Too young. Too inexperienced. Wait until next year.
That's what the lacrosse community said about Navy. It's a good thing for the Midshipmen that they didn't listen.
No. 10-ranked Navy has become the surprise team of the year, already exceeding last season's win total and positioning itself for its first NCAA tournament bid in four years.
"A lot of people kept telling us we're young, but I think when we invaded Iwo Jima, the average age was 19," said Midshipmen coach Richie Meade, who is in his third season. "It's amazing, young guys can do lots of good things."
Navy's fight for a postseason appearance will depend on its final four regular-season games, beginning with tomorrow's contest against No. 4 Maryland at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Navy hasn't beaten the Terrapins in four years.
The Midshipmen (6-2), who only won four of 12 games last year, most likely will have to win at least two of those last four games to make the tournament.
"We're basically in a playoff situation right now," Meade said. "With Maryland, Towson and Hopkins, they are all very talented. And Army is a monster in itself. All can beat us and beat us badly. We've got to be ready to play."
Look at how Navy has become the turnaround team of the year. The Midshipmen won their first four games by one goal, three of them with a shot in the last 23 seconds.
Those close victories proved crucial to the mind-set of the youthful Midshipmen, who mainly play just two seniors.
"They're playing with confidence," said Bucknell coach Sid Jamieson, whose Bison lost to Navy, 17-7, on Wednesday after beating the Midshipmen by a goal last year. "That makes a big difference. Playing with confidence can make you so much better."
Yet the most inexperienced part of Navy, its defense, has proven to be the Midshipmen's strength. Its six-man defensive unit, which includes no seniors and just one junior, is considered one of the best sliding Navy squads in years.
And don't forget about plebe goalkeeper Mickey Jarboe, who was a reserve at Calvert Hall.
"I think we have a complete team," said senior Andy Ross. "It all starts with a goalie we have confidence in stopping shots. That allows us to do so many things. It starts there and relays out to the rest of the team."
Former assistant Charlie Toomey discovered Jarboe at a summer camp. Jarboe then went to prep school last year and had his skills honed by former Syracuse keeper Chris Surran.
Now, with many of the top teams in search of a top-notch goalkeeper, Navy has snatched up the top freshman stopper in the nation in Jarboe, who ranks seventh in Division I with a .631 save percentage. In 1996, Midshipmen goalkeepers had a .585 save percentage.
"Charlie told me that he really felt that Mickey Jarboe was the top goalie in that camp," Meade said. "It's funny. When you saw him play, you knew he was going to be a really good goalie. The ball looks like a beach ball to him and he's really quick."
The resurgence at Navy has not only been in the goal. The offense has increased its per-game averages in goals by almost 2 1/2 and shots by 11.
This scoring rise can be largely attributed to the breakthrough seasons of midfielder Scott Meushaw and attackman Jamie O'Leary, who are tied with a team-high 17 goals.
Meushaw, who had six goals as a plebe last season, has only missed the goal seven times, scoring on 71 percent of his shots. O'Leary, a converted midfielder, had three of the Mids' four fourth-quarter goals in victories over North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Another factor is that Navy is actually giving its offense more chances at scoring. The Midshipmen are successfully clearing the ball upfield and winning 12 percent more of their faceoffs.
"We now have some high-caliber athletes with the ability to do some things," Meade said. "We try to remind our players of the Navy concept.
"The way we play is pretty simple. We're not real concerned in throwing the ball behind our back. It's a team concept here and everyone understands that."
A look at the turnaround by Navy this season in per-game averages:
.. .. .. .. .. .. .1996 .. .. .. ..1997
Goals .. .. .. .. ..9.1 .. .. .. ..11.5
Opponents' goals ..12.3 .. .. .. ...9.8
Shots .. .. .. .. .29.7 .. .. .. ..40.4
Opp. shots .. .. ..40.2 .. .. .. ..36.8
Faceoffs.. .. .. . .433.. .. .. .. .553
Ground balls .. ...28.1 .. .. .. ..39.3
Opp. ground balls .30.7 .. .. .. ..32.5
Clearing.. .. .. . .744.. .. .. .. .819
Save pct... .. . . .585.. .. .. .. .639
Pub Date: 1/01/98