While everyone is preparing for Summer internships and finishing finals, it’s never too early to start thinking about the next season. The biggest key to improving from one season to the next is understanding weaknesses from the past year. For many teams, how they handle the offseason is a key indicator of what to expect from them in the following season. Here, I will highlight some of the biggest things that I feel each team needs to accomplish either during Summer or early portions of next season. While some teams will need to center their focus around recruiting, for others there are very specific goals in mind.
For JMU, I think the answer is very simple, they must travel more if they want to get back to the Final Four. I actually have some data to back this up. Here is a list of the tournaments they have played in over the past four seasons excluding Nationals:
2014 – JMU (2), Towson, Miami (OH), UMD, DePaul
2015 – JMU (2), Towson, UMD, UK, CMU
2016 – JMU (2), UMD, Towson
2017 – JMU (2), Towson, VCU
In the 2014 and 2015 seasons they made it to the Final Four, for 2016 and 2017 they were eliminated in the quarterfinals. Seems simple enough. Play more teams, go to more places, get more experience to take your game to the next level. The Dukes should take advantage of an East Coast Nationals this year and make some opportunities to travel.
PSU definitely had flashes of greatness this year. While much of the same can be said about PSU as I said about JMU, I think there’s a more glaring issue that needs to be solved. This team needs to develop their strategy, a lot. While each team has their own way of playing, one thing is very common among successful teams, they emphasize ball control all the time. This is something PSU did not emphasize hardly at all this year, and it took away from the talent they had on the offensive end. Next year they will be missing Ken Russ and Damian Pazuchanics which takes away from the offensive firepower, but they still return a ton of talent. Morgan McLean and Jeff Schwartz will certainly have a lot to work with in their last season, let’s see if they can make it a good one for the Nittany Lions.
Next year will be interesting for the Mustangs. If Kris DeJesus returns that’s one thing, if not that creates a really big issue for this team. There’s not much to say for these guys other than recruit, recruit, and recruit some more. At a small school like Stevenson it can be hard to come across a lot of dedicated members. This has created a lot of issues in the past in regards to being able to play tournaments. Maybe with a new change in leadership that will change, but only time will tell. With an East Coast Nationals, I’m hoping this team can also make their first ever Nationals appearance. It would be a huge step in the right direction for this program and could be a serious morale boost for the program going forward.
Towson I believe knows this better than anyone, they desperately need to get better in overtime/late game situations. Their most notable losses this season have either come in OT or the last five minutes of games. Against JMU this year they fell in OT at the Border War at VCU, and let a 2-0 lead slip away from them at Pumpkinfest. They also fell to UK at BEAST in OT, and struggled with four minutes remaining against MSU which cost them the chance to go to the Final Four. Everyone will need to watch the Tigers very closely at the start of next season. This team loses a lot of leadership and on court talent with the departures of Jonathan Shaw, Jeremy Brown, and Jordan Haxton. If they struggle out the gate, it could set a bad tone for the rest of the season, so those early season wins will be so important for this group.
The Terps definitely had a bit of a rebuilding year last season, but they ended on a high note at Nationals. Hopefully they can carry some of that momentum into the offseason and have a fresh start next year. What this team needs more than ever though is throwers, lots and lots of throwers. They proved they could keep themselves in games with their controlled play style and good catching, but they lack an offensive firepower that they need in late game and come-from-behind situations. They lose some important figures on the team including Justin Anderson and Adam Zwick, but I can see some potential in this team going forward. Vinnie DeMaio and Carl Boettner will be very important for the development of this team next year. Look for these guys to be competitive in the 2017-18 season.
Seeing the growth of UVA from their first year into this past season was a thing of beauty. As someone who helped work with them on a couple of occasions, I felt like a proud dad seeing them at Nationals and performing so competitively. Expectations should be high for this team, especially since they are returning everyone next season. They still have a lot to work on though. The Cavaliers are another team that needs to improve on their strategy and decision making during games. This team has plenty of talent, but sometimes they can get a little trigger happy and make bad throws which puts them in an unfavorable situation. UVA should also take the time to really practice catching. This is not to say they don’t have capable catchers, but they need to get their team into that mindset more often in order to keep them in games. Working on those pieces of their game will be very instrumental if they hope to find even more success next season.
VCU had quite the up and down season last year, but it ended on a bit of a sour note with a loss to rival Towson in the round of 16. While their catching proved to be very effective all season, they still lack depth in terms of throwers. Outside of 5 to 6 players, no one else on this team had an effective throw from the 30 ft attack line. But more importantly than finding throwers, this team needs to avoid the injury bug next year, badly. To put into perspective, here is a list of player injuries this team had last season:
RJ Morgan – Torn bicep
Nick Chu – Torn meniscus
Bobby Allison – Torn MCL
Hunter Ford – Torn labrum (shoulder)
Brian Butler – Torn labrum (shoulder)
Marek Bauer – Torn extensor tendons (elbow)
Jason Klopp – Torn rotator cuff
Torao Ota – Broken middle finger/nail (throwing hand)
Sam Lammie – Broken index finger (throwing hand)
Dageem Syume – Broken thumb/torn tendon (throwing hand)
Stephen Cathey – Concussion
Kelvonte Nesmith – Damaged knee cartilage
Andrew Galloway – Fractured elbow
All of these injuries occurred during the Spring semester as well, which certainly didn’t help the Rams’ chances of competing at Nationals. If and when this team gets healthier, we should see them return to the level they were at in the Fall last season.
These are just some of my quick takes on each of the East Coast teams. Do you think there’s other things these teams should work on? If so, leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.