat as a team – the NCAA loss was frustrating – but I feel like we are moving in a good direction as a team and a program.
“The majority of the individuals who stepped up for us down the stretch for us didn’t come back at as high of a level execution-wise and play-making ability as I would have hoped. The good thing is it is September when that was happening, but we want to be able to grow as a team and have those guys at the forefront. We need them to understand that once you take a step forward, you can’t take a step back. I think that was a little bit of a lesson they learned.”
A shot of youth
If they hadn’t come to that conclusion on their own once they hit the turf at Unitas Stadium or the weight room in the Towson Center, the incoming freshman class was more than willing to help them.
Despite the typical getting-up-to-speed adjustment period for freshmen, they, as individuals and collectively, brought an energy and intensity to fall practice that spurred the returning players into action.
“[The freshmen] have brought intensity, and they are talented as a collective group,” said Nadelen. “They are very competitive as a collective group. I think that has been a welcomed addition from the returning players.
“We have freshmen attackmen beating John Fennessy and JoJo Ostrander in one-on-ones the first week of practice. Those two defensemen are proven starters and proven All-CAA players, and we have freshmen attackmen taking them to the rack and scoring.”
Stepping up and standing out
Several of the freshmen stood out to Nadelen – Joe Seider at attack, Tyler Young at midfield and Alec Burckley at the face-off position. In goal, Matt Hoy has taken advantage of the graduation of All-AmericanAndrew Wascavage and has not only improved his own game but pushed others to improve as well.
On defense, Tyler Mayes and sophomore Mike Lowe came to practice ready to work.
Lowe “came back and played at a high level right away. He was aggressive and really showed us he was ready for a starting spot.”
Among the other returners, senior Thomas DeNapoli, who struggled with injury and fitness issues, still has great execution and sharp play-making ability. Senior Andrew Hodgson has stepped up as a leader in practice and during the team’s annual workout with The Program, earning recognition as the Tiger who consistently worked hard and led his teammates for the second straight year.
The Tigers participated in the Play for Parkinson’s Tournament and held alumni and intra-squad scrimmages, which showed the coaching staff where the players had improved and what still needed more work.
“Offensively, we’re in a pretty good spot with what Coach Gilardi has installed and done with our offense,” said Nadelen. “We have a lot of experience in the midfield coming back. With DeNapoli, and [Cory] Dobyns, [Devin] Grimaldi, Max [Siskind] and the freshmen infused into the mix.
“System-wise as an offense, we’re understanding what’s expected and able to be in the right spots, making the right reads, the majority of the time. The tempo offensively needs to continue improve and be more consistent which is one area coach keeps emphasizing with those guys.”
Defensively, the close defense is strong. The long stick and defensive midfield groups and the goalkeeping corps are young. A few weeks into individuals, these position groups are starting to pick it up and execute at a higher level. Nadelen thinks the Tigers are making good strides there.
“The two big concerns coming out of the spring were what are we going to be like in the cage and what are we going to be like at the face-off position,” stated the coach. “We graduated Andrew Wascavage and he was terrific, and we were terrible at the face-off position. We need to improve that. And we’re making good progress in both those areas. I feel confident with where we are there and I feel like we have a little bit better identity with both of those positions.”
Welcoming Scott Rodgers
The freshmen are not the only new addition to the team. Over the summer, former Notre Dame standout goalkeeper Scott Rodgers joined the coaching staff as a volunteer assistant.
Working mainly with the goalkeeping corps, he has been a welcome addition to Towson Lacrosse.
“Scott brings a great perspective,” mentioned Nadelen. “He’s got that ‘it’ factor you look for. He is an intense individual, but he understands how to coach and how to communicate. He is a big presence at 6-4, 250 pounds and has the voice for a coach.
“He says the right things not only to the goalies, and he sees a lot of what’s going on in practice – not only the good things but also the things the guys need to improve upon. He’s not afraid to say something to guys who may try to hide in drills, and let them know that’s not acceptable. Scott helps out a lot with the sports performance component too. He’s a big believer in being healthy and making yourself stronger and more mobile through movement dynamics.”
Ask any player or member of the coaching staff what their goals are for the season and, to a man, they will respond “win CAAs and an NCAA title.” The Tigers know they can’t rest on their laurels anymore. Summertime and fallball is over. Time to get to work.