Navy at Towson: Three things to watch

Midshipmen hold 7-5 lead in series, but both teams have split last four meetings since 2010

March 11, 2014|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

The rivalry between Navy and Towson has been a contentious one. The Midshipmen boast a 7-5 lead in the series, but the Tigers have won four of the last seven meetings. Since 2010 when the schools resumed the series after a 13-year hiatus, the teams have split the last four contests.

Navy (3-2) is seeking its first 4-2 start since 2009, which was also the last time the program qualified for the NCAA tournament. Sophomore goalkeeper John Connors ranks fifth in the nation in save percentage (.620) and seventh in goals-against average (7.26).

Towson (4-2) is off to its best start since 2007, which coincidentally was the last time the university earned a berth in the NCAA tournament. The starting attack of seniors Thomas DeNapoli and Max Siskind and freshman Joe Seider has combined for 25 goals and 15 assists. Seider, a Sparks native and Hereford graduate, leads the team in goals with 10.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

1) Navy’s attack vs. Towson’s close defense. The Midshipmen’s top three scorers are their three starting attackmen in senior Sam Jones (15 goals and 10 assists), sophomore T.J. Hanzsche (12, 1) and senior Tucker Hull (8, 4). That trio stirs the drink for the offense and should draw the interest of the Tigers’ starting defensean group of senior John Fennessy (12 ground balls and seven caused turnovers), junior JoJo Ostrander (7, 7) and sophomore Nick Gorman (17, 4). But Towson coach Shawn Nadelen said the defense must also be aware of Navy’s midfield. “Their attack is terrific, no doubt about it. But their middies are the guys that kind of get things going, and you have to pay attention to them, which I think opens up the attack to have some opportunities,” he said. “They can do the same thing if they want their attack to initiate. Their middies can score on the back end. So they’re a very well-balanced team. All of their middies are over 6 feet. They’re good, strong, downhill-dodging, athletic middies. We can’t not worry about them and just pay attention to the attack because then the middies could run off and have 10 goals against us. So we’ve got to do a good job as a team playing defense, knowing that everyone on the field for Navy is a threat.”

2) Navy’s Brady Dove vs. Towson’s Conor Pequigney or Alec Burckley. Just as they did last season, the Tigers have won less than 50 percent of their faceoffs. Pequigney, a sophomore, has taken the majority of the draws and won 44.8 percent (30-of-67) and collected 17 ground balls. Burckley, a freshman, has fared better, having won 57.5 percent (23-of-40) and scooped up 13 ground balls. That would seem to shift the balance to the Midshipmen, who have relied on freshman Brady Dove to win 61.5 percent (67-of-109) and compile 36 ground balls. But coach Rick Sowell said he has no intention of trusting everything on just the numbers from the past. “To me, faceoffs are game by game,” he said. “I just don’t think stats tell the whole story. We’ve seen a number of their games and they scrap and fight. So our wing play is going to be very important tomorrow night. Brady is playing well. He’s been able to make the adjustments, which early in the season he wasn’t doing as well. We’ll see. Hopefully, it would be to our benefit. Faceoffs are a big part of the game for possession, and hopefully, we can continue to be solid at that part of the game.”

3) Navy’s man-down defense vs. Towson’s man-up offense. Only 11 teams have had their man-down defense take the field more often than the Midshipmen, who have killed 79.2 percent (19-of-24) of those situations. But Sowell has said that the team must cut down on its infractions and prevent giving opponents prime opportunities. If Navy gives the Tigers eight man-up chances as it did in Friday’s 11-3 victory over Lafayette, Towson has the talent to take advantage. Then again, the Tigers have converted just 22.7 percent (5-of-22) of those opportunities thus far. “[W]e haven’t been great at the man-up position as of late,” Nadelen said. “So we really need to focus on that and get things tuned up and score when we have those opportunities. Navy has an aggressive defense. They play hard. They’re not a cheap team. They just play extremely hard and aggressive and really challenge teams. When you play like that, sometimes you get some fouls. So we know we’re going to have to play six on six and when our opportunities come, we have to take advantage and score.”

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