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Fall 2014 Sports Preview

1 September 2014 By Matt Hamilton, Sports Editor No Comments

 

File photo by Abby Murphy, illustration by Brooke Basta

File photo by Abby Murphy, illustration by Brooke Basta

Football

Eight months have passed since Towson fell to the North Dakota State Bison in the Football Championship Subdivision Championship Game in Frisco, Texas. Still, the energy from the championship game run resonates throughout the program and community.

“It’s exciting that people are finally understanding that you get up every morning and you’re going to win a National Championship,” Head Coach Rob Ambrose said.  “All of a sudden they say ‘You know what? I don’t care what anyone says, I can be the best at what I’m doing.’ And I love hearing that. That now happens because of what our guys have done. If that’s not exciting, go get a casket.”

However, not everything remains the same for the Tigers.

Memories from last season will be replaced with new ones from the 2014-15 season. The Tigers will carry the expectations of a national championship appearance and a No. 7 national ranking without many of the faces
from the team that helped raise the program into prominence once again. Towson lost eight starters on offense and four on de fense from last year, including starting quarterback Peter Athens, running back Terrance West and the entire offensive line.

Over the course of the spring and summer, Ambrose and his team have been working to fill those holes in preparation for the tough 2014 schedule.

So far, Ambrose is impressed with the progress of his team.

“It’s coming together. It’s a building process,” Ambrose said. “On the whole, the defense is clearly ahead of the offense just because of their experience. By the time we got through the spring and the spring game, I had torn my hair out and the stress levels were high. …We are a lot better than we were when we finished in the spring, but we’re not good enough yet.”

One of the major questions facing this team coming into the summer was whether it could succeed without Jerry Rice Award winner and all-time leading rusher West, who left for the NFL. Sophomore Darius Victor rushed for 629 yards and seven touchdowns while sharing carries with West last season, making him the preemptive favorite to win the No. 1 running back job going into the summer.

However, a group that includes Rutgers transfer Dontea Ayres, as well as freshman Colby Grant, will join the committee at running back. Ambrose said he has been impressed with the work of his running backs, despite a few nagging injuries from Victor and Ayres.

Victor, who won Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Rookie of the Year, said he’s setting expectations high.

“I feel like we have the talent to [do as well as last season] and even surpass what we did last season,” he said. “We’ll just have to focus and put in the effort to produce.”

A steady running game will help senior quarterback Connor Frazier, who won the starting job over teammate Joe Brennan after the summer. Frazier will look to take over a position that he held for the second half of the FCS Semifinal game, where he led the team to a 35-31, comeback victory over Eastern Washington.

Frazier, a dual-threat quarterback, said the playoff experience will prove valuable to him entering this season.

“There’s nothing like actual game experience,” Frazier said. “Practice [at Johnny Unitas Stadium], though, the coaches make it up tempo and game-like, so that really helped me stepping into the second half.”

Frazier will lead a young offensive unit that will feature a completely revamped offensive line. Towson lost Eric Pike, Randall Harris, Doug Shaw, Anthony Davis and Charles Johnson to graduation, a group that boasts a
few All-CAA selections. The line will now rely on younger veterans like sophomore Sam Evans and junior Jake Schunke, who started games last season. Evans made 11 appearances in the starting lineup, which will bode
well as he takes over the right tackle position.

Other leading candidates for spots on the line include sophomore Shayne Sullivan at left tackle, sophomore Amos Campbell at center and freshman Antonio Harris at left guard.

On defense, the Tigers are not experiencing as much of an overhaul. The secondary, which includes senior Tye Smith and juniors Donnell Smith and Christian Carpenter, could provide leadership to a defense that finished sixth in the CAA last year.

Without Jordan Love in the fold, the secondary will lose some speed, but sophomore cornerbacks Juleon Killikelly-Lee and Jamahl Pardner will compete to fill the extra spot. Killikelly-Lee saw time in the national championship game.

Ambrose believes the defense will have much-needed depth at all positions, after losing the four main contributions.

“If guys step out on defense for an injury or a day or two, the expectation is that there’s enough old guys here that they can fit in well and we won’t miss a beat,” he said.

The linebacker position will feature a few new starters like senior Fred Overstreet and freshman James Simms, while the defensive line has veterans like senior Ryan Delaire and junior Jon Desir starting.

