‘We’re not scared of fail­ure’

Led by of­fense, Mids re­turn to Pa­triot League tour­ney

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Ed­ward Lee

The Navy men’s soc­cer team has ce­mented its first berth in the Pa­triot League tour­na­ment since 2014, and af­ter sev­eral try­ing sea­sons, ju­nior for­ward Nicko West wel­comes the achieve­ment.

“It is re­ally nice know­ing that be­cause the last two years have been dif­fi­cult,” he said, re­fer­ring to records of 2-13-2 over­all and 0-7-2 in the con­fer­ence in 2017 and 5-11-1 and 4-5-0 in 2018. “We’ve had los­ing records, and we were al­ways re­ally close to be­ing where we wanted to be, but we were al­ways a young team or there were so many ad­just­ments that we needed to make. This year, you can see our style of play re­ally come to­gether, and it’s been re­ally ben­e­fi­cial for us this year.”

The Mid­ship­men (12-3-1, 5-3-1 Pa­triot League) beat Col­gate 1-0 on Wed­nes­day night to end a three-game los­ing streak and se­cure the No. 3 seed in the con­fer­ence tour­na­ment. They’ll host No. 6 seed Buck­nell (5-6-7, 2-2-5) in a quar­ter­fi­nal on Satur­day at 1 p.m. at the Glenn Warner Soc­cer Fa­cil­ity in An­napo­lis.

No. 4 seed Lafayette (8-6-4, 4-3-2) will host No. 5 seed Col­gate (6-8-4, 4-4-1) on Satur­day at 3 p.m. The semi­fi­nals be­gin Tues­day, with top seed Le­high (11-4-3, 6-0-3) host­ing the low­est re­main­ing seed at 6 p.m. and No. 2 seed Loyola Mary­land (10-7-1, 7-2-0) host­ing the high­est re­main

ing seed at 7 p.m. The cham­pi­onship game will be hosted by the high­est re­main­ing seed Nov. 16.

Navy’s en­try into the tour­na­ment has been built on a sud­denly po­tent of­fense. That unit fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son ranked third in the con­fer­ence in scor­ing at 1.6 goals per game, the academy’s high­est rate since the 2012 squad av­er­aged 1.9 goals. The team’s 1.5 as­sists per game are its high­est since the 2014 group av­er­aged 1.8.

The Mid­ship­men are the only team in the league with two play­ers ranked in the Top 4 in points per game in for­wards Ja­cob Wil­liams (third with1.1) and Nicko West (tied for fourth with 1.0) and have joined the Greyhounds as the only team with two play­ers in the Top 4 in goals per game (Wil­liams and West tied for fourth with 0.4). Coach Tim O’Dono­hue does not mince words about their value to the of­fense.

“They’re our guys up top, and we kind of live and die with them,” he said. “We’re suc­cess­ful when we’re fin­ish­ing games and clos­ing games and those guys are do­ing well. When we’re fall­ing a lit­tle short, it’s a lot of pres­sure on those guys. So they’re a huge part of what we’re do­ing.”

Wil­liams, a 5-foot-7, 150-pound sopho­more who grew up in Millersvil­le and grad­u­ated from Old Mill, leads Navy in goals with seven and points with 18, and his four as­sists rank se­cond to se­nior de­fender Diego Man­rique’s five. But his out­put is not ter­ri­bly sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing Wil­liams scored eight goals a year ago.

Af­ter to­tal­ing four goals, one as­sist and nine points in 26 games (in­clud­ing two starts) in his first two sea­sons, West has seven goals, two as­sists and 16 points this fall.

The 6-foot, 180-pound ju­nior said his morale got a boost when he scored two goals and as­sisted on an­other in last year’s 4-1 vic­tory at Buck­nell in the sea­son fi­nale. He then took ad­van­tage of go­ing to sum­mer school in An­napo­lis to work with Wil­liams and study film with as­sis­tant coach Mark Ris­bridger.

“I didn’t play as much as I wanted to,” he said, cit­ing ap­pear­ances in 10 games but zero starts. “So in the off­sea­son, I pushed my­self, got in the weight room, got touches off the field, got my con­di­tion­ing. That trans­lated to on-the­field. I just got more con­fi­dent.”

Wil­liams said he has seen West re­fine his abil­ity to fin­ish scor­ing chances.

“Ev­ery striker can get a mil­lion op­por­tu­ni­ties in the world, but a lot of them can’t re­ally put the ball in the back of the net,” he said. “I think that’s what Nicko has worked on the most, just be­ing calm over the ball and plac­ing it right in the back of the net and fig­ur­ing out that ev­ery shot does not have to be a pow­er­house kick. I think that’s re­ally helped him ex­e­cut­ing and com­ing up big for us in these games.”

West, who scored six goals and added two as­sists dur­ing a six-game stretch, said he has de­vel­oped a nice rap­port with Wil­liams, whose prow­ess with the ball has opened op­por­tu­ni­ties for West and other team­mates.

“He draws a lot of play­ers in off the drib­ble,” West said. “He makes it re­ally easy for me to open up some space and then run in from be­hind. So I feel like our styles of play com­ple­ment each other pretty well.”

O’Dono­hue said Wil­liams and West have thrived in a sys­tem in which the for­wards are con­sis­tently test­ing op­pos­ing de­fenses.

“We’ve played two for­wards up top, which I think has been help­ful to have two guys press­ing and two guys at­tack­ing,” he said. “They’re threats ev­ery time they go out there.”

O’Dono­hue said op­po­nents have be­gun to dou­ble- and triple-team Wil­liams to force him to give up pos­ses­sion and are heav­ily shad­ow­ing West. West said he and Wil­liams are com­fort­able play­ing against that strat­egy.

“When teams mark Ja­cob or me, it makes a lot of space for guys like Diego Man­rique and [sopho­more for­ward] Joe Alex and [ ju­nior de­fender/mid­fielder] Toni Ade­wole and [ ju­nior mid­fielder/ for­ward] Wy­att Mil­lard to get free and cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for them­selves,” he said. “They’re phe­nom­e­nal play­ers, and they can get be­hind. So when teams play us dif­fer­ently, it just opens up space for guys that are just as dan­ger­ous or even more dan­ger­ous on our team.”

O’Dono­hue con­ceded that the team is suc­cess­ful when Wil­liams and West are get­ting chances and tak­ing ad­van­tage of those op­por­tu­ni­ties. That would seem to place a lot of pres­sure on the duo to score, but Wil­liams said they em­brace the chal­lenge.

“There’s al­ways pres­sure, es­pe­cially when you’re the front guys,” he said. “The team looks to you to put the ball in the back of the net to get us up and win those games. I don’t think we’re scared of the pres­sure be­cause at the end of the day, we have nine, eight guys be­hind us who are look­ing at us and have our backs. We’re not scared of fail­ure, and they’re not scared of us to fail, and they count on us. I think that gives us pride to carry through and fin­ish when it counts.”

“This year, you can see our style of play re­ally come to­gether.”

DEB­BIE LATTA/BALTIMORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

Navy’s Matt Nocita leaps to con­nect with the ball.

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