The UMBC men’s lacrosse program had an unprecedented run of success from 2006-09, winning three America East titles and making four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Despite the best efforts of 16 seniors that experienced that level of success, the 2010 Retrievers could not defend their conference title.
As the calendar turns over to 2011, a youth movement has taken hold of the program. Twenty-seven of UMBC’s 35 eligible players are freshmen or sophomores, and head coach Don Zimmerman has decided to approach the season like an author staring at a blank computer screen.
“We are wiping the slate clean and are starting over,” Zimmerman said. “We had a disappointing year last year. We haven’t harped on that, but we haven’t forgotten it. We felt we needed to start from ground level and rework what we are doing here. We made that perfectly clear to our incoming players and our returning players that this year we are getting back to square one.”
The Retriever mentor and his staff are very enthusiastic about what they have seen in the fall and in the early spring workouts. “I am pleased with the growth of this team. The effort has been consistent, the attitude sincere, both of which will help carry us into the upcoming season.”
Offensively, junior attackman Rob Grimm (16 goals, 11 assists in 2010) appears ready to quarterback the fledgling group. He has been a consistent point producer, hitting the scoreboard in 26 of UMBC’s 29 games in two seasons. Grimm came on strong down the stretch in 2010, recording 16 points in the Retrievers’ final five games. He is equally adept at distributing the ball and finishing around the cage and has continued to display an even greater sense of urgency and leadership qualities entering his junior campaign.
A pair of southpaws are slated to start alongside Grimm up front. Junior Shane Ryznar (9 goals, 1 assist) showed flashes of outstanding play in 2010, leading UMBC’s effort against nationally-ranked Maryland with four goals. The 6-foot-3 DeMatha product has excellent size and is versatile enough to finish plays inside or use his reach to hit the cage from all angles. Sophomore Joe Lustgarten (2 assists) saw spot duty in his initial campaign, but added strength in the offseason to complement his slick passing skills.
The rest of the Retriever attack is comprised of first-year players. Red-shirt freshman Matt Gregoire did not compete due to a leg injury in 2010, but he has thrust himself into a position for playing time in 2011. Freshmen Deven Alves and Greg Korvin are also in the mix. Korvin has picked up his game to the point where he could see action on the man-up unit as an inside player early in his tenure.
Junior Ryohei Kato is an exchange student from Japan who is ineligible to compete in games but is a valued member of the squad. Mid-year freshman transfer David Campbell recently suffered a wrist injury and will miss the preseason practice and scrimmages.
Senior co-captain Jamie Kimbles (12 goals, 9 assists) heads up a group of young midfielders for the Retrievers. Kimbles has been a contributor each season but competed on the top midfield unit last year and produced his best lacrosse against high-caliber competition. The Centreville, Md., native will be a prime target for opposing defenses and must continue to raise his level of play to help the Retrievers run a successful offense.
A trio of sophomores will vie for primary minutes on the offensive midfield units. Canadian Scott Jones (2 goals) played attack in his freshman campaign, but the coaching staff moved him to midfield to take advantage of his shooting ability. The staff is also pleased with the leadership role that Jones has assumed on the young Retriever squad. Scott Hopmann (2 goals, 1 assist) andDave Brown (1 assist) each saw extensive playing time last season, and both possess good offensive skills and instincts. Hopmann had his initial season cut short after suffering a hand injury and did not play after producing a two-point game at Binghamton on April 10.
Zach Linkous and Phil Poe lead a group of five freshman midfielders that are looking to break into the top-six grouping. An intense competitor and good shooter, Linkous is already being tabbed as a man-up contributor early in his tenure, while Poe’s versatility as a good off-ball player, defender and face-off specialist make him a candidate for playing time in 2011.
Ryan Johnston is recovering from a fall injury, but the Southern Maryland High School All-American is making up ground quickly. Brian Patton and Conor Finch round out the first-year group of midfielders.
UMBC must replace both groups of defensive midfielders. Three sophomores—Neill Lewnes,Tony Spada and Jake Zimmerman—are the prime candidates for the two short-stick defensive midfield positions. Lewnes saw the most playing time of the trio last year, and the scrappy former St. Mary’s standout can also help out on draws. After the 2010 campaign, Spada was shifted from offense to defense and adapted very quickly in the fall. Zimmerman is one of the fastest Retrievers and will push for additional playing time this spring.
