Spring Sports Preview

By Gary Lambrecht 

WOMEN'S LACROSSE 

The Mids were a study in poise and maturity last spring, as they put together an amazing run of postseason performances that pushed Navy into its first-ever NCAA tournament final four.

And under 11th-year coach Cindy Timchal, who has won more games than any other Division I coach and recently was inducted into the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Mids are a team that assumes nothing will be given to them this time around.

A year after winning 18 games and losing only two starters to graduation, the Mids can expect their opponents to come after them harder than ever. Timchal says Navy will not be looking back or ahead.

“We had a really good fall doing what we normally do. It’s still all about great preparation and showing up to compete every day,” Timchal says. “The past doesn’t even exist, neither does the future. We’re just focused on working hard today.”
The Mids, who started the postseason last May by dominating top-seeded Loyola to win their first Patriot League title since the Greyhounds joined the conference in 2013—and beat Loyola for the first time—are well-equipped to build on last year’s history.

Navy lost one starter from an offense that averaged 15.57 goals per game and featured four scorers with at least 50 goals. The Mids return three, all-Patriot League performers, led by two-time Midfielder of the Year Jenna Collins ’18. She has been named to the all-conference First Team three times and earned recognition last year as an Inside Lacrosse Second Team All-America selection.

With a team-high 72 goals and 42 assists in 2017, Collins became the third player in school history with at least 100 points in a season. In addition, she controlled 76 draws.
Her twin sister, attacker and co-captain Julia Collins ’18, led the Mids with 118 draw controls and produced 75 points.

Attacker and Patriot League Rookie of the Year and Inside Lacrosse Division I Rookie of the Year Kelly Larkin ’20 is coming off an incredible season. Larkin produced a freshman-record 108 points (54 goals, 54 assists). She had 24 points in the NCAA tournament. Larkin netted six goals in Navy’s 16-15 loss to Boston College in the national semifinal.

“[Larkin] made an amazing impact for us,” Timchal says. “It’s always good to have a lefty shooter who can score. But the way she can find other offensive players [with passes] really balances out our sets.”

Then there is attacker/midfielder Meg O’Donnell ’19, who scored 50 goals and was a clutch scorer throughout the postseason. Midfielder Andie O’Sullivan ’19 also recorded 47 points, including 34 goals.

Navy returns the heart of a defense that held opponents to 9.83 goals per game and kept teams in single digits on 12 occasions.

The unit is anchored by goalie Ingrid Boyum ’18 and defenders Blake Smith ’18 (also co-captain of the team) and Marie Valenti ’19.

Boyum recorded double-digit saves in three NCAA tournament games. Smith, an all-Patriot League First Team selection, is a lockdown defender who forced a team-high 38 turnovers. Valenti, who also has played midfield, has moved to defense, where she was a disruptive force in the NCAAs. Valenti ended the year with 37 caused turnovers. 

MEN'S LACROSSE 

A year after the program took a step backward with a 6-8 finish, despite the presence of two of the better defenders Navy has produced, seventh-year head coach Rick Sowell sees much upside coming in 2018.

Sowell’s optimism is rooted in the depth and experience among the Midshipmen. That starts with a 14-man senior class, many of whom played significant roles in Navy’s drive to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals round two years ago.
Sowell also is counting on better fortune this year.

Before the Midshipmen even got started in 2017, they had lost sharpshooting midfielder Casey Rees ’18 to a season-ending knee injury. Attackman Jack Ray ’18 started only seven games and scored just five goals, due to a foot injury that effectively ruined his year.

Defenseman Hiram Carter ’18 appeared in only four games, thanks to a back problem. Goalie Ryan Kern ’20 battled an ankle injury—it was addressed with surgery last summer—that limited his game throughout the season and contributed directly to his so-so, 50.8 save percentage.

A year after averaging just 9.43 goals—and giving up an unusually high amount of 9.57 goals—Sowell sees the offense showing marked improvement. The return of Rees is a huge reason.

“No one is more excited to have Casey back than me. What he did to get back on the field by September is nothing short of amazing,” Sowell says. “He obviously brings another dimension to our offense.”

Rees, a catch-and-shoot weapon, led the Mids with 34 goals in 2016, a year Navy concluded by nearly unseating Brown to advance to its first final four in 12 seasons. Rees should combine with quick, hard-dodging midfielder Greyson Torain ’19 to form a big part of Navy’s foundation.

Torain, who is also an important piece in Navy’s faceoff wing unit, tied for the team lead last year with 38 points (23 goals, 15 assists).

“The game is slowing down for Greyson,” Sowell says. “He’s realizing all of the ways he can affect a defense.”

Sowell likely will shift Ryan Wade ’19 from attack to midfield to fill out that first unit, partly because Wade will draw a steady diet of short-stick defenders at midfield, partly because Wade’s team-high 25 assists last year illustrated his vision, and partly because attackman Christian Daniel ’21 showed such quickness and skill as a pure feeder in the fall.