With a slew of faces and a clean slate, Towson began its season against Central Connecticut State at Johnny Unitas Stadium on Saturday. For coverage of that game, go to thetowerlight.com.

The Tigers will be back in action this Saturday, as they travel to Morgantown, West Virginia to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers. They look to make it two straight years with a win over a Football Bowl Subdivision team.

 

Volleyball

Don Metil came to Towson last year in hopes of leading the volleyball team to success for years to come.

The head coach and his team had its struggles though, finishing with a 10-24 overall record and posting just a 2-12 record in the Colonial Athletic Association.

However, Coach Metil liked what he saw from his young team last year.

“I think we played hard every night and put up a lot of effort in each game,” he said. “But obviously, the goal is to make it to the CAA Championship.”

Last year has come and gone now, but key players will be returning to the team, including senior outside hitter Saitaua Iosia.

Iosia earned an honorable mention to the preseason All-CAA team for this year, after putting up 381 kills and 38 service aces last season.

The Tigers also have some new faces to the team, including freshman setter Barbara Lopez.

Metil had positive things to say about Lopez, who hails from Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

“We have a new setter from Puerto Rico who is hopefully going to be running our offense right away,” said Metil. “She’s a special talent and is going to be a problem for the other teams.”

Towson also has four new players along with Lopez, as well as some new goals set for the team.

“We’re looking for a much more improved record,” Metil said. “We want to be around .500 or above and grab more wins. Another thing we’re going for is off-the-court goals, like being one of the top academic teams.”

The Tigers will also see SECU Arena more this season, as the team will host two separate tournaments that will bring a total of seven different teams to Towson.

It’s a whole new outlook for the team, as Metil and the Tigers look to get things on a winning track early.

The Tigers open up their season on Friday with the Bryant Tournament, in which they will play three matches against UMass-Lowell, Army and Bryant.

“Last season, I didn’t know how good we could actually be and had to open up against tough opponents, like Virginia Tech and Michigan St.,” Metil said. “Hopefully we can get off to a good start and hopefully win,” he continued. “That way we can move forward with a boosted morale.”

The Tigers have their first match on Friday against the UMass-Lowell River Hawks in Smithfield, Rhode Island. The match starts at 5 p.m.

Women’s Soccer

After tying the program record for the best single-season turnaround with an 8-10-1 record, Towson Head Coach Greg Paynter is facing another challenge: to improve on last season’s record with the help of his new coaching staff.

“We had eight wins and 16 games that were one-goal games last season,” Paynter said. “We need to find a way to make those one-goal games a little bit better ratio of wins to ties and losses. We got to find a way to get a couple of those losses to ties and a couple of those ties to wins this year.”

The eight wins are the most that Towson has had in a season since 2007.

Joining Paynter on the sideline is Mike Eckberg, a former volunteer assistant coach at Penn State, Towson soccer alum Erica Marshall and returning Tigers goalkeeping coach, Matt Gibson.

With the hope to qualify for the conference tournament at the end of the season, the Tigers put a lot of emphasis on working with the defense during the preseason.

“We’ve spent a lot of time just focusing on defensive concepts and the attitude to defend,” Paynter said. “One of the things we talk about is immediate chase and getting numbers behind the ball. That has really been a success story for us to see the fruits of our labors so quickly.”

Senior forward Sofia Read and senior midfielder Katie Ponce return as the team’s 2014 captains.

Read ended the 2013 season with three goals and five assists, while Ponce scored five goals and had one assist.

“[Read and Ponce] have shown a tremendous passion for this program,” Paynter said. “They have been great role models for our younger players on the field, in the weight room, in the locker room and in the classroom.
We’ve utilized them and their skill set to set a good foundation of expectations.”

Ponce was also named as an honorable mention to the 2014 Preseason All-Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) team.

“Ponce is an outstanding athlete and a really good soccer player,” Paynter said. “Most games that she steps off the field, both teams recognize her impact on the game. We’re trying to get her to recognize her skill set and use it to the best of our advantage.”

Also returning for her final season is senior goalkeeper Erin Quinn. She recorded the first three shutouts of her career last season, earning her recognition on the All-CAA third team.

Despite the graduation of forward Emily Banes, the Tiger’s all-time leader in goals and points, Ponce believes that the talented group of newcomers can step up and contribute.

“We have a great group of freshmen who have added to this established change,” Ponce said. “There’s a lot of talent in that class and we’re lucky we have a group who is going to make an impact right off the bat.”

