Blue-collar Towson works its way back

April 26, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

Regardless of what happens with Towson University during the men's lacrosse season, the Tigers can never be counted out. When they lost three of their first five games, the Tigers were already declared as out of the playoff picture by some.

But Towson coach Tony Seaman never blinked. Two of the three losses were to No. 3 Maryland and No. 1. The Tigers also lost to Binghamton, but sometimes upsets happen. Seaman kept the faith.

"The first thing you do besides hope you are doing a good job of coaching and developing players is to look at the schedule," Seaman said. "That will determine a lot of the success. I always smile when people say, 'Gosh, you have gotten a lot better in April than you were in March.'

"Besides the schedule, we have found out who can run with whom, and the kids start to accept roles," said Seaman, in his 25th year of coaching. "They start to understand what you have been trying to preach. I think we're a team that relies on athleticism. Unlike the team that we play a couple of blocks down the street this week, we don't have a lot of All-Americans. We're just a bunch of everyday guys coming together."

That's what makes No. 12 Towson's game against No. 6 Hopkins on Saturday so interesting. The Blue Jays (6-4), with their proud tradition, attract the blue-chip players. Towson (8-4) has a few, but it's not in the class with the Syracuses, Virginias and Hopkinses.

Seaman, in his eighth season at Towson, likes his team's blue-collar image and work ethic. It reminds him of his days growing up in Washingtonville, N.Y., and when he coached at Penn, another school that doesn't get a lot of All-America players.

Seaman works his players like he works referees. He is always jawing with them while stalking the sidelines. He's animated, straightforward and at times a nag, but understanding and extremely successful. He gets every ounce of sweat out of a team.

The formula has worked again this season. The Tigers started the season hoping freshman Charlie Paar would be the answer at goalie, but he tore cartilage in his knee in game No. 2. That basically left Towson with fifth-year senior Mark DeGroat, who spent three seasons as a backup before sitting out as a redshirt last year so he could compete for a starting job in 2006.

Having a goalie who had not played in a regular-season game for four years would be a major problem for most teams, especially in Division I. But DeGroat, who has started nine of 10 games, has a 5-3 record and a .538 save percentage. And he just keeps getting better.

"The first games he started playing in were against Maryland and then Virginia," Seaman said. "That Virginia team is clearly better than everyone else. They pass harder than we shoot. But Charlie has come on every game. Each week, he gets better and better. I'm extremely pleased with his development."

Towson is loaded with those kinds of stories.

Take senior midfielder Kyle Fiat. He is from Salt Lake City, Utah, which is not to be confused with Baltimore or Long Island as a hotbed for lacrosse players. He was a former wide receiver at Utah State, but got injured his first year. According to Seaman, he was told that it might be better for him to play another sport. Fiat, who has a 39-inch vertical leap, became a starter last season, and has nine goals and three assists this season.

Then there is senior attackman Steve Mull, a very quiet, unassuming kid from Fallston who is one of the better feeders in the game. He missed three games with an ankle injury earlier this season, and still is not 100 percent. Seaman can't keep him out of the lineup. Mull leads the Tigers with 12 assists.

And then there is senior attackman Phil Grillo, a transfer from UMBC. A year ago, Seaman kicked him off the team because of disciplinary problems. He pleaded to get back on the team in the fall, and Seaman gave in, but not before issuing strict guidelines.

"He had some maturity problems, made some bad decisions about a couple of things," Seaman said. "I suspended him last season. He came back and asked if he could have another shot. He said he had matured and figured out how to make the right decisions. I told him he was coming on as a senior, but I have a lot of freshmen coming aboard, and that I didn't have a lot of time to waste on him.

"I've always believed that if someone pays the penalty, then they deserve another chance. We sat down, and set up some conditions. I told him if he goofed up one time, did something different than what he told me, then he would be gone."

It has worked out for Grillo, and Towson. Grillo leads the Tigers in goals with 26, and Towson has won four straight. The Tigers also have a shot at winning the Colonial Athletic Association title, and could possibly get a rematch against No. 2 Hofstra, which edged the Tigers, 10-9, in overtime earlier this year. But first there is Hopkins, which fired Seaman after the 1998 season.

"Hopkins is good," Seaman said. "They lost a lot on defense, but it's the end of the year and they're playing well. They're doing the things he [coach Dave Pietramala] wants them to do. They are very talented at the attack."

And then Seaman smiles.

"I think it's homecoming at Hopkins, so all my friends will be there," Seaman said as he laughed. mike.preston@baltsun.com

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