(Photo: Jodi Vosika/ASU Lacrosse)
Only a year removed from reversing a terrible start and running to the national semifinals, Chapman will be looking to take a step in the right direction. It won’t be easy, with the losses piling up, but the Panthers could be dangerous. This is part of an ongoing series during which we will focus on one of the MCLA’s top teams each day, counting down till Christmas to the true “cream of the crop.”
Postseason finish: MCLA Tournament Final Four
Quick season recap: Five games into the season, Chapman was ice cold, with the worst start in program history at 1-4. The lone win had come against a top-10 opponent (Grand Canyon), and all four losses had come versus ranked opponents, but there wasn’t much optimism for a team looking to climb back from its horrible start. All of a sudden, head coach Dallas Hartley flipped the script and the Panthers were on a roll, back to their normal contending selves and more. After the loss to Sonoma State on March 7th, this team wouldn’t suffer a loss until almost a full two months later, in the SLC Tournament’s championship game. That’s a win streak of 13 consecutive games, highlighted by blowout wins over Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara to end out the regular season. And although Chapman did lose to Arizona State in the SLC’s title game, it picked things off right where it had left off in the regular season in the MCLA Tournament, dismantling Northeastern and Colorado State with suffocating defense. In those two games combined, the Panthers’ defense allowed only four total goals. The season would come to an end in the semifinal round, though, with another game against the team’s kryptonite, ASU, who beat Chapman three times over the course of the entire season.
Roster losses: There’s no beating on the bush, this team is losing a lot. It might be retaining a hefty majority of its depth, but some crucial superstars are gone. Four All-Americans and several role-players beyond that have graduated, which is going to leave some holes that need filling. The most crucial loss is that of goalie Warren Nielsen, whose stellar Panther career concludes with a 5.2 career GAA, a .609 save percentage, and 616 total saves; two All-American awards (First Team in 2013, Third Team in 2014); four MCLA Tournament appearances, with his deepest finish coming in his final season. All-American defenseman Zach Nichelman is going to be missed as a big-bodied defender who frequently played against opponent’s top offensive threat. The losses of dynamic attackmen Tyler Ankarlo and Timmy Andrews is also going to sting on the offensive side of things, as a pair that combined for 106 points last season. Andrews led the nation in assists with 49, wrapping up his Chapman career with 105, and Ankarlo was a dangerous goal-scorer in both his junior and senior seasons, tallying a combined 69 goals over that span. Other pieces that will be missed: senior midfielder AJ Rafter (52 career goals) and midfielder Sammy Cemo, whose statistics didn’t boast much but served as glue to the roster, earning the title of captain in an injury-riddled 2014.
Who to watch for: Wesley Greason, sophomore attackman
Greason’s seasonal numbers aren’t anything spectacular (15 goals, 16 assists), but there was a stretch near the end of the 2014 season that he looked unstoppable. In a four-game span, Greason tallied nearly half (14 of 31) of his points on the season, toward the latter part of the regular season. Just as the team was wrapping up regular season play, though, he was hurt in a game against Cal Poly and would miss the remainder of the season. His explosiveness as an offensive threat will make him a danger to teams around the MCLA, but his most important trait is the ability to distribute. With the absence of Timmy Andrews, fellow attackman Regan Kelly, who scored 27 goals last season, will benefit from Greason’s passing vision. With an offense that’s losing crucial pieces, it will be big for Greason to stand out and carry the transition into the next crop of Chapman stars.
They’re dangerous if the rising starlets on the offense can effectively stop the bleeding of the losses. There are some very dangerous players who had quality campaigns just a year ago. Beyond Greason, there’s midfielder Dave Apruzzese (33 points in 2014), the aforementioned Kelly, and even deeper on the roster is a pair of midfielders who contribute as the team’s two face-off representatives, Wyatt Miller and Simon Jenkin. The two each had over 156 draws in the face-off X and combined for 24 points as well. The pieces are in place, and if at least a couple of these role players from 2014 take strides to become stars in 2015, the offense’s graduated players might soon have their legacies lived up to.
Achilles’ heel: Defensive lacking. An overhaul of one of the league’s most dangerous defenses (best exemplified by its back-to-back stifling performances in the MCLA Tournament) could really change the usual gameplan for the Panthers. The departure of Nielsen and Nichelson will leave the burden of the defensive load on the shoulders of Nicky Mullen, who was a First-Team All-American in his freshman year last season. If there’s anyone who can handle that level of pressure, though, it’s Mullen – built like a tank, at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, and still able to shut down some of the best scorers in the league. However, beyond Mullen it’ll be the formidable and experienced Zach Dutra starting at defenseman along with a new starting addition to the defensive core, and a brand new goalie in front of the net. This is going to naturally bring about some question marks, but if the answers are there, this season could easily turn into another smashing success for the perennial contenders.
Trey Lanthier is a lacrosse reporter and editor at WCSN, as well as a contributor for Inside Lacrosse. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @TreyLanthier.