Shoremen find right touch in coach, seniors

In first season, Clarke meshes with 4-year players

April 30, 1999|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN STAFF

CHESTERTOWN -- They have played in three straight NCAA championship games, and brought Washington College a title at long last. The Shoremen have an abundance of four-year starters, and first-year coach J. B. Clarke has leaned on his seniors since the day he was hired last July.

"Coach Clarke really put the team in the senior's hands," defenseman Scott McGilvray said. "He met with us first, and stressed from day one that we're only going to go as far as the seniors. He told us he would put as much control of the team in our hands as we can handle."

A class of 13 apparently has enjoyed the responsibility.

Clarke will get his first taste of the "War on the Shore," Washington's annual grudge match with Salisbury State, here tomorrow at 1: 30 p.m. More often than not, the rivalry spills over to the Division III tournament, and both are among the half-dozen or so teams with a legitimate chance at an NCAA title.

It was anything but business as usual for Washington's veterans last year, when they won a title but lost a coach. Before John Haus hoisted the NCAA plaque, he was linked with several Division I vacancies. When Towson didn't grab him, Johns Hopkins did.

"That was a difficult experience, because a lot of us came here to play for Coach Haus," said McGilvray, one of five senior captains. "Even though it was rumored that he was going to leave and no one blamed him for going, we all thought he would stay for another year."

Haus left the cupboard a lot fuller than he found it when he was hired in the summer of 1994.

Haus' first Washington team didn't even get an NCAA bid, as Salisbury State had become a more prominent contender and the talent level of the Shoremen had slipped. There were many openings for Haus's first recruiting class, but McGilvray, John Fuller and others like them didn't just gain positions by default.

"We were lucky, because Coach Haus got a great group here that year," long-stick midfielder Jeremy Stoehr said. "We didn't really realize we had something special going until we played in the championship game as freshmen."

That would be in 1996, when Washington was a surprise NCAA finalist, where it lost in overtime to Nazareth. It was the same title game matchup and result in '97, but last season the Shoremen broke through, beating Nazareth and bringing the Liberal Arts college with an enrollment of 1,100 its first title in its 21st trip to the tournament.

This season, Washington is 11-1 overall, ranked No. 3 and looking to become Division III's third straight repeat champion, after Salisbury State (1994 and '95) and Nazareth (1996 and '97). McGilvray said that the Shoremen won't settle for anything less than another title, and that remains a possibility despite the coaching change.

"Some of these seniors were on the search committee that interviewed me," Clarke said. "The fact that they participated in the process made the transition easy."

Stoehr said that Clarke is "a little more open with his captains, always asking us how the players are feeling."

He asked them to help integrate the freshmen, who have made a sizable contribution of their own. Jon Fellows has a team-high 20 assists, and Ray Pagano emerged from a crowded goalie picture to replace three-time All-American Andy Taibl, who's now a graduate assistant.

Nearly everywhere else, however, it seems that there's a senior.

McGilvray and Stoehr settle the defense. The midfield is laden with veterans, like Chris Bieberbach and Justin McCarthy, and local products Bill Grothmann (Loyola) and Brian Rentch (Annapolis). Fuller is a fourth-year starter on attack, where he has 38 goals and a shooting percentage of .458. He prepped at Boys' Latin with Matt Swift, another senior who's the third-leading point-getter.

McGilvray said that Washington is "more of a run-and-gun team now," as Clarke, 34 and in his sixth college coaching stop in the 1990s, stamped his own style on the Shoremen.

Clarke worked for Duke's Mike Pressler from 1993-96 and spent last season assisting Dave Cottle at Loyola. When Clarke needs to know about Washington's past, he can turn to goalie coach Clint Evans, an alumnus who stayed on the staff for his 18th season.

Of course, if Clarke wants another opinion he values, he turns to his seniors.

NOTES: The sole loss for both Washington and No. 4 Salisbury (14-1) came against top-ranked Gettysburg. Clarke said the Shoremen have to contain Sea Gulls midfielders Chris Turner (Arundel) and Tim Parks (John Carroll). Salisbury State has won the last eight meetings, but Washington avenged three of those losses in the 1993, '96 and '98 NCAA tournaments.

Class act

The senior class at Washington College has known plenty of success:

Year................Rec.................NCAA finish

1996...............13-5................ Lost in final

1997...............14-4.................Lost in final

1998...............14-4..................... Won title

1999...............11-1.

Pub Date: 4/30/99

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