Towson head men's lacrosse coach Shawn Nadelen doesn't put much stock into preseason rankings.
Still, Nadelen, who is entering his fifth season as head coach, has turned the Tigers back into a national power, and there are lofty expectations surrounding the program. But neither he nor his players are taking anything for granted, even as they are favored to win their third Colonial Athletic Association title in the past four years.
"We put a lot of work into those seasons and those years to have the outcome of the CAA championships and NCAA tournament berth, and we want to continue to build on that," Nadelen said. "Taking that experience with the guys who have gone through it and being able to put the effort in to grow it is important, and that's the thing our guys have fully embraced this year.
"Understanding we are capable of being a dangerous team, but we are also capable of being a bad team if we get caught up in preseason rankings or facing a team on paper that might not be statistically on par with us. We have to put our best Towson lacrosse team on the field every day and hope that comes out with the win."
Winning the conference title, however, is just one of the goals the team has set this season. Nadelen is confident he has the depth to make a run in the NCAA tournament and compete for the program's first national championship. The Tigers advanced to the national championship in 1991, where they lost to undefeated North Carolina, 18-13.
"We need to play at an extremely high level and compete at an extremely high level all the time," Nadelen said. "It's something you have to work toward and be able to earn those opportunities. Our guys understand that. Obviously, they love that opportunity, but they understand a lot of work and a lot of things need to fall in place for us to be able to get to that point."
Last season, the Tigers went 12-6 and won their fifth overall CAA title -- the most of any program in the history of the league. Towson also beat Johns Hopkins for the first time since 1996.
Towson had momentum heading into the first round of the NCAA tournament and opened a 6-2 second-quarter lead against top-seeded Notre Dame. The Irish, however, eventually rallied for a 12-10 victory.
With several top-returning players, Towson is looking to build on last season's success. Defense was the key for the Tigers, who ranked sixth nationally in allowing a program-best 7.72 goals per game.
It's no surprise a program led by Nadelen would be strong defensively. He was a four-year starter at Johns Hopkins and moved from midfield to close defense as a junior. Nadelen led the Blue Jays to the NCAA tournament semifinals twice and was named an All-American in 2001.
His pedigree as a player has seamlessly translated to a successful head coach.
The Tigers are led by third-team All-American goalie Tyler White, who was the CAA Defensive Player of the Year last season. White said the camaraderie among the players has gone a long way with the success on the field. White is roommates with two of his defensemen -- Mike Lowe and Andrew Cordes.
"We want to win our conference and then really make a run in the NCAA tournament," White said. "We weren't content with just getting there. We really believed we could have beaten Notre Dame last year. So, it was a real letdown for us to lose, even though most of the country did not have us winning. We know our opponent; we respect our opponents, and we need to play to our best ability every game."
Towson also has its top three point scorers from a year ago in Joe Seider (Hereford, 34 goals, seven assists), Ryan Drenner (Westminster, 17 goals, 18 assists) and Spencer Parks (St. Paul's, 16 goals, 15 assists).
"I am very excited with where we are right now," Seider said. "Our coaches have emphasized getting our shots on cage to increase our shooting percentage. We are definitely trying to help the [defense] out because they really killed it last year. I really believe we can win the NCAA tournament. If we play the way we should play and can play, I don't think there is a team in the country that we can't beat."
Towson will get another boost with the return of midfielder Brian Bolewicki (Calvert Hall), who missed last season with a knee injury. Bolewicki feels 100 percent and had a solid fall.
"Getting back into the swing of things is so much fun," Bolewicki said. "Everyone has been so supportive. I feel great and am running full speed. It's awesome."
While Towson's defense was among the best in the nation last season, the offense came in at 55th. Nadelen is confident the team has better balance this year. He doesn't want to have to lean on the defense every game.
"You can't rely on your defense playing great all of the time," Nadelen said. "There are times when the defense is not playing well and our offense needs to step up or vice versa. Really, we can help that by facing off and gaining possession time. But really we just want to perform at the best level we can, and we think we have some pretty good players who can do that."
Johns Hopkins Midfield Suffers Another Setback
Johns Hopkins ssenior midfielder Connor Reed will miss the 2016 season after suffering an undisclosed season-ending injury in practice in January. This is another setback to the unit after Joel Tinney, a third-team All-American as a freshman last year, also will miss the season for an undisclosed violation of NCAA rules.
Both Tinney and Reed, who suffered the injury during a noncontact drill, are planning to return for the 2017 season, according to Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala. Reed started all 18 games last season and totaled 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points. He has played in 40 career games with 34 starts racking up 19 goals and 31 assists.
Last year, Johns Hopkins finished with an 11-7 record, won the inaugural Big Ten lacrosse tournament and advanced to the national semifinals, where the team lost to Maryland.