COLLEGE PARK – Defense wins games, but offense sure does help.
Since Tillman left for Harvard and then Maryland, Navy (5-4, 3-2 Patriot League), who #12 Maryland (5-3, 1-2 ACC) plays Friday night at 7 p.m. at Byrd Stadium, hasn’t averaged in the double digits – nor have they won as much.
Navy averaged 10.5 wins a season while Tillman was the assistant head coach and in 2004, the Midshipmen went 15-3 en route to just their second NCAA Championship game appearance.
In the four years since he left, Navy has averaged just 8 wins, including a 4-9 record last year.
Known for turning around programs, Rick Sowell took the helm in Annapolis this season after spending the last five years at Stony Brook, where he was named the America East coach of the year in 2010 and 2011.
He took over for Richie Meade, the 2004 U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Coach of the Year.
“Following in his footsteps is certainly a challenge,” Sowell said Wednesday. “Once you get beyond that, it’s a new coaching staff coming in trying to implement a new philosophy. That takes time, it’s definitely not something that you can just come in and wave a magic wand. We’re laying the foundation.”
But Sowell and his team have already eclipsed the win total from last year. Navy is currently 5-4, having won four of their last five games.
Through nine games, the offense is averaging 9.89 goals a game, nearing the exceptional numbers Tillman’s teams were putting up.
Leading the way are a pair of sophomore attackmen, Tucker Hall, the 2011 Patriot League Rookie of the Year, and Sam Jones, who was on the Inside Lacrosse 2011 All-Freshman 1st Team. Both Hall and Jones lead Navy with 38 points apiece last year on 23 goals and 15 assists.
“They’ve been playing together for three years, so they know each other quite well. They form quite a duo and a lot of our offense is built around them,” Sowell said.
Hall is, statistically, the fifth-best offensive player in Division I lacrosse so far this year. His 22 goals and 20 assists are good for a 4.67 points/game average. The 2011 player of the year, Virginia senior Steele Stanwick, is averaging 4.70 points/game.
Sowell called Hall a triple threat.
“He can beat you to the goal to score, off ball he gets himself in position to score as well and he’s able to see the field very well. If you’re open he will get you the ball,” he said.
Jones (13 goals and 11 assists) hasn’t had as good of a year statistically and his coach said he was in a bit of a slump to start the season. But he’s starting to turn things around.
Last month, he scored the game-winner against then-12th-ranked Colgate with 3.4 seconds remaining.
“He had come off a couple games that weren’t quite him, but he’s such a competitor that we just knew it was a matter of time before he turned things around,” Sowell said. “He wants the ball in his stick in the big moment.”
They pose a big threat to Maryland’s defense which has given up at least 11 goals in two straight games, including a season-high 12 against Virginia last Saturday.
Leading the defense is senior goalie RJ Wickham. Wichkam earned honorable mention All-American honors in 2010, ranking fifth nationally in save percentage (.593) and 11th in goals-against average (8.55).
Sowell said Navy has a chance to upset Maryland if, “we play very good defense and Wikcham has a good night combined with our offense finding other ways to score beyond 6 on 6.”
In order to avoid their third straight loss, Maryland needs to have an accurate day shooting the ball. All five of their wins have come when scoring on at least 30 percent of their shots. In their three losses, they shot worse than 30 percent.
This will be the 87th meeting between Maryland and Navy, the Terps’ second-longest rivalry.
To hear the game, tune in to WMUC Sports starting at 6:45 p.m.