(Photo Courtesy of Navy Athletics)
Joe Amplo lifted Marquette from a DI lacrosse newbie to a Big East champion in just four short seasons. A similar task awaited him upon his arrival in Annapolis, as he was handed the keys to one of the most historic programs in the game with the mission to steer the ship (no pun intended) back in the right direction.
Upon his arrival, Navy wasn’t necessarily in an awful place. After all, this is a program that was three years removed from an 11-5 season and a NCAA Quarterfinal run when Amplo took over. And in just two short years, the Midshipmen do appear to be back on the right track, as they try to reassert themselves as a perennial Patriot League contender.
During the first year of the Amplo era, while the Midshipmen only got in five contests, growth was seen and there were clear signs that this program was getting back on track. That is especially true when you look at the improvement of the Navy defense during that shortened season. Navy allowed 9.40 goals per game and boasted a top-15 defense. At that same five-game point during the 2019 season, the Midshipmen were allowing 12.08 goals per game. Much of the same can be said for the Navy offense, where heavy improvement was especially seen at the midfield position, as far as production is concerned.
Navy took those successes from the shortened 2020 campaign and built on them this past season in 2021. The Midshipmen churned out a 6-3 record (4-2 Patriot League), which included a program-first, 14-12, victory at Loyola and a 9-4 win over arch-rival Army in back-to-back weeks, and made it back to the postseason for the first time since 2017, falling to Loyola in the conference quarterfinals.
In addition to what they did in the win column, Navy featured a defense that ended the season ranked 11th in scoring defense (10 goals allowed per game), alongside Quinnipiac, Boston U., and Denver. They also ranked 10th nationally in ground balls per game (34.67) and clearing percentage (.885) and were a top-20 squad in team shooting percentage (.304%). Additionally, a good amount of the production the Midshipmen saw last season came from members of that heralded freshman class.
Coming into the third season of the Joe Amplo era, it’s safe to say that Navy is back on track and the hype around this program and its future are real. The only question is how soon will we see the Midshipmen take that next step and return to the top of the Patriot League, and get back to the NCAA Tournament?
The biggest immediate question for this Navy squad coming into the 2022 season lies in between the pipes, where they lose Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year Spencer Rees. Just a one-year starter, Rees stepped up and shined in cage all season for the Midshipmen, anchoring this defense with a .589% save percentage off 126 saves. He ended the year third in the nation in save percentage and fifth in saves per game (14).
Simply put, Rees was dominant and like Ryan Kern before him, leaves a sizable hole at the position following his graduation. However, Navy has been down this path before, and even appeared to be sitting in a similar spot heading into the 2021 season, and has prevailed. Plus, elite goalies seem to grow on trees at service academies.
Junior Pat Ryan is the only returning goalie who saw any action last season, playing garbage time minutes against Jacksonville and Lafayette. He made a combined two saves with a 50% save percentage in those appearances. Senior goalie Ryan Verducci saw his only action against Furman in 2020 while sophomores Gabe Craven and Andrew Calabrese haven’t seen any game action with the Midshipmen yet.
Navy also loses two of their top close defenseman in Nick Franchuk, who was an All-Conference selection, and Andrew McKenna. The Midshipmen have also graduated their top LSM in Jeff Durden, as well two of their top SSDMs in Colin Meehan and Tim Griffin, who was also an All-Conference selection last season.
The only returning starter at close for this Navy defense is sophomore Jackson Bonitz (25GB/10CT). The Shrewsbury, Pa. native is coming off a stellar freshman season in which he started all nine contests, was second in caused turnovers, and earned second team All-Patriot League honors. Additionally, senior LSM Jimmy Rubino (8GB/2CT) could make a significant impact after being the Midshipmen’s No. 2 at the position for the past few seasons.
As many question marks lie on the defensive end of the field for this Navy squad as we’ve seen in multiple years, which do make many wonder if this unit can have the same or similar success as they did last season. However, with a playmaker such as Bonitz back to lead the charge, as well as the number of returning reserves and incoming freshmen who could step up, and the success that defensive coordinator Josh Orsen has had both at Navy and during his prior stops at Denver and Marquette, this unit might not end up struggling as much as some may expect.
On the offensive end, things look a little bit different for the Midshipmen coming into the 2022 season as they suffer only one major loss with the graduation of four-year starter Christian Daniel. The attackman led Navy in scoring last season with 31 points off 16 goals and 15 assists. Tyler Perreten (1G/8A) is the only other player who saw a single start last season that Navy loses to graduation on offense.
While replacing Daniel will be tough, having so little personnel turnover following a season in which the Midshipmen featured a pretty middle of the road offense, ranking 35th nationally and fifth in the Patriot League in goals per game (10.78), is certainly a positive and could suggest that this unit could very take a sizable step forward in 2022. That’s especially possible with how young this unit was last season and will be again this spring.
Junior midfielder Patrick Skalniak is the top returner for this Navy offense following a stellar sophomore campaign in which he was the team’s second-leading scorer with 24 points off 12 goals and 12 assists, and was the team’s only first team All-Patriot League selection on offense. Additionally, sophomore Jon Jarosz (12G/5A), senior Nick Cole (6G/9A), who was recently named a team captain, and junior James Flannery (8G/2A) after being top-five scorers for the Midshipmen during the 2021 campaign.
Senior attackman Jack Sweeney (9G) and sophomore midfielders Dane Swanson (5G/3A) and Max Hewitt (6G/1A) each found a good deal of success last season, combining for 24 points and 12 starts, and could very well see their roles and production increased this spring. Swanson missed a good portion of the season with an injury, appearing and starting in both the first game of the season and the final four.
Another area where the Midshipmen return a good deal of talent is at the faceoff dot. Senior Jacob Jarosz returns after a strong junior campaign in 2021 where he went 71-for-132 (.538%) at the dot as the team’s top option. Jarsoz ended the season ranked 28th nationally in faceoff win percentage. Nick Barry, Joe Miller, and Nate Hammond all return after being backups last season. The Midshipmen also bring in a pretty highly-regarded freshman Anthony Ghobriel who could very well see some time this spring.