Detroit’s season in 2014 wasn’t so different from the 2013 outcome. Sure, the Titans made the NCAA Tournament and gave Notre Dame a run for their money in the previous year, but it took a magical late-season run to get to that point (and said run erased some bad memories of other games earlier in the year).
This season played out basically the same, but UDM didn’t finish that first game in the MAAC Tournament to get there. Several years into the program, you’d like to see them take the next step, rather than stagnate, of course. Still, the year wasn’t a disaster nor was it a rousing success.
Regardless of all that, next year will happen with a different man in charge. Headman Matt Holtz surprisingly resigned at the end of May, and defensive coordinator Chris Kolon has ascended to the top spot.
Let’s take a quick look at the Titans’ statistical profile:
|Detroit Titans 2014|
|Faceoff Wins||127||Faceoff Wins||185|
The Titans were actually better offensively than opponents (thanks to a goal-filler like Shayne Adams on one side, and goal-preventer Jason Weber on the other), but their deficit in possession helped lead to the disappointing 6-8 record. There’s also something to be said for doing that against the second-easiest schedule in the nation.
What Went Well
the breakout star this year for Detroit was goalie Jason Weber. He missed three games to start the year thanks to disciplinary issues, but once he got back on the field, he was nothing short of dominant. He saved .642 of shots faced, to lead the NCAA by .020 (a large margin), and did so behind a defense that was pretty good, but probably not as good as those for other top keepers. He was a revelation from the first time he stepped foot on the field, and was just a freshman. The Titans’ goalkeeping is in good hands.
Shayne Adams did the Shayne Adams thing, pouring in goals left and right. He finished with 42 on the year with 7 assists, and did so on efficient shooting (74.7% of his shots were on goal, and 42.4% scored). He’s put in positions to score, sure, but damn if he didn’t make the most of those opportunities.
Defensive depth was pretty good, with several different poles (and short-stick defensive middies) getting into the action from time to time, and building for the future. With Nick Garippa and Troy Dennis (SSDM) and Brian Smith (LSM/D) the only players leaving due to graduation from that side of the ball, the future is bright.
Room for Improvement
The name of the game is possession, and it’s a game that Detroit is not very good at. The Titans trotted out the No. 55 (of 67) faceoff unit, and the No. 63 clear. While they had an average ride, two bad units is a lot to cancel out, and they couldn’t do it. The faceoff specialists – especially Damien Hicks – seemed to show promise from game to game, but consistency there and better wing play are key.
Behind every poor possession game is a high turnover rate, and that was Detroit’s biggest struggle this year. The Titans committed 248 turnovers – that’s on 55.5% of possessions – and there’s main source of the struggles. Getting the ball from the defensive end to the offensive end, and taking care of it when you get there are necessary to putting it into the net behind the other team’s goalie.
A similar issue – and there’s some philosophical debate about how big an issue it is, if planned for – is inaccurate shooting. Mike Birney took a big step back in that respect this year. He was carrying a bit more of the offensive load, but it took him 113 shots and only 49 on goal to reach 18 scores. It doesn’t matter if a player can shoot 114 miles an hour if it’s sailing over the crossbar on worse than every other attempt.
Detroit also developed a nasty habit of playing down to their competition, without playing up to better competition frequently enough. A one-goal win over Mercer, a two-goal win over VMI, one-goal win over Wagner, five-goal loss to Marquette, loss to Manhattan… while a win is a win in most respects, closer-than-expected wins also point to the program not growing past a scrappy underdog stage, to a degree.
Despite not playing takewaway lacrosse anymore, the Titans were still fairly penalty-prone. It took a step in the right direction this season, but like with the offensive care for the ball, a small dose more discipline can lead to big improvements in games.
The Distant Future
Fortunately, a year with some growing pains should help the Titans take a step forward next year. They have to replace the majority of their defensive midfielders (though I did pick a non-starter in JD Hess for the All-GLS team at that position over graduating Garippa), a couple attackmen including primary ball-carrier Alex Maini, and… not much else.
What the Titans need is to see that talent take the next step, and translate into even better results on the field. They’ve taken baby steps in the past couple offseasons, and a larger step with Adams, Birney, D-poles Joe Gifford and Chris Shevins, and attackmen Scott Drummon and Brandon Beauregard all coming into their senior season is the expectation.
With stability in the coaching staff – Kolon was promoted to become the head coach, so the defensive philosophy (which changed from heavy-pressure to more relaxed with a ball-stopped like Weber available) won’t change much – the Titans should be able to keep plugging along the road of improvement they’ve been taking without too much of a change.
If the faceoffs and clear can just take the smallest steps toward average (something I’ve been predicting for a few years now), and the offense can become a little tighter with the ball, UDM can really turn some heads next year.