March 18, 2016
Photo: Richmond Athletics
Photo: Richmond Athletics

NCAA Notes: Richmond's Early Success Built on Defense

by Gary Lambrecht | | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive

Richmond coach Dan Chemotti is an offensive mind first and foremost. In the last season of his six-year run as offensive coordinator at Loyola in 2012, Chemotti left his imprint on the Greyhounds, who went 18-1 and won the school's only Division I title.

Not long after Chemotti left Loyola in 2012 to lead Richmond into the Division I world as the Spiders' first head coach, it became clear that the building blocks had to start at the other end of the field. As the Spiders head into the heart of their third season, with two Southern Conference titles and an NCAA tournament berth behind them, defense continues to set the tone.

And the heart of the Richmond defense – which has pushed the Spiders to a program-best, 6-1 start by allowing 7.14 goals per game, fifth-lowest in the country – is a core of four defenders.

Junior goalie Benny Pugh, junior defenseman Ryan Dennis, senior defenseman Tom Monzo and junior LSM-turned-defenseman Brendan Hynes are the anchors of a unit that has stifled opponents by causing an average of nine turnovers a game. The Spiders have given teams fits with its 10-man ride.

"The 10-man ride was born in Year One [2014]. We played too much defense that year, because we were only facing off at 30 percent [success]. Our defense was wearing down," Chemotti recalled. "We had to figure out how to get the ball back."

The Spiders have figured out plenty. They forced many of Duke's 18 turnovers in their historic, 12-10 victory in Durham on March 7, the biggest asterisk on Richmond's 4-0 road record. The Spiders will try to make more history at North Carolina on Sunday. If the Spiders upset the Tar Heels, Richmond's reliable gang of four probably will have something meaningful to do with it.

"That group has been playing together for every minute of every game for going on three years. The chemistry between them is strong," Chemotti said.

"Ryan's instincts, footwork and natural cover ability are off the charts. Monzo is a great defender off the ball. Brendan is great on the ground. Benny is one of the most athletic goalies around."

It all adds up for Richmond.

Hynes, 6-feet-3, the league's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, was converted to close defense because defensive coordinator Paul Richards convinced Chemotti that Hynes needed to be on the field at all times. Hynes has forced 10 turnovers and barely trails faceoff specialist Peter Moran (.569) for the team lead in ground balls with 26.

Dennis, a two-time, second-team, all-conference player and the only player to start every game in program history, leads the team with 12 forced turnovers. Monzo, a transfer who left Stony Brook after his freshman year who has started 38 games at Richmond, has forced nine turnovers.

Pugh, 6-4, a first-team, all-conference player last year and the only goalie of record in each of Richmond's 23 victories, has allowed 7.08 goals per game and is averaging nine stops with a save percentage of .562.

The Spiders are currently ranked no. 18, their highest position ever.

Princeton Hopes to Put Rough Start in Rear View

There is no such thing as an untimely win. But when Princeton (2-3) put together its best performance of 2016 on Monday by defeating in-state rival Rutgers, 10-7, the Tigers could not have fashioned a more timely victory.

The Tigers were coming off back-to-back embarrassments. Losing at no. 8 Johns Hopkins on March 5 by a 17-7 count was bad enough, although that game got away from Princeton in the second half, when the Blue Jays won 15 of 19 faceoffs and blew open a game they led, 6-3, at halftime.

On a day when sophomore goalie Tyler Blaisdell made 20 saves, the young and thin Tigers missed Zach Currier's midfield and faceoff play at Homewood Field. Currier was serving a one-game suspension, after throwing the ball at an official at the end of Princeton's overtime loss to Hofstra the week before.

A humbling, three-game losing streak culminated on Saturday with no. 6 Maryland's 17-5 rout on Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium.

The combined 34 goals allowed marked the most surrendered by Princeton in consecutive games since the Tigers dropped, back-to-back, 19-7 decisions to Hopkins and Navy in 1986 – two years before Bill Tierney took over the program.

The story of the Maryland blowout was a Tigers defense that was lost in the six-on-six game. Maryland feasted on interior breakdowns that subjected Blaisdell (eight saves) to a slew of point-blank shots.

And the best thing that happened to Princeton was not having time to stew in another bad loss. Two days later, Blaisdell stepped up to stop 14 shots against Rutgers, and senior attackman Ryan Ambler's hat trick and Currier's four-point game helped to repair wounded confidence in the Tigers' locker room.

"We knew it was going to take a while to figure out some things offensively," said Tigers coach Chris Bates, alluding to the graduation of two of the program's most prolific scorers ever in Mike MacDonald and Kip Orban and the transfer of Jake Fraccaro to Villanova. Fraccaro is averaging a Division I-leading 4.5 goals per game with the Wildcats.

"But we really got punched between the eyes [on defense] early against Maryland and couldn't plug the holes in the dike. We didn't see that coming," Bates added. "There were a lot of wide eyes open around here. Giving up 17 stings."

"The best thing that could have happened to us was playing again [on a two-day turnaround]," Blaisdell said. "We didn't have to watch film all week of us getting smoked on our home field. Anytime you give up 17 it's never a good day at the office for a goalie. That [Maryland] loss definitely took a toll on our team morale. But our defense bounced back to play its best game this year."

Princeton begins its "next season" on Saturday with its Ivy League opener against visiting Penn.

Stony Brook has looked strong in its 6-1 start, but a big test looms against an Albany team that has dominated the America East in recent years. (Greg Shemitz)

Stony Brook Sets Sights on Halting Albany's Streak

No. 16 Stony Brook (5-1) has not beaten in-state rival and 13th-ranked Albany since 2012, coach Jim Nagle's first season at the helm with the Seawolves.

The Seawolves, who open America East play on Saturday at Albany, have suffered all levels of pain at the hands of the Great Danes during a six-game losing streak that includes several blowouts and three defeats by a combined five goals. Albany has eliminated Stony Brook from the conference the past three years, including a 17-16 heartbreaker in overtime in the AE semifinals in 2014.

But, as Maryland showed with its impressive, 10-7 victory against the Great Danes on Wednesday, Albany (3-2) is adjusting to life without Lyle Thompson. Maryland dominated possession time, limited Albany to 23 shots and held the Great Danes to single goals in the second and fourth quarters.

Stony Brook has been known for years as a high-scoring unit, and the Seawolves are holding form with an average of 13.67 goals, fifth-best in the country.

But the defense is emerging. Stony Brook has held four opponents to six goals or fewer, has allowed only three, extra-man scores and is holding opponents to 22 percent shooting. Goalies Brandon Maciejewski (6.11 GAA, .695) and UMass transfer Zach Oliveri (8.67 GAA, .574) have split time very effectively.

"Can we play defense as well as Maryland did? That's the question, because Albany is still a very good team," Nagle said. "This is a big rivalry game. I don't need to tell our guys a whole lot about [Albany]. They don't need any Knute Rockne speeches before a game like this."

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