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Closeness at heart of Navy's defense, which tests Hopkins today

April 19, 2008|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun reporter

The trust developed by the defensemen on the Navy men's lacrosse team has a humble beginning: their stomachs.

At least once a week, as many as 15 defensemen and long- and short-stick defensive midfielders congregate at the Steerage Restaurant on the Naval Academy's campus in Annapolis.

Pizzas are ordered, topics including movies and video games are discussed, and pints of Ben & Jerry's (bought by either senior defensemen Brendan Teague or Jordan DiNola) are consumed.

"I'd say we're pretty close," Teague said. "On the weekends, we all hang out together. During the week, we see each other every day, all day. ... Living close together, hanging out together, you just naturally become really good friends."

That camaraderie has reaped benefits on the field and will be on display when the No. 10 Midshipmen (9-3) host No. 6 Johns Hopkins (4-5) today at noon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

The Blue Jays, who ended a five-game losing streak with a 10-4 triumph over No. 11 Maryland last week, need a victory to keep afloat their hopes of an invitation to the NCAA tournament.

Navy features the country's stingiest defense, which has surrendered 5.3 goals a game (63 in 12) this season.

If that average holds up, it would be the second-lowest average number of goals allowed by a team. Only Delaware, which gave up 3.7 goals a game (44 in 12) in 1971, was stingier.

ESPN analyst and former Army coach Jack Emmer provided commentary during the Midshipmen's 9-6 loss to No. 9 Army on Saturday and came away impressed with Navy's defense.

"I think Navy is one of the great defensive teams," Emmer said. "Army exploited them a little bit on Saturday. Army fast-broke them three times for goals in that game and got some unsettled goals, but when Navy makes you play six-on-six, they don't give up any goals. And they don't foul you. They're the best defensive team in the country."

With any group, personalities emerge, and that's true for the Mids' defense.

Junior defenseman Andy Tormey is the prankster, with a fondness for taking his teammates' backpacks and turning them inside out, while junior defensive midfielder Geoff Leone is the bulldog because of his stocky build (5 feet 9, 184 pounds) and tenacious disposition.

Sophomore defenseman Jaren Woeppel is the free spirit, junior defenseman Thomas Zimmerman is everyone's friend and junior defensive midfielder Bobby Lennon is the quiet one.

Perhaps because DiNola and Teague are seniors, the pair is more businesslike and tends to dictate the pace and tenor of practices, which can get chippy.

"We get after each other in practice, and it works that we're good friends, as well," DiNola said. "When we get tough on each other during practice, it's better knowing that the guy's your friend when he's telling you that you [stink]."

The mark of a good defense is nonstop communication, and because many of Navy's defensemen have been playing together for at least the past two seasons, there is silent recognition and trust among the players.

"When I'm sliding to Teague's guy, I know that if I take the body, Teague's going to be right on the guy's back getting a stick-check," Tormey said. "And when Jordy inside-rolls a guy, I know Brendan's coming across the crease and clobbering the kid. It's like having an extra defender out there."

The performance of the defense has been critical to easing the fluctuation in the net, where junior Matt Coughlin (aggravated right hamstring injury) appears poised to reclaim his starting position from junior Tommy Phelan, who has been solid in the team's past four games in Coughlin's absence.

Navy coach Richie Meade isn't ready to say this year's defense is better than the one that helped propel the program to the national championship game in 2004, but he has enjoyed the unit's progress.

"We have depth, and I don't think we've given up a lot of really good shots," Meade said. " ... The one thing they have to be able to do is maintain the fundamentals that they worked so hard to acquire. When they do that and when they're communicating, they're pretty tough."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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