Review & preview: Goucher men's lacrosse

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

June 17, 2014|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

Here is the fifth installment of a series that checks in with the eight Division III 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’s visit was with Frostburg State. Tuesday’s visit is with Goucher.

REVIEW

The good: Few teams endured what the Gophers went through after sophomore midfielder Matthew Gabriel was killed in a hit-and-run incident on April 14. The tragedy rocked the players and coaches, but the Gabriel family encouraged the team to continue the season, and the players responded by advancing to the Landmark Conference tournament final.

“We started off 0-4 and climbed back and got to a position where we were competing for a championship and fighting through what was obviously an unimaginable circumstance with the loss of a teammate,” coach Brian Kelly said. “Through it all, our guys continued to show their character and their toughness. At some point, that will be rewarded, I believe, with great things. We’re building, and guys are growing individually and ultimately, that’s going to help our team be successful at the end of the day.”

**The season appeared ominous after a 0-4 start. But Goucher (7-8 overall and 4-2 in the league) righted the ship, finished third to earn entry into the conference tournament, and fell, 9-6, to Susquehanna in the title game on May 3. The ending left a lot to be desired, but Kelly was impressed with the team’s fight.

“We had an opportunity to play for the championship,” he said. “We unfortunately put ourselves in a position where we had to go up [to second-seeded Scranton] and travel there [for an 8-4 victory in the semifinals on April 30]. We wound up making some uncharacteristic plays in the first game [an 8-7 loss on April 26] that ultimately put us in the position where we had to travel to Scranton. But to go up there and get the win was definitely exciting. And we were real excited for the opportunity to try and write a storybook ending to the season and try to win the championship so that Matt Gabriel’s name would have been on the trophy.”

**A defense that had surrendered just 9.2 goals per game in 2013 was supposed to be weaker with the graduation of goalkeeper Connor Mishaw, defenseman Bryce Carson and short-stick defensive midfielder Mike Russo. But the unit improved, lowering its average to 8.6 goals in 2014 and getting solid play from a trio of first-time starters in junior goalie Karl Wiszumerski (7.86 goals-against average and a .535 save percentage), sophomore defenseman Blake Russell (31 ground balls and seven caused turnovers) and junior short-stick defensive midfielder Zach Wrisk (23 GB, 5 CT).

“I was excited at how our defense grew,” Kelly said. “We struggled early trying to find the right chemistry and once those guys really settled in, we continued to play better. Karl Wiszumerski had a good year and was second-team All-Conference, but a lot of that was because of the play that happened in front of him. [Sophomore] Andy Foster making first-team All-Conference had a really solid year as well as [sophomore] Nathan Cain and Blake Russell. And [sophomore long-stick midfielder] Ethan Haddaway coming off the knee injury really stepped up toward the end of the year and continued to help our defense improve.”

The bad: The Gophers have now gone two seasons without a Landmark Conference tournament crown and subsequently a NCAA tournament appearance, which is the program’s longest stretch since 2008-09. They have been to five conference tournament finals in the last seven years, but that was of little consolation to Kelly.

“The only reason you do what you do is to go out and compete and win,” he said. “We’re not in it for participation trophies. We’re in it to have the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament and ultimately compete for the biggest prize. It’s extremely disappointing that we did not give ourselves that opportunity in the Landmark.”

**For the second consecutive year, the offense picked the wrong time to be ineffective. The unit took 42 shots, but only scored six goals in the loss to Susquehanna in the title game. In 2013, Goucher launched 45 shots, but scored just five times in a 6-5 loss to the Merchant Marine in a conference tournament semifinal. Kelly said the team’s struggles were not limited to the offense.

“We were consistently inconsistent, and that was across the board in many different areas,” he said. “Unfortunately, the inconsistency in our shooting happened again in the biggest game. … We took 42 shots. So we were getting looks, but they made more plays than we did.”

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