(Photo Courtesy of Navy Athletics)
You likely know the story by now. Navy has one of the most storied lacrosse programs in history. The Midshipmen have 17 pre-NCAA national titles and have been to the NCAA national championship twice (1975,2004). They have also appeared in 27 of the 48 NCAA tournaments and have five conference titles on their resume, as well.
Navy has been at the top of college lacrosse for most of its history. But as of recent, the Midshipmen have been a shell of their former selves. And they seemed to have hit rock bottom over the past three seasons with things only getting worse. While injuries have played a factor in Navy demise over the past few seasons, last season seemed to be the tipping point as head coach Rick Sowell- who had success at Dartmouth and Stony Brook before arriving in Annapolis- was fired, despite being three years removed from being one goal away from the NCAA final four.
Whether you were a fan of the decision to part ways with Sowell or not, it is all said and done now, and the Midshipmen have a new head man in Joe Amplo- who helped build Marquette from the ground up.
While Amplo has a reputation as a great “builder” after building Marquette from the Midwest’s newcomer to one of the top programs in the region and the Big East conference, as well, taking down the likes Bill Tierney’s Denver Pioneers on multiple occasions, he now gets to show how much of a “rebuilder” or “program fixer” he can be at Navy. And despite the various opinions on how close Navy is to being back at the top of, at least, the Patriot League, it is a rebuild, nonetheless.
At Navy, one of the biggest challenges for Amplo and his staff will be establishing success on the offensive end of the field and re-establishing the signature “Navy midfield” that the college lacrosse world is used to seeing. Over the past few seasons, Navy’s attack has been good with players like Ryan Wade- who moved to attack after starting his career at midfield-, Christian Daniel, and others making big impacts. But their midfield has been a little thin with Greyson Torain being their only big consistent contributor, especially last season.
The Midshipmen’s top three returning scorers from last season are junior attackman Christian Daniel and sophomore attackmen Nick Cole and Jack Sweeney. At midfield, they do return junior Michael Foster who tallied 20 points (12G/8A) last season. But the Midshipmen’s next two top returners at the midfield didn’t even register double-digits last season.
For Navy to have success on the offensive end they will need to find someone who can pair up with Michael Foster and somewhat replace Greyson Torain in terms of production. Neither Navy nor any other team can live with an attack-only offense. Even the top two scoring offenses in DI last season (Penn State, Yale) had, at least, two midfielders tally over 20 points. In fact, in Navy’s last NCAA tournament run in 2016 they had the exact same situation with multiple 20 plus scorers at both the attack and midfield positions.
In addition to their need to diversify and improve their offense, Navy’s defense is a huge problem, as well. In 2019 Navy had the 39th ranked offense in DI and the 50th ranked scoring defense in DI, averaging of 12.08 goals allowed per game. For comparison, the other two DI service academies (Air Force, Army) had the first and second-ranked scoring defenses last season.
Personnel wise, Navy returns senior goalie Ryan Kerns who ranked eighth in the Patriot League last season in save percentage, and junior defenseman Andrew Mckenna who was the only long-pole to start all 13 games and racked up 14 ground balls and seven caused turnovers.
Outside of those two, the Midshipmen must find consistent leadership on the back end to help bolster and lift up this defense out of the depths of despair. Navy cannot let opposing offenses walk all over them as they did at times last season. That will only help generate loses.
Besides their on-field struggles, Navy has actually been having some success on the recruiting trail, bringing in six freshmen ranked in Inside Lacrosse’s Top 100, including defenseman Jackson Bonitz out of McDonogh (Md.) who was rated as a five-star and ranked as the number 13th player in the 2019 class.
Amplo and his staff have their hands full with many things to fix before Navy can even be considered a serious contender in the Patriot League or on the national stage. However, as previously mentioned, Amplo has proven that he can take a program and build it into something special. The question now is can he take a once-proud program and build it back up to its former glory?
If he proves to be capable of doing so quickly then we may see Navy back at the top sooner than later. If he can’t do that then Navy could very well become the Nebraska of college lacrosse.