(Photo Courtesy of Detroit Mercy Athletics)
When Chris Kolon took over the reigns at Detroit Mercy following the 2014 season, the Titans were coming off a program-best 6-8 season in their sixth year of existence. He was able to lead them to greater heights the following season, as the Titans put together their first winning season in program history in 2015, going 8-6.
But before they rose again, the Titans took a step back. They went 2-10 in 2016 and 5-11 in 2017.
Since those back-to-back losing seasons, Detroit Mercy has hit a surge of sorts. During the 2018 season the Titans went 9-7 and earned the No. 1 seed in the MAAC tournament. The were ultimately upset by a very hot No. 4 seeded Canisius team in the conference title game. They put together another winning season in 2019, going 8-7 and getting knocked out in the MAAC semifinals by the eventual conference champions Marist.
During those two seasons they didn’t just see an increase in the win column, either. Those two seasons mark two of the top full seasons, statistically, in almost every category for the Titans on the offensive end. And in multiple categories, like points per game and shooting percentage, they were on track to break their previous highs before the 2020 season was cut short.
The Titans posted a 2-3 record before the season was cancelled, earning wins over Jacksonville and Bellarmine.
After years of rising up from the dark depths of the DI landscape as a newcomer in the 2010s, the Titans might be ready to make that jump and assert themselves as a premier program in the MAAC. And with all the attention on Marist as the clear cut favorite coming into this season, it could be the perfect opportunity for the Titans to quietly make some noise as a dark horse.
They certainly have the talent and experience to get it done.
Faceoff man Alex Jarzembowski is one of four players who are returning for a fifth season and one of five fifth year seniors for the Titans overall. A native Michigander, Jarzembowski has been an impact player since he first stepped foot on campus. In the Titans’ five games last season, he went 91-for-151 (.603%) and over his career has gone 541-for-948 (.571%), which ranks first overall in program history. Jarzembowski is the biggest impact returner for this squad and having him on the field only increases their chances of success.
In addition to Jarzembowski, the Titans return three other fifth year players in reserve midfielder Matt Turner and starting defensemen Alex Akins and Sam McClain. They have also added a grad transfer in attackman Scott Shepard from DIII Albion.
While brining back and adding multiple fifth year guys is huge for leadership and experience purposes and certainly gives them a pretty big edge, the Titans have a ton of impactful underclassmen from last season that will be looking to continue to improve heading into the 2021 season.
On the offensive end, the Titans return their top two scorers from last season in attackman Brett Erskine and Kyle Waters. The pair of Ontario natives took the field together for the first time last season and tore it up. Erskine, who has been an impact player since his freshman season in 2018, led the team in points with 18 (10G/8A). Waters didn’t see any playing time in 2019, but came onto the scene strong last season. He tallied 16 points (11G/5A), which is good for second on the team in points.
In addition to those two, junior attackman AJ Van Voorhis (4G/4A) and sophomore midfielder Ryan Birney (8G/1A) should take another step forward in their progression this coming season and give the Titans more youth depth that can be make things happen on the offensive end of the field.
The story is a bit different on the back end, however, for the Titans. Their defense, overall, hasn’t been as productive or seen as much growth as their counterparts on the offensive end have over the past few seasons. Now, Jarzembowski’s success at the faceoff dot could play into that and be why, statistically, Detroit Mercy hasn’t been fantastic on the defensive end.
However, they did allow 16.8 goals per game in five games this past season. That is simply a stat that no coach wants to see.
Logan Shamblin will be back in between the pipes as the Titans starting goalie. The senior has been a starter since his freshman season and was named the 2019 MAAC Defensive Player of The Year. In their five games last season he made 49 saves with a .371 save percentage. Coming into his senior season, Shamblin will have to step up and be the player he has been in the past if this squad is going to have any chance at making a run in the postseason.
Out in front of the cage, the Titans return all three of their starting close defense. The aforementioned Akins and McClain have received All-MAAC honors in the past and should be their top two poles in 2021. McClain led the way last season with 13 ground balls and eight caused turnovers in their five games. Akins recorded three ground balls and three caused turnovers.
As a first year starter last season, junior Mason Kamminga scooped up 11 ground balls and caused two turnovers. He should take another step forward this coming season.
With their entire starting defense back, Detroit Mercy has the ability to move the needle up after a few seasons of static performances on that end. They have certainly showed flashes, but, again, if they want any chance at making a postseason run they will need to put together a full seasons worth of great performances.