As if (1) the 19.23 winning percentage improvement from 2011 to 2012 didn't show it, or (2) the absolute dismantling of Johns Hopkins at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was insufficient proof, Navy started to move in the right direction last season under Rick Sowell. The Midshipmen were among the biggest gainers in overall adjusted efficiency margin (that's basically a measure that values a team's overall strength, looking at defensive force against offensive power) from 2011 to 2012, moving from the 42nd position nationally to 19th. To do that in arguably the most difficult automatic qualifying conference in the country is notable, and while a 6-6 record isn't exactly where Navy wants to be (nor what that program expects of itself), the overall performance improvement of the team in Sowell's first season was very strong.
The issue now for Sowell and the Mids is to continue the team's growth. Gone is RJ Wickham, equal part soul-eater and unassuming savior, and Navy will need to operate in that reality. The cupboard isn't bare, though, and Sam Jones and Tucker Hull will return to crush some faces with a one-two punch that is underrated and valuable. This is a solid if not dangerous squad, and the Midshipmen could surprise a little bit in a stacked Patriot League in 2013. (This isn't to say that Navy is in a position right now to assume the Patriot League throne from Colgate or Lehigh, but the Mids are certainly in the conversation for being the league's third or fourth best team.)
Drop Anchor in the Deep End
April 5: Maryland; April 20: @ Johns Hopkins
Over the last few seasons the Midshipmen have scheduled three to four non-conference mega games against the nation's elite. This year, though, Navy only has two on their slate -- an early-April date against national runner-up Maryland and a late-April date against traditional foe Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field. I'm not sure why North Carolina came off of the Mids schedule this season -- nor why Navy hasn't played Loyola since 2011 -- but Sowell hints at this in a statement in Navy's press release:
"I've always enjoyed adding new teams to the schedule and the addition of teams such as up-and-coming Detroit, as well as Fairfield, who is coming off the program's most successful season and past rival Georgetown, we will have our hands full leading up to Patriot League play. This will be a real test and prepare us for league play, a league that by all accounts is the best it has ever been."
It sounds like Sowell backed off the non-conference heavy-hitters with an eye toward the road the Mids will need to travel through the Patriot League. I'm not saying that's necessarily right or wrong, it's just a little odd to see a program that has 26 NCAA Tournament appearances and two runner-up finishes (1975 and 2004) to play a somewhat diluted non-conference schedule. I don't think this is Sowell fishing for wins, but it is a little different approach for the Midshipmen.
February 9: VMI; February 15: Detroit; February 19: @ Fairfield; February 24: @ Georgetown; March 12: Towson
Two clunkers and three sneaky competitive games. These aren't games that will generate an RPI bonanza -- and Navy probably shouldn't be worrying about that in 2013 anyway -- but the three stronger contests -- Fairfield, Georgetown, and Towson -- all provide tests that are concomitant to where the Midshipmen are currently situated competitively and are nice benchmarks for where the program needs/wants to go. These aren't games that will register on the national radar as important to the overall picture of Division I lacrosse, but they are important games in a Midshipmen-centric universe; the rise and fall of teams outside the top five or top 10 in the country is always fluid, and Navy can make their mark with wins in these games.
Quid Pro Quo
March 2: @ Bucknell; March 9: Lafayette; March 16: @ Holy Cross; March 23: v. Colgate; March 30: @ Lehigh; April 13: Army
Here's the good: Navy has a decent opportunity to start 3-0 in what is going to be a super competitive Patriot League.
Here's the bad: Navy could finish the Patriot League season with a 3-3 mark, possibly on the bubble for the Patriot League Tournament.
The finishing stretch -- against arguably the three best teams in the Patriot League in 2013 -- is hard enough on its own, but when you also notice that Navy's game against Maryland is sandwiched between the Lehigh and Army games, and that the Mids date against the Jays comes after what will certainly be an emotional contest against the Black Knights, Navy's finishing run to the season -- starting on March 23rd and ending on April 20 -- is among the most difficult in the country given the host of factors surrounding that month-long stretch. The Mids need to take care of their conference business early in March and hope that they can keep momentum going to survive the end of its season. This isn't an easy way to go out of 2013, but then again, the Navy isn't in the business of doing easy things.