When Christian Daniel was thrust into the starting lineup as a freshman for the Navy men's lacrosse team last year, teammate Greyson Torain remembered the challenges of being in that same position.
Torain had started all 16 games his first year (2016) and used that experience to provide some advice to Daniel.
That mentorship has paid dividends.
Daniel has emerged as the Midshipmen's most dangerous attackman and leads the team in scoring as a sophomore. Torain, now a senior, commands the midfield and has become a vocal leader.
As a result, the Midshipmen have the potential to make a deep run in the Patriot League and NCAA tournaments.
"I try my best to mentor the young guys," Torain said. "Honestly, a lot of our young guys don't need too much mentoring. Christian is a perfect example. He's been successful on and off the field since he stepped on campus here.
"Christian and I have developed a nice chemistry up to this point. I know when I'm dodging that Christian is going to find space and be open. I also have learned what Christian's strengths are and try my best to create opportunities that allow him to use his strengths."
Torain, a two-time Tewaaraton Award Watch List member, and Daniel hail from area schools. Torain, a native of Glen Burnie, Md., was a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Player of the Year at DeMatha, while Daniel was a three-time All-American at Northern High School in Owings, Md.
Both players have lived up to the lofty expectations surrounding them.
In this year's Patriot League opener against Bucknell March 2, Daniel had four goals and three assists, while Torain scored three times and also had an assist in a 14-8 victory.
After a successful freshman season during which he started 12 games and had a goal or an assist in each of Navy's 13 contests, Daniel focused on getting even better in the offseason. His stick work has improved, and he has been more effective getting his shots on goal.
"I think a big part was my confidence," Daniel said. "I was going to be the only returning starting attackman and knew that it would be important for me to be confident to lead the other guys who came in to fill the two gaps -- guys who have done a great job so far this season -- and also to be confident in order to make a bigger impact on the offense this year.
"A more tangible thing I wanted to improve would be my dodging, whether it be varying moves, being quicker, keeping my head up looking for guys inside, or getting more comfortable with my right hand."
Torain was a first-team All-Patriot League selection in 2017 and 2018. This year, he understands many of the younger players look up to him for leadership, and he has embraced that role.
"As a co-captain and a senior, my role has changed a lot," Torain said. "I've had to become more vocal in my leadership. As a younger guy, I attempted to show leadership through my play and action only. I've learned that there are times when vocal leadership is very effective and necessary.
"Being a senior is also different because it becomes a lot less about yourself and it becomes a lot more about others. The seniors and I are always attempting to make sure the younger guys are taken care of."
Daniel is one of the players thriving with Torain on the field. Torain is able to break down defensemen, which helps get his teammates open. The key for the players around Torain is to move effectively off the ball, according to Daniel.
However, the bond between the players extends beyond the lacrosse fields.
"Obviously I haven't been a part of another college lacrosse program, but I feel that a unique facet of service academy sports teams is the camaraderie between classes," Daniel said. "Lacrosse is definitely the foundation of our friendship, but we both, along with other guys on the team, attend Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings and go to team Bible studies together. Plus it doesn't hurt that we're both Marylanders who like to listen to R&B."
Daniel and Torain attended the Naval Academy Prep School before coming to Annapolis, Md. They agree that experience was crucial for their development. Torain said he was able to get bigger, faster and stronger throughout his time at NAPS. He also said the school also had a small lacrosse team that allowed for a "lot of experimentation and development on the lacrosse side of things."
"Once I got to the Academy, I give a lot of credit to my coaches and teammates for pushing me to get better each and every day," said Torain, who was also recruited by Duke, Maryland, Towson and UMBC.
The Naval Academy was always on Daniel's radar as he developed as a player. He was also highly recruited but was confident the nautical service academy was the best fit.
"Growing up around Annapolis had a tremendous influence on me along with other factors," Daniel said. "I remember in 2005 my father and I attended the NCAA championship weekend at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, which left a lasting impact on me.
"Aside from lacrosse and seeing the sharp-looking white uniforms of the midshipmen, I was inspired to attend after seeing the opportunities the Naval Academy affords its graduates to develop their leadership and put it to the test every day. More specific to lacrosse, I saw the camaraderie between all of the guys on the team and wanted to be a part of that."
The duo of Torain and Daniel will continue to pose matchup problems for opponents this season. Torain has been one of the program's most consistent players throughout the last four years, and now, he has another offensive weapon at his disposal in Daniel.
"We all know what Christian is capable of doing," Navy coach Rick Sowell said. "In all honesty, it sort of snuck up on me. He puts the ball on net, but he also is a pretty good feeder. I think he's blossoming into an all-around attackman and one of the better ones out there in our sport."
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Navy Athletics
Issue 252: March 2019
Originally published March 15, 2019