March 4, 2016

NCAA Notes: Patriot League Depth Will Make for Exciting Race

by Gary Lambrecht | | Twitter | Lembrecht Archive

Last weekend, the Patriot League produced a snapshot that suggests the conference could feature another tightly contested fight for supremacy.

The margin separating most winners and losers in conference openers was razor thin. Colgate, the league's defending champion, needed overtime to take down Bucknell 11-10. Lehigh edged Holy Cross 12-11. In a non-league battle, Army offered fierce resistance before falling at No. 5 Syracuse 9-8.

And then there was Boston University, the third-year varsity program under coach Ryan Polley.

The Terriers broke through with a 10-9 double-overtime win against visiting Navy, last year's regular-season champion. BU moved to 4-1 and settled in at No. 18 after knocking off a ranked team for the first time ever and pushing the Midshipmen out of the top 20.

Polley sees clear signs of continued growth in his up-and-coming program.

Against Navy, he saw it in junior goalie Christian Carson-Banister, who made five saves in overtime. He saw it in junior defenseman Greg Wozniak, who caused two turnovers and collected a career-high eight ground balls. He saw it in sophomore midfielder Jack Wilson, who hung a hat trick on the Mids. He saw it in freshmen James Burr (three goals, including the game-winner) and Brendan Homire (two assists).

BU erased a two-goal deficit in the final 1:39 of regulation against arguably the best defense in the league. Have the Terriers officially arrived? Not so fast, Polley said. BU won six of its first eight games in 2015, but lost its final six games, including five league losses.

"We got off to a similar start last year. Then, we ran out of gas," Polley said. "Our league was wide open last year with three teams tied at the end [of the regular season] with 6-2 records. It's going to be an all-out war again every week."

The Terriers still show the inconsistency that typically defines young programs. They struggled to beat UMass-Lowell, and dropped a six-goal decision to Hartford, before upsetting Navy.

BU also might have enough blossoming young talent to emerge as a true contender over the next month. Wilson scored his hat trick despite being covered often by Chris Fennell, the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year. Sam Talkow is an accomplished faceoff specialist. Burr and Homire show no fear as first-year players.

"These guys have confidence," Polley said. "The moment is not too big for them."

Villanova junior Jake Froccaro leads the Wildcats with 14 goals after transferring from Princeton. The Wildcats are 2-1 after wins over Drexel and Penn State. (Risley Sports Photography)

Froccaro Making an Early Difference at Villanova

When redshirt junior Jake Froccaro decided to transfer to Villanova from Princeton and join his freshman brother, Joe, the Wildcats knew exactly what they were getting — a prolific scorer.

Froccaro, who had 24 goals as a Princeton freshman and followed that with 27 goals — including only the fourth 10-goal game since the Ivy League's formation in 1957 — zapped Penn State for a school-record eight scores in a 19-9 rout. The blowout was punctuated by sophomore faceoff man Luke Palmadesso's dominant 22-for-27 day.

"When Jake and Joe decided to come to Villanova, we were excited about the depth we'd have on offense," Wildcats coach Mike Corrado said. "When he's feeling it, Jake can put up big numbers. When he gets hot, it's hard to stop."

Froccaro followed up with a four-goal game — three of his 18 shots also found pipe — in a 14-9 win over Drexel. His 14 goals lead the Wildcats, who are not standing around waiting for the ex-Princeton star to make a play. Villanova's offense, which used to be more deliberate under the defensive-minded Corrado, is hunting for shots early and often.

"We're trying to be aggressive. We want to go to the goal early in possessions," Corrado said. "Sometimes, as a defensive coach, I'm like, 'Can't we hold the ball a little bit?' But I've finally come around. Kids want to play fast. When I watch games from the 1990s and the early 2000s, the ball is on the ground a lot. But with so many talented offensive players in the game and with sticks that make it so hard to dislodge the ball, that's just not the case anymore."

The Wildcats (2-1) are averaging 15 goals per game. They could pose a threat to Denver in the Big East.

Towson Growing in Confidence

During its impressive second half at No. 6 Loyola, where it knocked off the rival Greyhounds (3-1) for the first time since 2007 and achieved a 4-0 start for the first time since 1992, 12th-ranked Towson showed how far it has come under fifth-year coach Shawn Nadelen.

It was only two years ago that Loyola humiliated the Tigers at Ridley Athletic Complex 20-4. On Wednesday, the difference was striking. The Tigers looked more athletic and played tougher and more together than Loyola.

And after Towson, led by Joe Seider (four goals), went on a 4-0 run over a 22-minute span that gave it an 8-5 lead with 10 minutes left, the cushion was too much for the Greyhounds to overcome — especially with fifth-year, 6-foot-2 senior Tyler White in the cage.

A second-team All-American a year ago, leading Towson to its second Colonial Athletic Association title in three years, White recorded 16 saves and preserved the win.

"Even if you're down three goals with 10 minutes left, you feel confident with [White] in the cage," Nadelen said.

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