TOWSON, Md. - Expectations are often a heavy burden for a lacrosse team. The Towson 2012 men's lacrosse team had very few expectations because they were a team of mystery.
After the 2011 season, Shawn Nadelen was promoted from associate head coach/defensive coordinator to head coach. Former Towson All-American defenseman Dan Cocchi was named assistant coach and defensive coordinator while former Navy assistant Anthony Gilardi joined the staff as offensive coordinator.
Changes were made on the field and off the field, but coming off a 3-10 season, Towson was chosen 36th in the nation in the 2012 Inside Lacrosse Face-Off Yearbook and picked second-to-last in front of St. Joseph's in the preseason CAA voting.
Towson had several holes to fill, not just due to the graduation of their top two midfielders in Pat Britton (15 goals, 3 assists) and Peter Mezzanotte (4g, 14a, 39gb, 24ct). Some players who were starters or key contributors last season also did not return to the team. That left Nadelen and his staff with very little depth and when injuries hit in the spring, Towson had an even thinner bench.
The season started out very early, on Feb. 11 at Jacksonville. Towson got off to a slow start but outscored the Dolphins 7-3 in the second half to get the victory. Senior attackman Sean Maguire scored three goals in the last 23 minutes as their Tigers won their first season opener since 2007. Junior goaltender Andrew Wascavage recorded eight saves in his first start.
The Tigers followed their opening win with two incredibly tough road tests, against Johns Hopkins and Loyola. Unfortunately the Tigers struggled with clears (17-of-25) against the Jays, and fell 12-6. Towson struggled with face-offs against Loyola, winning just 7-of-21, and the Tigers were outshot 49-22 and outscored 13-6. Freshman midfielder Justin Mabus was a bright spot for the Tigers with two assists and one goal.
Nadelen wasn't happy after the game that Loyola won the ground ball battle, 32-23. "We got outhustled," said Nadelen after the Loyola game. "There were times we made really good plays on slides or knock downs and either didn't see the ball or didn't realize it was there and sometimes it would just bounce toward Loyola. I'm all about making your own luck and hustling at those things. We just have to do a much better job realizing that when it's on the ground that has to be a Towson ball and we need to send as many people as possible."
The Tigers bounced back on March 3, with a 10-8 home win over Mt. St. Mary's. Towson was outshot 34-24, but was efficient, scoring 10 times on 24 shots. Sophomore midfielder Thomas DeNapoli led the Tigers with three goals, while Wascavage and senior Travis Love shared the duties in goal.
Following the Mount, Towson had 10 days of rest and wound up hosting Navy on March 13. The Tigers led 2-1 at the half but were outscored 5-1 in the third quarter, falling 10-6. Towson rotated goalies again, starting Wascavage and then going to Love in the second half. Love saw a barrage of 17 shots after Wascavage saw just eight in the first half.
The Tigers were 2-3 going into Stony Brook and were about to change their fortunes around. After giving up three goals in the first quarter against Stony Brook, Wascavage replaced Love. The Tigers' offense came alive, going up 10-6, before holding on to a 10-9 win as Wascavage made a save late to keep the victory. Senior midfield Carl Iacona, sophomore middie Andrew Hodgson and junior Matt Hughes recorded two goals apiece.
Towson exploded in their next game against Mercer, winning 17-8. The victory was highlighted by sophomore midfielder Peter Athens' first-ever goal. The backup quarterback on the football team joined the lacrosse squad in the spring after having not played the sport since high school in 2009 (Huntingtown). Senior attackman Matt Lamon generated a career-high four goals to lead the way.
On March 24, the Tigers opened their CAA schedule against Delaware and played a stellar game, winning 13-8. Redshirt junior Ian Mills won the opening face-off and quickly sent the ball to Lamon, who scored within a school-record four seconds. Mills, who injured his ankle in the previous game, won 17-of-25 draws, and allowed Towson's offense to get plenty of possession time. They took advantage, led by DeNapoli's two goals and two assists.