Freshmen Marcellus Preston and Matt Reeping, a walk-on, are also candidates for the position.
At long-stick midfield, sophomore Ethan Murphy was Mike Camardo’s back-up in 2010, which relegated the West Seneca, N.Y., native to spot duty. But Murphy and freshman Nathan Kleinare both hard workers and give the coaching staff two viable options at that demanding position.
Fifth-year senior J.D. Harkey was selected by his teammates as a co-captain along with Kimbles for the 2011 season. Harkey heads up UMBC’s face-off specialist unit and will be supported by Poe, Lewnes and sophomore Joseph Impallaria. Harkey has been the starter in three consecutive seasons, but he suffered a torn ACL several games into the 2009 campaign and only competed in four contests. He came back in 2010 and won nearly 50 percent of his team-high 213 draws attempted, keying victories over Rutgers and Binghamton.
Impallaria is a pure face-off specialist, while Poe and Lewnes could fill dual roles for the Retrievers.
UMBC is likely to use a myriad of players at close defense in 2011. Upperclassmen David Stock,Tim Shaeffer and Aaron Verardi are expected to see a great deal of action early in the campaign. Stock, a transfer from CCBC-Essex, did not compete in a spring game in 2010 but has adjusted to UMBC’s system and should be a factor in his senior campaign.
Shaeffer, a junior, came on late in the season and started five of the Retrievers’ final six games. He displayed good stickwork on ground balls and moved the ball efficiently out of the defensive end. Verardi also earned more minutes in his second season and demonstrated a workman-like nature to his game on the backline.
Three sophomores will push the aforementioned group for playing time. Riley Hansen did not compete in a spring game in 2010, but the smart, well-conditioned Annapolis native has been turning heads in practice and should see action in his second season at UMBC. Sam McKelveyand Lucas Wood each got a taste of Division I lacrosse as freshmen and give the coaching staff quality options in front of the UMBC cage.
In addition, Coach Zimmerman and defensive coordinator Pat Tracy both feel that freshman close defenders Ian Gray and Breck Merritt have bright futures at the Division I level.
Like 2010, there is no clear starter in goal for the Retrievers. But whereas the staff was evaluating four netminders last season, junior Brian McCullough and sophomore Adam Cohen are the candidates for the starting position when UMBC opens at Presbyterian on Feb. 19. McCullough started two games in 2010—against Johns Hopkins and Princeton—while Cohen earned a team-high eight starts in his initial campaign.
The majority of UMBC’s schedule replicates those challenging slates of the past several years. The Retrievers compete against North Carolina, Johns Hopkins and Maryland in a three-week span in March, and all three games are away from the confines of UMBC Stadium. When the Retrievers open America East play on April 3, it will be at defending league champion Stony Brook, which is ranked sixth nationally in the preseason coaches’ poll and is a prohibitive favorite to repeat as champion.
“Going into the preseason, we were well aware of our conference ranking,,” Zimmerman said of the America East’s preseason poll which has the Retrievers in the fourth position. “. Last year we were not successful. The three teams that beat us are ranked ahead of us, as they should be.
“But that was last year and this is this year.”
In other words, a clean slate.
Coach Zimmerman’s goals for the program remain unchanged—win the America East Conference and go to the NCAA Tournament. “You have to strive for that,” he said. “We have some young guys, but they have talent. They are listening; they pick things up and there are no ‘attitudes’. When you have that type of commitment, the coaches are excited about getting out there, we do a better job coaching and the players pick up on that, and that raises their level and that is how you climb the ladder. Our goal is to get better during the course of the year, be playing our best lacrosse as we go into conference play and hit our peak when it counts most at the conference tournament in early May.
“We have to be patient but demanding. I think our players are responding well to both. We are trying to keep it fun and introduce new things to get the guys’ attention. When a team possesses a positive attitude and workman-like approach every day in practice, patience and expectations grow.”
“There is a lot of energy around our program. The players are eager knowing they have an opportunity to win a playing position. Couple that with the fact that they want to be successful makes for a lot of good energy and that’s what it is going to take for us to go to where we want to go.”