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SJU's Levi Anderson.

Veteran SJU Overcomes 'Inexperienced Mistakes' in 5-Game Win Streak

March 29, 2024
Patrick Stevens
Atlantic 10

Taylor Wray wasn’t alarmed when Saint Joseph’s lost its first two games to Boston University and Duke. Sure, the Hawks might have won with more precise play in their opener, but there was nothing that suggested a massive overhaul was needed.

But as he watched a 15-7 loss to Towson unfold on Feb. 23 and then watched video of the thrashing on Hawk Hill, he couldn’t quite tell what his team was doing. A group that was always going to be among the oldest offenses in the country looked like anything but.

“I felt like we were making inexperienced mistakes,” Wray said. “If I had the answer to it, I’d write a book and be a rich man. I think it took us calling them out a little bit and saying, ‘We need you to do more. You don’t need me to hold your hand through every scenario anymore. You guys have been here for four or five years and many of you have been starting for that time. You should be the ones taking control of some of these situations and momentum swings during the game.’ I think those guys took that to heart.”

It resonated enough that Saint Joseph’s (5-3) rattled off five consecutive victories entering its Atlantic 10 opener against High Point on Saturday. The Hawks scored 15 goals in comfortable defeats of Air Force, Drexel and St. John’s, then pounced early in a 12-7 upset of Penn at Franklin Field.

Last week’s non-conference finale required a bit more work, but Saint Joseph’s still collected a 13-12 overtime triumph at Providence.

“Not that we did a major overhaul; we definitely spent some time asking ourselves some difficult questions and figuring out if we’re playing guys in the right spot and if that’s what we needed to do there,” Wray said. “Our lineup is the same guys, but they’re in different spots than they were over the first three games of the year, and I think that’s settled us down a little bit. We didn’t say we had to do a whole lot differently. We just had to do it better.”

Longtime lineup mainstays Carter Page (23 goals), Matt Bohmer (16 goals, six assists) and Levi Anderson (13 goals, nine assists) have been productive, as has former Lenoir-Rhyne star Toron Eccleston (17 goals, four assists). The graduate transfer, who helped the Bears win their first Division II national title last year, has been a steadying and a versatile influence for the Hawks.

Saint Joseph’s has also seen progress in solving its most obvious question coming into the season: Faceoff play. The graduation of Zach Cole meant the Hawks probably weren’t going to finish second nationally in faceoff percentage like in 2023.

They sit 48th nationally entering the weekend, though their 46.5 percent effort rises to just a tick over 50 percent when an understandably rough day against Duke star Jake Naso is removed from the equation. Gavin Tygh, who backed up Petey LaSalla for two years at Virginia and Luke Wierman for two seasons at Maryland, sits at 48.3 percent but is coming off a 22 of 29 day against Providence.

“He’s kind of hitting his stride,” Wray said. “You look at Gavin’s career, and he didn’t take a lot of in-game faceoffs over the course of his career but was a very good No. 2 option and was an excellent player coming out of high school. Now that he’s taking the large share of the faceoffs, he’s starting to get himself into a rhythm.”

The same could be said for the Hawks, who have helped offset Cole’s loss with improved wing play and a greater emphasis on the riding game. And, of course, the offense is playing with greater efficiency as well.

They head into A-10 play tied for the fourth-longest winning streak in the country and look to build on last year, when they went undefeated in the league’s first regular season before a loss to High Point in the conference semifinals.

“We’re looking at it saying to ourselves the second season is here,” Wray said. “These first eight games of the season have consequence, but they don’t necessarily have a direct impact on our ability to play in the conference tournament, and now the games do have a specific postseason consequence.”