Ten Questions for Navy Lacrosse 10-6

The Navy lacrosse programs opens its 102nd season against Virginia Military on Saturday at noon at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. Navy has made six consecutive NCAA tournaments. Will it make seven in a row? In the first of a two-part preview, here are some things to watch as the season unfolds.

10. Can the Offense Be a Perfect 10?

Thanks largely to its stellar defense, Navy is 30-1 when it scores 10 goals or more dating from 2004.

So it was instructive that, in both of its preseason scrimmages, Navy reached double-figures in goals -- a 10-3 "victory" over UMBC on Jan. 30 and a 10-9 "win" over Virginia on Feb. 4.

The attack has all the ingredients. Senior Brendan Connors (team-high 21 goals last year) is a lefty and is adept in unsettled situations. Junior Andy Warner (13G, 14A) is an unusual combination of shifty and physical; he will attack defenses while starting from behind the goal. And senior Tim Paul (18G, 14A) is a creative shooter and passer.

The extra-man offense is quarterbacked by senior Evan Sullivan (8G, 3A). Navy scored at least two extra-man goals against UMBC and at least one against Virgnia. With Sullivan running the show last year, the unit went 15 for 34 (44 percent). When Sullivan was on the bench in 2008, Navy's EMO ended the year in a 2 for 12 slump (17 percent).

9. Is Tim Paul Healthy?

Navy coach Richie Meade says Paul will play in the season opener. Paul missed much of the fall season and the first scrimmage against UMBC, though he played almost all of the scrimmage against Virginia and scored a goal.

Paul led the team in scoring last season despite an ankle injury that caused him to miss three complete games and to be limited in two others. He was the second-leading scorer in 2008; his star turn came with four goals in the NCAA tournament victory over North Carolina.

Paul is Navy's best passer and shooter. He has the pedigree of having played in one of the top high school leagues in the nation (the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association); a creativity not normally associated with Navy lacrosse; and will draw the opponent's best defender.

8. Any Other Injuries?

Despite a physical fall and preseason -- it was more grueling than usual, according to Meade -- Navy does not to have too many major injuries. Junior defenseman Tom Mansfield missed both scrimmages but is expected back on Saturday. He started six games last year and provides quickness on defense. Senior longstick middie Zack Schroeder (3G, 4A) also is expected back after he missed the Virginia scrimmage.

7. Middle Earth

Navy has back three experienced midfielders -- seniors Joe Lennon (14 goals, 9 assists last year), Patrick Moran (20G, 3A) and Basil Daratsos (4G, 3A). The three are changing roles a little bit this season. They comprised the starting midfield for much of the past two seasons and Daratsos started on midfield as a freshman in 2007.

Yet Meade wants the three to be surrounded by more athleticism. In the scrimmages, sophomore Nikk Davis joined Moran and Lennon on the first midfield. Daratsos moved to the second unit, with juniors Brian Striffler and Kevin Doyle. Davis is among the two or three fastest Navy players and he initiated several plays against UMBC.

On the second unit, Daratsos will draw the longstick middie. Striffler is a top athlete and Doyle has good size and is good off-ball, though he also scored on a dodge against UMBC. Expect them to dodge down the alleys (i.e. the sides of the goal box) and to try to get the defense moving, which most defenses do not want to do.

Daratsos has become a top shooter when given time and space. "Basil's knee injury was not a good one. Sometimes they are clean but Basil's wasn't," Meade said. "He's playing pain-free for the first time in years."

6. I Know What You Did Last Fall

Two bugaboos of recent Navy teams -- poor shooting and poor decisions in transition -- were addressed in the offseason.

Navy's shooting percentage the past few years (in declining order from 2009): 26.4; 23.9; 29.5; 25.8; 26; and 31.2 percent in 2004, the year Navy advanced to the NCAA titleg ame.

Navy shot 29 percent against UMBC (in the snow) and better than 30 percent against Virginia.

Meade says he stressed stickwork in the offseason, he altered many shooting drills and the team worked on 4-on-3 transition situations. (Navy scored twice in transition against UMBC, with both goals coming from Connors.)

"We're evaluating everything we're doing now in terms of content and stickwork instead of whether it's a 'good play'," Meade said. "He may have scored a goal, that's a good play, but on the shot he didn't step with the correct foot. Stick work in lacrosse is like golf. It's all about developing habits. You can screw up your swing pretty easily by not doing things fundamentally correct. You have to develop consistency."

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