Navy coach Rick Sowell not losing faith in his team

(Phil Hoffmann / Baltimore…)
March 22, 2013|Mike Preston

There are rebuilding jobs at other colleges and universities throughout the country, and then there is trying to turnaround a program at one of the nation's service academies.

Few know the difficulties involved with that better than Navy lacrosse coach Rick Sowell. As an assistant, he helped turn around the program at Georgetown, and then did the same as coach at St. John's, Dartmouth and Stony Brook.

And if you can win at Dartmouth, you can win anywhere — but maybe not as quickly at Navy.

"The goals are the same as they were when I took over a year ago," said Sowell, whose Midshipmen are 3-5 entering Saturday's game against Colgate. "We want to help get the program back to playing at a high level again where Navy is competing for the national championship and NCAA playoff bids.

"Back in December, I thought we were going to have a better team than last year (6-6 record), but I thought our record might not indicate it. And we are better. It's just going to take time."

It will be interesting to see if Sowell gets that time. His record and past accomplishments are impeccable. In less than four years, he took Dartmouth from the Ivy League basement to a conference championship.

In five seasons at Stony Brook, Sowell compiled a 47-26 record and was twice named America East Coach of the Year.

But at those places you can sign junior college stars or bring in transfers from other colleges, including great players from Canada.

There are no quick fixes at Navy. Recruits must spend a year at the military prep school before they can play, so that's a season or two before Sowell can even get them on the field.

Sowell also admits that the Patriot League is stronger than he suspected.

"I was not exactly aware of the situation, to be honest," Sowell said. "I had scrimmaged Army at Stony Brook, so I knew about that team. I knew about Lehigh, but then you have Bucknell and Colgate, and I didn't see it coming. You factor in the rest of this league, and it's just not about Navy. The rest of the league has something to do with our record right now as well."

But that's what drives Sowell. The challenge of rebuilding Navy is different. Others might have a pessimistic view of the Mids, but Sowell has the spirit and the background to endure.

To him, it's only a matter of time before Navy starts winning.

"I think we got a shot in the arm near the end of last season when we beat [Johns] Hopkins, and that removed a dark cloud from around here," Sowell said. "We're just going through some growing pains. It hurts, but I've been through this before. As one of my best friends told me, 'You like this, you've been through this before, and it is part of your legacy.'"

The Mids need to be more consistent, especially on the offensive end. They are 0-5 when scoring less than 10 goals and have lost three games by one goal and another by two.

The 7-5 loss to Holy Cross last week, in particular, was a surprise.

"We're definitely not down on ourselves at all," said Navy longstick midfielder Pat Kiernan. "We're definitely hurting from [Holy Cross], but we know we still have a shot to make it to the Patriot League [tournament]."

For that to happen, the Mids know they have to win their final three conference games against Colgate, Lehigh and Army. That may have created some intense moments in Annapolis this past week.

"Maybe a little bit," Kiernan said when asked if Navy was backed into a corner. "I think we're definitely familiar with this feeling. Last season, we knew going into the Army game that we had to win the game or we were out. This year, it's a little bit different. We've got to win every game or we're out. It's no secret that we're backed up into a corner. We know that, we're aware of it, but we know it's driving us. We know we've got to work harder and do everything right leading up to these games because if we don't, we're done."

Added Navy junior attackman Sam Jones: "Obviously, we're in a point in the season where we're in a spot that we don't want to be in. Our backs are against the wall, but we're not finished yet. We all know that. Obviously, we have a serious uphill battle to climb if we want to achieve the things we want to achieve, but you've just got to show up every day and just get better."

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