(Photo Courtesy of LIU Athletics)
In their first season as a DI program, the LIU Sharks posted a 1-6 record before the season was cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Their sole victory came in a 13-9 contests against Quinnipiac. And while the Sharks were only able to seal one victory, they put up a serious fight in their losses, coming up short by an average of 3.5 goals.
Coming into year two as a DI program, the Sharks look to build upon the momentum and the successes they were able to gain last season. And with as much talent, especially young talent, as they have coming back, LIU could very well have a chance to make some noise in the NEC. And the conference, as a whole, appears more open than in years past with the exit of two-time conference champion Robert Morris over the summer.
During the shortened 2020 season, the Sharks held the 55th-best scoring defense, allowing 13.71 goals per game, 32nd-best penalty kill defense, and was 49th in caused turnovers per game (17.43).
And while being in the middle or upper tier of the bottom half as far as defenses are concerned isn’t something that any coach will necessarily pound their chest about, this unit did show plenty of progress and flashes of how high their ceiling might actually be. In 2021, as LIU returns a huge chunk of main contributors on the back end, we may just get to see what that ceiling could be when all the pieces are put together.
Among the Sharks’ returnees on the back end, include starting goalie Will Mark. As a freshman, Mark took on the challenge of being the starter in between the pipes and held his own. The Danville, Calif., native totaled 107 saves with a 53% save percentage and led the nation in saves per game with 15.29.
Outside of the young standout in goal, the Sharks will return three of their top poled in seniors Ryan Blume (35GB/9CT) and Patrick Harrington III (14GB/8CT), and junior Matt Riveria (10GB/4CT). Blume and Riveria started all seven games and Harrington III started in just one, while appearing in all seven.
Blume also served as the Sharks’ primary faceoff man, going 32-for-95 (.337%) at the dot. Sophomore Tyler Emerson went 28-for-77 (36%) at the dot in five games, serving as the backup. Obviously, that is an areas they will be wanting to improve in 2021 and will need to improve if they want any chance at making a run for the postseason.
On the offensive end, things may not have to improve as much as they do on the back end. The Sharks housed the 48th-best scoring offense in the nation last season, averaging 11.29 goals per game. They also had the 44th ranked power play and the 16th-best team shooting percentage (34%). And as we have seen in the past, a team’s shooting percentage one year could be an indication of how they may grow and progress in the near future.
That could very much be the case for this LIU offense, which will return its top five scorers from a year ago. The Sharks return all three starting attackmen in sophomore Richie LaCalandra (11G/17A), who was one of the top freshman offensive threats last season, senior Will Snelders (13G/10A), and junior Jake Gillis (13G/4A).
Midfielders Nick Grassa (12G/12A) and Alex Russell (10G/5A) will both be returning for a fifth year as grad students. The two are the Sharks’ top returning midfielders and should lead that unit once again. In addition, sophomore attackman Sean Boll (7G/3A) and grad student Dylan Villari (5G) will both be back and look to be two of the Sharks’s top role players on the offense end, once again. Each appeared in all seven game and saw multiple starts last season.
Similarly to their defense, this offense has the chance to take a step forward and be one of the best in the NEC. Having a season, even if it’s just a partial one, under these guys’ belts is crucial for this unit, and that experience playing together can have big impact on how quick they can improve this upcoming spring.