October 21, 2011

Fall Ball Brief

UMBC's Defense Seeks to Grow Strong

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

UMBC coach Don Zimmerman is looking for a more consistent rotation than that of 2011, when 20 different players started games for the Retrievers.

As the youngest team in Division I in 2011, the UMBC Retrievers got exposed badly on defense last spring while stumbling to a 2-5 start. In those five losses, UMBC surrendered a whopping 14.5 goals per game.

The Retrievers recovered somewhat by winning four straight games, including three America East victories, before finishing with a 6-7 record after a 14-11 defeat to eventual league champion Hartford in the conference tournament. During that four-game winning streak, UMBC never allowed opponents to score in double digits.

The fall season was about continuing that defensive trend as much as anything.

"We got stronger defensively as the year went on, and we also started understanding that ball control was most important, because that takes pressure off of your defense," Retrievers coach Don Zimmerman said. "We got better with our footwork and our individual technique. This fall, we're stressing fundamentals and keeping things simple individually, which helps us play better team defense."

The Stephenson Effect: One reason Zimmerman anticipates a more consistent showing on defense is the addition of former assistant Ed Stephenson as associate head coach. Stephenson, formerly the head coach at Binghamton last year, primarily is running UMBC's defense. "Ed is one of the top teachers of defense, and he's got a ton of energy, which overflows to the players. It's great to have him back," Zimmerman said.

In the Cage: Senior Brian McCullough started 11 games and appeared to solidify a grip on the goalie position last year. But Zimmerman said junior Adam Cohen and freshman Wes Dirito did enough good things in the fall to make the job wide open. The winner might not be declared until early February.

Injury Update: Junior defenseman Sam McKelvey, who started eight games in 2011 and earned second-team, all-America East honors, suffered a severe ankle injury over the summer and will have surgery. McKelvey will miss the 2012 season and will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Moving Pieces: Sophomore defenseman Ian Gray, expected to contend for a starting job, missed the fall season after having his second thumb surgery of 2011, but should be back in January. In the meantime, long-stick midfielders Ethan Murphy and Nathan Klein logged a lot of fall minutes on close defense.

The Revolving Door: Zimmerman hopes the UMBC lineup rounds into a more consistent rotation than the Retrievers had in 2011, when 20 different players started games.

The Most Painful Stat: A particularly glaring problem for the Retrievers last spring was a loss of too many possessions when the ball was up for grabs. UMBC got beat on ground balls, 422-334. Zimmerman is determined to flip those numbers the other way.



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