October 6, 2011

Navy to Unveil New Defense at Stars & Stripes

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com

Two-time All-Patriot League defender Kiersten King, fully recovered from her 2010 knee surgery, will play an integral role in Navy's new defensive system that applies on-ball pressure in tiers.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Navy didn't have to look far to find the model it wanted to mimic.

The Mids' slow start in their 2011 NCAA first-round matchup against Maryland built a hole they couldn't dig themselves out of, but it also exposed an area in which the team wanted to improve. Maryland used its high-tempo, quick-strike offense to score 12 first-half goals, then used its suffocating on-ball defense to contain Navy's attack, propelling the Terrapins to a 19-6 victory.

So when the Mids went back to the drawing board this fall, the coaching staff showed film of an attacking-style defense they wanted to copy.

"Actually, when we were learning this new defense, we watched a clip or two of the Maryland defense from NCAAs. Our coaches pulled it up and were like, 'This is pretty much what we're trying to aim toward being,'" senior defender Kierstin King said with a laugh. "They're definitely looking at how they tiered up against our attack and how we can ultimately tier up against other teams just by doing that.

"It was impressive to watch [on film], if you compare us and them at the same point. They're very active and they anticipate a play before it happens — they're already there. It's just that ability to read the attack and set the tone, as opposed to standing back."

Navy, the back-to-back Patriot League champion, will get a major test of its new scheme against "the best of the best of the best," as Navy coach Cindy Timchal put it, when the Mids face the U.S. women's senior national team  Sunday in US Lacrosse's annual Stars & Stripes event in Durham, N.C.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to play the best team in the world, and it couldn't be more exciting for us to have the opportunity to play in it," Timchal said. "For a program still in our infancy, it really demonstrates for us just how far we've come, entering our fifth year."

Similarly, Navy will get to see how far its new defensive system has come in the two weeks since fall ball started.

"We're hedging more to the ball and being more active, so if someone does go in they automatically have three girls on them instead of just one-v-one or two-v-two," King said. "That's why I think we're so excited about this weekend, just to see how we measure up this early in the game."

King will play a major role in defining Navy's defensive success next season. The two-time All-Patriot League defender tore her ACL at the end of 2010, forcing her to miss last fall's season. King slowly regained strength in her leg throughout the spring, and she played in all 19 games, leading the Mids with 34 ground balls while causing 15 turnovers and grabbing seven draw controls.

"Initially, being back on the field was such a blessing, more than anything," she said. "Each day it got a little bit stronger and I got a little bit more comfortable. You risk a little bit more. I would say there wasn't one point in the game or the season where I felt totally back to normal, but it was that ongoing experience of knowing that I could do it. Or like you get knocked down and you say, 'OK, I can get back up.'"

Now back to 100 percent, King doesn't have to hold anything back. Timchal said she expects Kings to be the "team leader back there, taking risks who will lead our defense to be as strong as possible."

"It's so great," said King, who spent two weeks in the summer teaching lacrosse to youths in South Africa. "You take that for granted, just being able to play every day. But when you get that taken away from you, it fires you up for the next season, when you couldn't go out. This is my opportunity to make my mark. This is the end, and you want to do the best you can, because you don't know when it could be snagged from you."

Fall Ball Brief

Team: Navy (15-6, 4-2 Patriot)

2011 in Review: The Mids made their second straight trip to the NCAA tournament, which capped off back-to-back Patriot League championships. Navy rushed out of the gates, winning its first five games, before falling to Northwestern. A tough midseason included several road losses, but the Mids rebounded by exacting revenge against Lehigh and knocking off Colgate in the conference tournament.

Goodbye... Senior attacker and captain Caitlin Mandrin Hill, a two-time All-Patriot League performer, who graduated with the school's record for career assists (96), caused turnovers (84) and ground balls (129). She also ranked second in career points with 192.

Fall Schedule: Navy already scrimmaged Georgetown and George Washington, but after taking on the U.S. senior national team, the Mids will host a 12-team tournament on Oct. 15, attracting top teams from across the country, including Notre Dame, Stanford and Vanderbilt. "But a real shout-out to the U.S. team, hosting the Stars and Stripes — it's really going to be the highlight of our fall," Timchal said.

Noteworthy: Timchal said Navy might host its first-ever alumni game at the conclusion of its fall season "if we can get it in," though nothing is official yet. "It's something we've been looking forward to," she said. "Coaching and being in a service academy, many of our officers are working all over the world, so it's not as easy as it might be with some other programs to bring your former team members back and scrimmage with your team."

Fall Outlook: "Really fall ball is a time to discover how good we can be, and we do that by training hard, and we really train every day," Timchal said. "We really do prepare for these fall ball scrimmages, because they allow not only to see where are and where we need to be, but it also gives us an opportunity to play players and experiment with lineups. It's a very fulfilling time for us to keep focusing getting stronger, better, faster, fitter and more prepared as we approach our 2012 season.

Welcome back... Star junior attacker Jasmine DePompeo, the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year and conference tournament MVP. DePompeo tallied 99 points, good for third in the nation, with 57 goals and 42 assists. "Jas is on target again," Timchal said. "She's playing great lacrosse. So we're really, really pleased with her level of play in the fall, and we expect great things from her again this year."

Hello... freshmen. Timchal identified "three key players who will be immediate-impact players." Midfielder Jess Fellows (Flint Hill, Va.), midfielder Lindsay Rheiner (Council Rock North, Pa.) and attacker Loren Generi (Bayport Blue-Point, N.Y.).

Offseason Developments: Timchal said Navy "has been pretty healthy" and there are no notable injuries that are expected to carry over into the 2012 season.

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