Chris Hill ’18 should be a potent, off-ball threat on attack again. Hill started 12 games at attack last spring and scored 17 goals on 35 percent shooting. Dave Little ’18 also is coming off a solid year (23 goals on 40.4 percent shooting) as a finisher. And the 6-feet-6 Ray should not be under as much pressure to produce goals as he assumed early in his career.

Ray Wardell ’18 and Drew Smiley ’19 figure to anchor Navy’s second midfield. They combined for 16 goals a year ago.

“We have dodgers, feeders and off-ball guys who are a pain in the butt to cover. We expect to be pretty darn good, if we can take better care of the ball,” adds Sowell, referring to Navy’s average of nearly 17 turnovers in 2017. That negated great work by graduated faceoff star Brady Dove ’17, the most prolific specialist in school history.

Dove will be replaced by Joe Varello, a solid, two-year backup prior to Dove’s graduation. Sowell doesn’t expect Varello to duplicate Dove, although Sowell does expect a more efficient offense will make more possessions count and not put the defense at frequent risk.

On defense, replacing close defenseman Chris Fennell ’17 and long-stick midfielder Matt Rees ’17 will be a formidable task. Fennell was the only three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Patriot League history, while Rees was a three-time, all-conference selection and a first-team pick in his final two seasons.

Carter’s good health, along with the return of starters Steve Hincks ’18 and Michael Strack ’18, should help Navy to form a consistent trio down low.

The strength of the defense will be on the edges with short-stick midfielders David Jones ’18 and D.J. Plumer ’18. Plumer, a mainstay on defense since 2016, is also valuable on the faceoff wing. Jones is coming off of an outstanding fall after converting to defense.

George Uhrich ’18 brings experience to the long-stick midfield spot. The wild card is LSM Jeff Durden ’21. He made a huge impression in the fall with his skills, size and athleticism. Durden could start sooner than later.

And if Kern can command the position like he did before suffering that early-season injury, the defense figures to look more like a typical Navy unit.

“We don’t have the kind of players who can just come in pick up where Chris [Fennell] and Matt [Rees] left off. But it’s a veteran group that knows how to play good defense together,” Sowell says. “Ryan has 18-save capability from game to game. He can be a real difference maker for us.”

BASEBALL

Heading into his 13th season in Annapolis, head coach Paul Kostacopoulos continues to lead a program that spoils its fans. Under his leadership, the Mids have won at least 30 games in eight seasons. Over the past three years, Navy has won a combined 117 games, including a record 43-win season in 2016 that concluded with the Mids’ second NCAA tournament appearance under Kostacopoulos.

The 2018 season probably hinges on how well the pitching staff retools, following the graduation of starters Kyle Condry ’17 and George Coughlin ’17 and workhorse relief man Jett Meenach ’17. They combined for 16 of Navy’s 37 victories, while Meenach saved eight wins as a bullpen anchor.

Noah Song ’19 clearly is the anchor of this year’s starting rotation. The 6-feet-4 right hander went 6-4 last year with a 3.67 ERA and 89 strikeouts over 76 innings—both team highs. Song then pitched 10 solid innings last summer with the Harwich Mariners in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

“We’ve had the luxury of having a pretty long pitching staff, in terms of depth and quality. There is a void of experience this year,” says Kostacopolous, who praised Song’s work in the fall, touting his 95-mph fastball and improving curve and changeup. “[Song] is stepping into the role as our No. 1 [starter]. He could be a real, next-level type of pitcher. He just keeps getting better and better.”

Navy will look to former relievers such as Sean Kamhoot ’18 (2-2, 3.62) to stabilize the rotation. Andrew Sauer ’19, who was so valuable with six starts and nine outings in relief last year, could take over the no. 2 starter role. Colin Brady ’18, Trey Seabrooke ’20 and Jackson Zoch ’19 will be counted on to lead the bullpen.

Navy’s steady defense and relief pitching has helped the Mids to win 73 of their last 76 games when leading after seven innings.

The Mids lost shortstop and conference Player of the Year Travis Blue and three-time all-conference catcher Adrian Chinnery to graduation, but help is definitely available.

Second baseman Zach Biggers ’20 and third baseman Jacob Williamson ’20 are back after starting a combined 97 games and earning recognition as Louisville Slugger Freshman All-Americans. Biggers hit .331 and committed just three errors. Williamson batted .296.

Catcher Alex Smith ’20 batted just 21 times in a part-time role last year, and will replace Chinnery, with some help from regular first baseman Christian Hodge ’19, who started 44 games and batted .276.

Michael Coritz ’20 takes over for Blue at shortstop. The Mids don’t expect Coritz to approach Blue’s production at the plate, but need Coritz to do his part to help Navy approach its .975 fielding percentage last year—the best in school history.
If Navy secures its fourth consecutive Patriot League regular season title, it will probably due in large part to its outstanding outfield.

Left fielder Evan Lowery ’20 (.315, 35 starts, 0 errors) was excellent as a plebe. Right fielder Stephen Born ’18 (.282, 37 RBI, 0 errors) is a fourth-year starter. And center fielder Logan Knowles ’18, another fourth-year starter, hit .330 last year, led Navy with 56 runs scored, stole 16 bases in 17 attempts and made one error. 

