- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

In the preseason, almost no one would have guessed Nick Mirabito would lead the Navy lacrosse team in goals entering today’s NCAA tournament quarterfinals ? least of all Mirabito himself.

Yet here he is near the end of his plebe season with 26 goals as the fifth-seeded Midshipmen (12-3) prepare to face fourth-seeded Virginia (10-3) at Baltimore’s Homewood Field.

?Coming in, I didn’t really have too high expectations to play too much,? Mirabito said. ?I thought I might be a man-up guy or maybe a guy coming in from the midfield. I didn’t even know what I was going to be doing, but I didn’t think I’d be in the role I’m doing right now. It’s been a great surprise.?

Not to mention a necessary one for the Mids. Navy knew it had to replace graduated lefty Joe Bossi and his 44 goals. But in January, Ian Dingman (36 goals, 26 assists in 2004) was dismissed from the academy for academic reasons, leaving the Mids with serious questions at attack.

That meant the Mids were missing two of their starters from last season and had no proven lefties. Yet Mirabito, who grew up in Binghamton, hardly one of upstate New York’s lacrosse hotbeds, played well in preseason workouts and wound up coming off the bench effectively in two scrimmages. The second outing ? against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome ? sold the Mids’ staff on the young lefty, who had little flash but made virtually no mistakes.

?After that scrimmage, it was like ?He needs to be the starter.’? Navy offensive coordinator John Tillman said.

He hasn’t given up the spot since, blending in seamlessly with fellow attackmen Jon Birsner and Ben Horn. Birsner orchestrates the offense from behind the cage, while Horn picks his spots in his frequent matchups with short sticks.

That leaves plenty of scoring chances for Mirabito, a possible long-term combo attackman who already has proven to be an opportunistic player.

?I definitely think a couple years down the road maybe I’ll develop into a feeder, a more all-around player instead of a finisher, because I’m sure that’s what I’m labeled as now.? Mirabito said.

He nearly finished the Mids’ three-decade long losing streak to Johns Hopkins earlier this year, brushing off a so-so day to bury a go-ahead goal in the final minute before the Blue Jays rallied for an overtime victory.

He also has shrugged off postseason pressure, recording hat tricks against Army in the Patriot League final and against Delaware last week in his first NCAA tournament game.

?I won’t say you don’t expect much out of a freshman, but you expect them to have some growing periods, and he’s gone through some of that, but I think he’s handled that really well,? senior midfielder Graham Gill said. ?Some of the things he brings to the field, I feel like he plays beyond his age because he’s so calm and relaxed out there. It always seems like he’s having a good time, and he never gets rattled.?

That trait will get tested against an aggressive Virginia defense that makes little secret of its physical intentions. Mirabito is likely to draw a pole as the Mids attempt to reach their second straight final four.

?He’s able to go really hard but also go really hard and make good decisions while he’s going at such a fast pace, which for a young guy is hard to do …? Tillman said. ?Nick’s going to be under the gun a little bit, and he’s going to have to deal with it, but we have so much confidence in him. He may not be perfect, but he’ll get it done somehow.?

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