The Tigers have a very tough non-conference schedule, playing four Big East teams, which include DePaul, Georgetown, Villanova and Xavier.

“Any time you get a chance to play against a big conference like that it’s a big challenge,” Paynter said.

On Aug. 24, senior midfielder Taylor Knier and sophomore forward Natalia Pinkney led the team in a 2-0 victory over the Xavier Musketeers after a 1-1 tie with UMass on Aug. 22 at the JMU Invitational.

“We need to become a little more defined in the attacking side of things,” Paynter said. “We got a really good set piece goal as a game winner and it wasn’t until the last minute of the game that we got a little insurance goal from Pinkney to seal off that win. We need to take advantage of some of our earlier opportunities and make things a little bit easier for ourselves.”

During the JMU invitational, four freshmen got the opportunity to shine as they played their first career minutes for the Tigers.

“We have a core of four freshman that have already had a huge impact on what we’re doing,” Paynter said.

Those four include forward Gabby Scirica, who started both games, midfielders Cait Oswald and Maddie Bove, who made the all-tournament team, and defender Kristyn Hubbard, who played every minute of both games.

“Those four are logging in a lot of minutes and contributing tremendously right now as freshmen,” Paynter said.

With a 1-0-1 record, the Tigers are preparing for their Colonial Athletic Association schedule starting Sept. 26, when they open up against James Madison at the Tiger Soccer Complex.

Other conference teams include College of Charleston, Delaware, Drexel, Elon, Hofstra, Northeastern, UNC Wilmington and William and Mary.

“I’ve learned that attitude is a huge part of success and thankfully this year the commitment and work ethic of this year’s team is better than I’ve ever seen it,” Ponce said. “Our talent is good, but that’s going to be the difference maker this year.”

Men’s Golf

Towson is back again for another season on the links. The Tigers look to capitalize on the success from last spring in the upcoming season with the help of veteran and incoming players.

The team placed second in the Colonial Athletic Association Conference tournament in the spring and fell just seven strokes behind first place College of Charleston at St. James Plantation in North Carolina.
College of Charleston shot a three day total of 874, while the Tigers wrapped up with an 881. The College of William and Mary took third with an 888.

“We were unfortunately a little disappointed with our finish,” Head Coach Brian Yaniger said. “But we’re going to keep preparing like we always do for the spring.” Freshman Juan Veloza took first place in the individual competition.

The freshman boasted a three day score of 211, shooting five-under par for the tournament.

Veloza shot a 74 in the first round, and went on to shoot two under par rounds of 68 and 69.

Veloza went on to play at the NCAA Regional Tournament in Illinois as an individual. The field struggled due to inclement weather conditions.

Veloza finished the tournament with a three day score of 245, 81-86-78.

The Tigers graduated seniors Matt Fry and Joe Gunerman last spring. Coach Brian Yaniger expressed extreme gratitude for their contributions to the program.

“Matt and Joe brought a lot of class to the program which was really significant,” Yaniger said. “They set good examples for the younger players, and everything they did was for the benefit of the team. When you get players like that it’s really something special.”

At the conference tournament, Gunerman finished sixth scoring 71-75-74 to shoot a three day total of 220.

Fry finished eight strokes behind with a three day score of 228, 72-77-79.

Fry and Gunerman were both awarded the Cleveland Golf/Srixon All-America Scholar honors after their final semester.

The team was also awarded the Golf Coaches Association of America All-Academic Team honors for their efforts in both the classroom and the golf course. The Tigers welcome two new players to the team this year: freshman Hiroyoshi Minakawa of Tokyo and sophomore Nick Smearman of Maryland.
Yaniger is optimistic about his two new additions.

“I saw [Hiroyoshi] play at the University of South Florida,” Yaniger said. “He’s a solid player and was taught under Don Law, who is an excellent teacher. Nick played at Calvert Hall with Alex Church, and they had an excellent team there.”

The returning Tigers have been hard at work as well. Yaniger notes that the team has been preparing for the upcoming season all summer.

“Alex Church had an outstanding summer at the Maryland Open and Eastern Amateur. His scores have returned to what they were,” Yaniger said. “John Hulede has had a couple of really good [tournaments] in the D.C. area as well. Everybody worked hard over the summer and we’ve been preparing as we always have.”

