During his third season as head coach of the Navy men's lacrosse team, Rick Sowell has stared down both Loyola and Johns Hopkins and held each Old Line State rival to a season-low goal total.
The Midshipmen (4-9) are right there, and with a corps of talented underclassmen and a 19-member recruiting class arriving soon, there's a lot to look forward to in Annapolis. The Lacrosse Report caught up with Sowell, a Washington College alumnus, as his team prepared for its regular-season finale at the University of Maryland May 3.
Lacrosse Report: How close is Navy to being in that upper echelon once again?
Rick Sowell: There is so much parity in Division I lacrosse these days, so it's difficult to say how close we are to getting back to the upper echelon. I do feel we took a big step forward this season, and the challenge now is to find a way to not just be in games, but to win games. We have a big incoming recruiting class and expect many of these young men to contribute next season, so there may be some growing pains, but we are excited with what the future holds for Navy lacrosse.
LR: How impressed are you with how your freshmen have performed in significant roles this season?
RS: I've been extremely impressed with the play of our freshmen Chris Fennell, Matt Rees, John Trainor and Brady Dove this season. We felt coming into the season they would have a chance to contribute, but certainly did not expect them to play at this level. You often hear coaches talk about young players performing beyond their years, and that's what they have done.
LR: Defensively, what did you do against Loyola and Johns Hopkins that worked so well?
RS: While I can't give away our secret, I can tell you our defense is very talented and is led by senior three-time All-Patriot League long-stick midfielder Pat Kiernan. He along with Nik Mullen, Alex Heyward, Ben Sampson, the three freshmen I just mentioned and goalie John Connors form quite a group that is capable of defending elite offenses. The goal is to force the offense into taking low-percentage shots, allowing our goalie to make easy saves. For the most part, we've been able to do that, but every once in a while, we count on John to bail out the defense with a big-time save. Against teams such as Loyola and Hopkins, you know they're going to get the fair share of shots, but the bottom line -- in order to keep the score down, you need to make saves.
LR: You're ranked in the 40s in scoring offense. What needs to change to increase the production?
RS: We must continue to improve in all aspects of six-versus-six offense, including dodging, ball movement, body movement, shooting percentage and generally taking better care of the ball. We also need to find other ways to score, such as transition, extra man, in the riding game and off a faceoff.
LR: Outside of Annapolis, how excited are you for your Washington College Shoremen?
RS: I am very excited for coach Jeff Shirk and the job he has done at Washington College. Currently, they are ranked sixth in the country with a 13-1 record. I wish the team the best of luck in both the conference and what hopefully will be an NCAA tournament appearance.
LR: What's the main thing you want to build on for next season?
RS: I don't think there is one specific thing we want to build on for next season; rather, we want to continue to improve in all areas of the program. Our seniors have done an outstanding job of laying the foundation for our future. We still have work to do both on and off the field, but we are moving in the right direction, so the focus is to keep getting better.