Review & preview: Mount St. Mary's

A look at the 2014 season for the Mountaineers and a glimpse into 2015

June 02, 2014|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

Here is the opening installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Monday begins with a visit with Mount St. Mary’s.

REVIEW

The good: The Mountaineers (1-15 overall and 1-5 in the Northeast Conference) avoided the indignity of the program’s first winless campaign with a 9-5 victory over league rival Wagner on April 19. The positive result didn’t prevent the team from finishing the season with a loss to Sacred Heart, but coach Tom Gravante appreciated the resolve the players showed.

It was a tough season for both coaches and players to be 0-14 before you get your first win,” he said. “I was just pleased that our kids continued to battle and our seniors – we had seven of them – didn’t quit. We still saw promise from some of our upperclassmen throughout the season. It just wasn’t consistent at times.”

**Statistically, the defense lowered its average from 12.5 goals in 2013 to 12.0 this spring. That may not seem like much, but a veteran defense anchored by a starting close defense of juniors Kyle O’Brien (34 ground balls and 13 caused turnovers), Nick Firman (34 GB, 10 CT) and Alex Stefkovich (22 GB, 9 CT) and senior goalkeeper Chris Klaiber (12.73 goals-against average and .512 save percentage) was Mount St. Mary’s strongest unit.

“We were more mature on that end of the field,” Gravante said. “With the three guys running for us in Kyle O’Brien, Alex Stefkovich and Nick Firman, that’s three juniors down there. And two of those three guys saw legitimate starting time for us last year. Firman wasn’t a starter, but he still saw some minutes and that was a good thing. We played a lot defensively for many reasons, but it was a good thing we had those young men down there with Chris Klaiber, who was a starter as a sophomore, in and out of the lineup as a junior, and took over the reins as a senior again.”

**The graduation of 22 seniors from the 2013 squad opened the door for many younger teammates to find their way onto the field. It may not have been the most opportune time for a program struggling to find wins, but game experience is crucial in the development of the team’s future starters.

“We had to play some younger guys and they got minutes, which is good,” Gravante said. “It builds depth in your team. Hopefully, these young men got a taste and they want more.”

The bad: An offense that averaged 10.3 goals in 2013 dropped substantially to 5.7 this past spring. That isn’t too shocking considering that the Mountaineers returned just seven goals from last year’s unit that scored 155, but Gravante declined to use that as an excuse.

“It was a big part of why we flopped at times,” he said. “We would gain momentum and then lose it. That comes with playing experience and with game experience comes poise and maturity. It definitely was a factor. It’s unfortunate, but that’s part of the growing pains when you’re coaching a young team.”

**Digging deeper in the offensive struggles, Gravante said the unit lacked an attackman who could break down an opposing close defenseman on a consistent basis. Sophomore attackman Bubba Johnson led Mount St. Mary’s in goals (13) and points (20), but Gravante said Johnson fared better against short-stick defensive midfielders. Junior attackman Mark Hojnoski (12 goals and six assists) was the team’s best dodger, according to Gravante.

“If you look at any team that’s winning in Division I, I guarantee that one of their attackmen leads them in scoring, and that attackman is most likely a guy that can beat a long-stick,” he said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t really have a guy down on attack that could beat a long-stick. Mark was probably our best guy once he got back into the frame of playing.”

**While the number of goals fell, the number of turnovers spiked upward. After averaging 13.5 giveaways in 2013, the team turned the ball over 18.2 times per game this season. The roster’s youth played a role in that, Gravante said.

“Even the kids that were elders and playing on offense, this was the first time that kids were put into playing position,” he said. “So they’re going to make mistakes. That coupled with the inexperience and youth with them just made for interesting situations. We thought early on that these guys would be able to handle the pressure, and they did at times and they didn’t at other times.”

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