The Tigers open their season at the Naval Academy on Sept. 6. Tee times are to be announced.

 

Women’s Golf

Towson is coming off a season in which it finished sixth in the Colonial Athletic Association Women’s Golf Championship. In 10 events during the 2013-2014 season, the Tigers won one event and finished in the top three in four events.

The Tigers are hoping to improve their results from last year. Their quest begins Sept. 7 as they go up against 15 schools at the Tignanelli Towson Invitational, the team’s sole home event.

“We have good home-court advantage there,” Head Coach Kate Schanuel said. “Having most of the team play that golf course for two or three years is really helpful. Our freshmen have done their due diligence on studying the golf course as well.”

The team, led by Schanuel, includes five juniors, one sophomore and two freshmen.

“We have good leadership within the program, strong upperclassmen, as well as strong freshmen coming in to play,” Schanuel said.

One of the upperclassmen that will help lead the way for the Tigers is junior Krissy Unger. Her 80.2 scoring average led the team last year, her first season with the Tigers.

“As a team I think we just need to all work hard and be diligent during our practices,” Unger said. “Everyone already does this and if we each work on our own personal games and continue to motivate one another there is nothing we can’t accomplish.”

Schanuel points to course management as one of the important keys to success for the team this year.

“When you have upperclassmen, they know how to manage their way around,” Schanuel said. “We want to really focus on playing smart and using our experience to our advantage. The teams that play smart are generally the teams that when they get in trouble, they can get out of situations better than the other teams.”

Part of commitment is putting in the extra work during the offseason, which Unger said the entire team has done.

“I have been playing in a few events over the summer myself and have been working on the weakest parts of my game to hopefully gain more confidence on the course in order to help the team,” Unger said.

The remaining players on the roster include juniors Kati Day, Emma Hjarne, Viveka Singh, Larissa Spiess, sophomore Stephanie Bosdosh and freshmen Alexis Hios and Mackenzie Rice. The Tignanelli Towson Invitational is the first of five tournaments the Tigers will compete in this fall.

The tournament kicks off at 8 a.m. at the Towson Golf and Country Club in Phoenix, Maryland.

Field Hockey

Several new faces will be featured on Towson’s 2014 roster following Head Coach Carly Campana’s first season at the helm.

Campana has added 12 women to the nine returners from last season’s squad that finished 1-16 (0-6 in the Colonial Athletic Association).

The combination of youth and poor results in 2013 have led to low expectations nationally. No one on the Towson roster was named to the preseason All-Colonial Athletic Association team, and the Tigers have been pegged to finish last in the conference by the preseason coaches’ poll.

Despite this, spirits remain high within the team.

“This offseason we have experienced significant change,” Campana said. “The team has done a great job of taking responsibility for themselves. They have formed relationships with one another and really worked hard to prepare for the season.”

Of the 21 women on the roster, 10 are freshmen who will be expected to contribute immediately.

“The freshmen will have a significant impact,” Campana said. “I think Taylor Kvilhaug will step up and be important to the team with the way she plays.”

Kvilhaug, a midfielder, is from Delaware, where she was an All-State selection as a senior.

In addition, transfer students sophomore Julia Schoonover and junior Stacey Mackintosh, will be joining the team as midfielders.

Schoonover comes to Towson from Kent State. Mackintosh is a newcomer from Radford where she started 40 games in two years. As a freshman, Mackintosh led the Highlanders in goals, points and shots.

The roster only has three seniors: Kelly Mattingly, Kelsey Fielder and Courtney Branco. Each of them played in every game of 2013.

Mattingly started 17 times last season and leads all returners with 21 shots, six points and three defensive saves.

“So far in practice, we have been looking good and working hard,” Mattingly said. “We are all ready to prove ourselves and come out strong.”

Fielder started nine games. Branco made 16 starts as a midfielder and forward. In that time she registered one goal, one assist and three points.

“This team is ready for all challenges and excited to start the season off on the right note with a win,” Branco said.

Sophomore Megan Boyle looks to become the full time goalkeeper for the Tigers. She played in four games as a freshman, starting twice

“This is a wonderful group of young women,” Campana said. “They work hard. Their extracurriculars are amazing. There are so many good things to say. I am happy to have this team.”

The Tigers began their year with a non-conference contest against St. Joseph’s on Sunday in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their first home game is Sept. 21 against Rider.

 


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