- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2004

A lot has changed for the Navy lacrosse program.

The program will return to Navy-Marine Corps Stadium after a one-year stint at tiny Rip Miller Field. The team, which went 6-7 and lost five games by two or fewer goals last year, is finally an experienced bunch.

The most startling difference for the Midshipmen, though, is a new conference affiliation. Navy, which played in the Eastern College Athletic Conference the last four seasons, makes its Patriot League debut in today’s season opener at Lafayette.

The Mids had a chance to join the Patriot a few years ago but decided instead to enter the ECAC in 2000. However, the appeal of a conference tournament and the chance to play in the same league as the bulk of Navy’s other teams convinced coach Richie Meade it was time for a change.

“[The ECAC] was a tough league, and I think it made us a very tough lacrosse team,” said Meade, whose team edged Army in a preseason coaches’ poll. “But I think with all the other sports in our school being in the Patriot League and the Patriot League becoming a stronger conference, it kind of provided us with the opportunity to play lacrosse in the league the rest of our school was in and also have a tournament at the end of the year to play in. … I don’t think it’s going to be any easier in the Patriot League than the ECAC.”

The move could help Navy’s chances of making the postseason for the first time since 1999. Four of Navy’s five ECAC opponents a year ago reached the NCAA tournament, while the Patriot League has sent one representative to the tournament every year since receiving an automatic bid in 2000.

Even though the Patriot isn’t as strong from top to bottom as the ACC, ECAC or Ivy League, the Mids won’t have a easy road to the title in the regular season or conference tournament. Defending champion Army is a fierce rival, Bucknell and Hobart have consistently fielded solid teams and Colgate has steadily improved in recent years.

“Guys are excited,” Navy junior goalie Seth DiNola said. “ECAC was probably the best league in the country last year, but teams are still competitive teams, so we still have to play well to win. I don’t know if the guys have a feel for the shift, but we still have to win.”

Navy’s realignment hasn’t hurt its nonconference schedule. Four preseason top-10 teams will face the Mids, who play most of their conference schedule early in the season to allow their traditional rivalries with Georgetown, Johns Hopkins and Maryland to be played in April.

The Mids will face that schedule with much of their offense from last year, including sophomore Ian Dingman, who led the team in scoring with 40 points (23 goals, 17 assists). Sophomore Jon Birsner and senior Joe Bossi also are back, while four-year starter Ben Bailey, junior Graham Gill and senior Matt Midura will run on the first midfield.

DiNola edged out sophomore Matt Russell to retain his starting spot at goalie. Defenseman Chris Stebbings is gone, but senior Jared Bosanko and juniors Mike Felber, Mitch Hendler and Pat Reilley are experienced enough to allow the Mids to use more complex defensive sets than a year ago. Long pole Thomas Morris, arguably the Mids’ best defensive player last year, also returns.

After today’s game, the Mids will look forward to their home opener Feb.28 against Ohio State. Navy will return to Navy-Marine Corps Stadium after renovations forced a one-year hiatus.

“It’s the best place to play in college,” Bailey said. “We play at Homewood, we play at the Carrier Dome, College Park and Byrd Stadium, but nothing compares to Navy-Marine Corps.”

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