Senior goalie John Connors leads the Midshipmen on to the field (Courtesy Navy Athletics)

Navy turns to John Connors, defense to leash the Greyhounds

It’s fitting that this Saturday a goalie from the Naval Academy will be the last line of defense against the offensive threat posed by the Loyola Greyhounds.

“Loyola is a team that’s on our radar. They have very athletic, very fast teams,” said Navy senior goalie John Connors. “With Brian Sherlock, and Zach Herreweyers, they also have a lot of firepower.”

Pat Spencer is a name that’s joined the list of offensive weapons for the Greyhounds this season. The 6-2 freshman product of Baltimore’s Boys Latin School — a perennial national power at the high school level — opted for nearby Loyola and has proven a formidable complement to Sherlock at midfield and Herreweyers on attack.

Spencer has two Patriot League Rookie of the Week awards under his belt just six games into the 2016 campaign. Herreweyers was projected as the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year prior to the season and, along with Sherlock, was named to the 2016 Tewaaraton preseason watch list for the nation’s best player.

Collectively, the Greyhounds were projected as the Patriot League favorites, the third time in their three seasons in the circuit that they’ve earned the preseason nod. Navy finished second in the league voting.

Connors, a former standout at Long Island’s Chaminade High School — another school renowned for its lacrosse — is well prepared.

“Coach Wellner does a great job every week exposing the weaknesses of our opponent’s offenses and how to put them in places they don’t want to be,” said Connors of assistant coach Ryan Wellner, who handles the Mids’ defensive unit and faceoff specialists.

“We get a paper report each week on personnel. We also walk through it on the field and watch a lot of film,” said Connors. Connors also credits volunteer assistant coach Dom Lamolinara, with prepping the Mids’ defensive unit. Lamolinara spent his undergraduate time on the lacrosse field in cage for the Syracuse Orangemen. He graduated in the spring of 2015 with the fourth best goals against average in Syracuse’s storied lacrosse history.

As to shutting down the Greyhounds, the “places they don’t want to be” offensively will include spots on the field where only low-angled shot options are available. That job will fall to the Mids’ defensive midfielders as well as their close defenders.

Connors describes himself as “a vocal guy and an emotional goalie and I put everything out there.” He relies on close defensemen Matt Rees, Chris Fennell, and Jules Godino to keep the crease clear in front of him and to help keep him on the even emotional keel requisite of a successful goalie.

Although the Mids' 3-2 overall mark doesn’t jump out, their only two losses were in double overtime — a 12-11 loss to Hopkins on Feb. 9 and a 10-9 loss to Boston University on Feb. 27. They enter this Saturday’s game on the heels of a 13-6 victory over Patriot League foe Bucknell on March 5.

Across midfield, the Greyhounds arrive in Annapolis coming off a disappointing 15-6 loss to Duke on March 12, but with a 4-2 record, a No. 15 USILA ranking, and a 9-8 win over Johns Hopkins on their 2016 résumé.

Despite their geographical proximity, the two teams have met only 10 times in their respective histories, with an even 5-5 ledger to date. The Greyhounds have taken the last five games and the Mids are eager to re-establish themselves as the pre-eminent Maryland lacrosse power in the Patriot League. Navy joined the Patriot in 2004, immediately captured its title, and continued on from there to the national championship game before ultimately falling to Syracuse. The Greyhounds captured a national title in 2012, two years prior to joining the league.

Head coach Rick Sowell — an undergraduate All-American at the Eastern Shore’s Washington College — has the Mids headed in the right direction. Last year, Navy went 9-5 and topped both of their fellow service academies in regular season contests. They bowed out in the Patriot League tournament to the Black Knights and are eager to return to the postseason this year.

Connors, as with most goalies, likes “seeing some shots early, and getting a couple of saves under my belt.” The senior has 309 career saves to date, and at his current pace will leave Annapolis among the career leaders in that category.

Charley Toomey, the Greyhounds head coach and a former Loyola goalie, has made it a stated goal of his squad to push the ball in transition and get “40 plus shots a game.”

The two opposing goals will collide at midfield at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

Tom Flynn is a freelance writer based in Baltimore.

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