MJ: Stevenson Ready to Answer Questions
What do Jimmy Dailey, Evan Douglass, Neil Barthelme, Kyle Moffit, Ray Witte, Richie Ford, Sean Calabrese and Kyle Menendez all have in common? Obviously, they were all members of Stevenson's quarterfinal team and each of them earned All-American distinction. More importantly, they're all gone.
In what has to be the most prolific attrition rate in the history of Division III, the Mustangs have gone from a juggernaut that handed Salisbury its only loss last season to a team with more questions than the first round of Jeopardy! Add sophomore All-American Tony Rossi, who will miss the 2012 season with an injury, to the list and it appears Stevenson's biggest game during its last season in the Capital Athletic Conference might be against Hood, not the Sea Gulls.
Stevenson head coach Paul Cantabene really doesn't care about what the program lost – "We knew we wouldn't have those guys forever" – rather his focus is on the players he has returning. And he thinks the team he'll roll out this spring will have a chance to approach the same goals that were set for prior rosters.
"We've tested all of these kids and we think they are proven, they just haven't scored a lot of goals during games and haven't played the big-time All-Americans defensively," said Cantabene. "But I think we have some pretty good guys and we'll be a pretty competitive team all year. I think the way we prepare our guys, we'll be ready to go."
He's got a point. While perhaps not to the degree of this transition, Stevenson has replaced premium classes before with very little dip in production. It's also important to understand that this just-graduated class acted as mentors for the emerging batch of players.
"They learned a lot from those guys," Cantabene said. "We did a lot of scrimmaging during our time. Right at the end of the year, all of our underclassmen go against our seniors and our underclassmen won by five goals. We think our underclassmen are pretty good; they just need their time to shine. Nobody heard of Kyle Moffit until two years ago when he scored 43 goals. He scored eight goals the year before that. Nobody heard of Neil Barthelme and then he led the nation with 73 goals. He was our fourth attackman the year before. Nobody heard of Tyler Reid, who was third on our team in points. We have those types of guys who step in year in and year out."
The unproven talent is a reason for optimism in Owings Mills, but the real reason why it's easy to believe the Mustangs will be back atop the polls is Cantabene. When a prospective lacrosse player looks at him, they see a coach with a college, professional and international playing career second to none and a teaching pedigree that is strengthened with every passing season. They also know they'll be playing for a coach who will likely be in it for the long haul.
"There are people who think they always have to be looking and the grass is greener on the other side of the road. I'm not of that belief," said Cantabene. "When I was 31-years-old, I probably would have told you something different. Now that I'm 41, other things are more important in life. Stevenson has done a great job taking care of me and I'm happy where I am. It would have to be the right job for me to leave. That job hasn't come along and I'm happy where I'm at."
Happy and busy. With the finishing touches being put on Stevenson's new state-of-the-art 3,500-seat stadium, Cantabene – who is also the associate athletic director for facilities – has had less down time this summer than he did while coaching the U.S. national team in 2010. When not fine-tuning the stadium, Cantabene has been spending the rest of his free time recruiting a new batch of kids, including several transfers who are expected to make an immediate impact.
"I think every year you start fresh with your team," he said. "You don't look too far ahead and think you're going to have good players. You have to recruit and you have to bring them in and develop your younger talent, which I think we do. You never take anything for granted. We say we'll just get after it and see where things line up. We do a good job with our kids and we've got good kids in the wings ready to take over."
A lot of people may look at Stevenson and see questions, but all Cantabene sees is answers. That's the reason the Mustangs are a team not to be taken lightly.