While the Tigers were 4-3 and made some history, they made even more when they faced Hofstra on March 31 in Hempstead. The Tigers struggled mightily on the offensive end, getting down 9-3 in the fourth quarter. Towson scored a remarkable six unanswered goals in the final 11:27 of the game, sending it to overtime. Then with 38 seconds left in the second overtime period, Mabus scored a man-up goal from Lamon to give the Tigers an astouding 10-9 double overtime win. This was the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in the history of the program, it ended the Tigers’ four-game losing streak to the Pride and it was Towson’s first win at Hofstra since 2004.
Towson had to come back from the emotional win to play against local rival UMBC on Wednesday, April 4. Towson got behind again, this time by three goals in the fourth quarter (11-8) but managed to score four straight goals, highlighted by the game-tying goal at 1:06 by Hughes and then the game-winning by Maguire with 17 seconds left. Wascavage also came up big with a career-high 17 saves.
After the UMBC game, Nadelen sensed that while the team showed great charcacter coming back, they were setting a dangerous precedent by getting down early in games.
"It's nerve wracking but frustrating more so," said Nadelen after the UMBC game. "We are capable of playing so much better in the first three quarters. Delaware has been our most consistent game but we haven't repeated that performance. We've been fortunate enough to come away with wins though. For us to make a huge push in the CAA,
we have to figure out a way to put four quarters together effectively."
Towson was ranked 19th and riding a five-game winning streak going into a road game against No. 2 UMass. The next three games were against the elite of the conference in the Minutemen, Penn State and Drexel. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they were outscored a combined 35-11 in those contests. After falling to St. Joseph's on the road, 6-3 and then to UMass again on the road in the CAA conference semifinal, 10-3, the Tigers' offense managed just 17 goals in their final five contests.
It wasn't the way they wanted to end the season and in that span, they were also outshot 205-108 and won just 29-of-83 face-offs. Towson also turned it over 80 times during the last fives games.
There were plenty of positives as well for a team that went from 3-10 to 7-8 overall on the season in 2012. DeNapoli and close defenseman John Fennessy, both sophomores, earned second-team All-CAA honors, while Mabus and defenseman Jojo Ostrander made the CAA All-Freshman team.
The future is bright with DeNapoli, the 2012 leading scorer returning with 28 points (15 goals, 13 assists) with a 37% shooting percentage. Hughes added 14 goals on 41 shots (36%) with 10 assists, while Hodgson (12g, 5a) and redshirt freshman Robby Zoppo (9g, 2a) are coming off productive seasons.
Towson will miss Maguire, who led the team with 20 goals, after becoming a full-time starter for the first time. Lamon added a career-high 17 goals and shot 36%, after shooting 32% last season. And Iacona had a solid season with 13 goals and 2 assists.
The Tigers also improved in several categories, including shooting percentage. Last year, they shot just 23.7% and in 2012, they shot 30.4%.
Wascavage really settled in as the starting goaltender in the second half of the season. He faced 475 shots and wound up with 159 saves and a 56% save percentage, which is top-five all-time in the history of the program.
Face-offs were inconsistent this season, as Towson won nearly 49% but struggled at the end of the year. Towson was also outshot 553 to 391 on the season. Turning the ball over 232 times didn't help their cause on offense.
A team that was pretty thin coming into the season in terms of depth, may have been been fatigued in the final month. Next fall, the returning players will be used to the new system and philosophy and the newcomers will know what they are getting into. Towson will say goodbye to some very good players in Lamon, Maguire, defensive midfielder John Kenyon, defender Sean Sheehe, Iacona, midfielder Michael Brashears and Love.
But the Tigers also have a very strong nucleus of returning players with Wascavage, Jordan Fortmann, Alec Jernstedt, Ostrander and Fennessy anchoring the defense, and Hughes, DeNapoli, Mabus, Zoppo and Hodgson heading the offense. With more depth and additional talent, year two of the Nadelen era should be another step towards a CAA title and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.