MEN'S TENNIS

Fourth-year coach Chris Garner figures that Walker Sims ’18 and Aries Wong ’18 could battle for the top singles spot. Sims tuned up in the fall by winning eight straight matches after losing his first one.

The program’s youth movement also could yield some great things for Navy, which lost to Army in last year’s Patriot League tournament final—Navy’s sixth straight appearance in the final.

Zach Jennings ’20 leads a four-man group of second-year talent that will be a key for the Mids. Jennings, the sixth Navy player to be chosen league Rookie of the Year, finished 24-12 in singles play last year by winning eight of his last 10 matches. He also teamed up with Gabriel Pilones ’20 to produce a doubles record of 14-8.

“Zach is capable of playing anywhere in the lineup,” Garner says. “With his talent on both offense and defense, he’s a dual threat.”

Matthew Lee ’20 and Greg Durham ’20 provided more bright spots. After taking seven of his last eight singles matches to finish the spring season 15-19, Lee went 8-4 in the fall and also teamed up effectively with Andrey Majkic ’18 in doubles play. Durham went 17-13 last year then won seven of his last 10 singles matches in the fall.

Among the plebes, Andrew Ton ’21 shined consistently with a 9-2 mark in the fall.

WOMEN'S TENNIS
There is no doubt in 10th-year head coach Keith Puryear’s mind about who is tops among the Mids’ singles players.

Amanda Keller ’18, who went 15-20 last spring, including 9-12 in dual matches in the no. 1 spot, has won 77 matches in her career and could own the nine-year-old varsity program’s career record by the time she is done. Keller, who also prepped in the fall with a 9-5 showing, is also serving as team captain this year.

“Nailing down the no. 1 spot is a tall order, since you always get the other team’s best shot,” Puryear says. “I don’t think Amanda has ever had a bad practice. She’s probably the fittest player I’ve ever coached. Even the day after she ran the Marine Corps Marathon in three hours and change, she came to practice and you never would have known it.”

A year after Navy was eliminated in the Patriot League tournament semi-finals, Puryear looks at the Mids’ depth and sees a team that can challenge for its first conference title.

Carlee Conway ’18 brings experience and a 41-19 record in singles play to the table. Claudia McKenzie ’18 and Emily Louie-Meadows ’20 combined to post a 17-9 record in doubles play last spring, while Louie-Meadows went 21-11 in singles play.

Ansofi Wreder ’20 was arguably the program’s biggest revelation a year ago. Wreder won five of seven matches each in the no. 3 and no. 4 slots, en route to a 26-10 season that featured wins over ranked opponents from Iowa and Maryland.
“We knew [Wreder] would be good, but we didn’t expect that kind of freshman year,” Puryear says.

WOMEN'S TRACK AND FIELD
If Navy makes a significant move upward from its fifth-place finish at last year’s Patriot League championships meet, 27th-year coach Carla Criste said the improved depth among its sprinters will be a key factor.

Brittany Burg ’18 is back, a year after placing second in the 400 hurdles and as part of the second-place, 4x400 relay team that included Lauren Heaton ’20 and Christina Quigley ’20.

Criste sees the Mids getting a big boost from Regine Tugade ’20, a native of Guam who became Navy’s first-ever plebe to compete in the Rio Olympics in 2016 when she represented the U.S. territory. Tugade, who is the national record holder back home in the 200, did not attend prep school before coming to the academy. In Rio, she finished third in the 100 preliminary.

“[Tugade] developed shin splints after plebe summer and went to Rio,” Criste says. “She came back from that experience pretty worn down. It was a tough year for her. But she is in excellent shape [now].”

Navy also figures to be in good shape in the pole vault, as Charlotte Kearns ’18 and Maggie Ruud ’18 are back after finishing 1-2 at the league’s outdoor championships.

MEN'S TRACK AND FIELD

First-year coach Jamie Cook, who replaced Stephen Cooksey following his retirement after 29 successful years running the men’s team, was hired as Director of Track and Field last summer. Cook inherited a men’s program that has been a perennial force in the Patriot League.

“There are tons of guys in the program who have had a lot of success, and Steve deserves a lot of credit for that,” Cook says. “We have to keep that going.”

Look for the Mids to contend for their fifth straight outdoor championship, thanks to their depth and their strength in the sprints and field events.

Devin Enslen ’18 is the defending Patriot League champion in the 200m dash and a member of the 4x100 relay team that is intact—including Evan Lexo ’20, Demetrius Lanier ’19 and Aaron Watson ’19—after placing second at the league meet. Kordell Williams ’19 is back after taking the 110 hurdles title. Cameron Hurd ’20 won the 400 hurdles title and earned the Most Outstanding Rookie award at the league meet.

A year after winning the hammer throw and placing second in the discus, John Campbell ’18 should be a dual threat again. Sean Richards ’18 is the reigning conference champion in the javelin throw. High jumper Tyler Russell ’18 took second place at the league meet.

 

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