- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2007

Harry Alford was almost surprised when his stretch of relative anonymity was ruffled this week.

It has been six months since a shoulder injury threw the goalie’s final season into flux. Freshman Brian Phipps has thrived in Alford’s absence as the No. 10 Terrapins (7-3) prepare to meet No. 7 Navy (8-1) tonight.

But the gradual return of Alford gives Maryland a luxury it didn’t enjoy when both Alford and Jason Carter missed the start of the season with injuries: exceptional depth in the cage.

While Alford has gradually worked his way back into shape, Phipps has filled in more than admirably heading into a crucial stretch for the Terps that also includes a visit from Johns Hopkins and the ACC tournament at the end of the month.

“I think we have two great goalies,” Maryland coach Dave Cottle said. “I think we’re very fortunate. I thought going into the season it was our strongest position, and it’s kind of shone through. We’re dealing from strength, not weakness. If we were dealing from weakness, we would have found a way to throw Harry in.”

Phipps, who helped the Terps rattle off five straight victories before last week’s loss at Virginia, will be in goal tonight at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The Midshipmen are coming off a loss at Georgetown during which sophomore attackman Bruce Nechanicky’s season ended with a torn ACL.

“Even though I’m a freshman, I think the team has come to respect me and have confidence in me, which is a big part of things,” Phipps said. “Every game, I just want to earn the confidence of my teammates and [have them] know they don’t have to worry about having a freshman in the goal.”

Phipps’ .608 save percentage and 7.86 goals-against average have removed any worries. He has surrendered double-digit goals only to Duke and Virginia, two of the most potent offenses in the nation.

Alford, meanwhile, has worked just to place himself in position to return to the field. He underwent surgery after injuring his shoulder during a scrimmage last fall and underwent therapy four days a week for two hours at a time to regain his strength. He finally surfaced March 20 and has played briefly at the end of the Terps’ last three games.

Other than the odd sensation of entering a game cold and immediately being pelted with shots, Alford also has been forced to adjust his style of play. That is a significant change for the two-time honorable mention All-American.

“I see the game totally different now,” Alford said. “I can’t step the same way, can’t react the same way to a shot, because my motion is hindered. I have to make sure I step quicker, or I have to make my ankles better from a shooter’s perspective. I never even thought about that stuff before. I learned how it all impacts my abilities. I’m definitely more cerebral.”

Cottle said Alford was at about 80 percent last weekend and conceded if Alford were fully healthy and playing better than Phipps, a switch would be made.

It’s a tricky situation, especially since Alford is a two-year starter with only half a season left in his college career. But the senior remains supportive of Phipps, who made 16 saves against Towson and 15 against North Carolina in Maryland’s two biggest victories.

“Brian’s stepped up big this year. I’m his biggest fan,” Alford said. “It’s working out great. He’s outperformed all of our expectations. It’s great for him and great for our team.”

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