TOWSON, Md. — After years of struggling on the offensive side of the ball, Goucher took a major step forward in 2013-14, finishing third in the Landmark Conference with an average of 75.0 points per game.
That progress was reflected in the standings, as the Gophers got to 10 wins overall for the first time since 2004-05 and ended up just one game out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the conference. This year's roster will look to build on that performance, with the first opportunity coming at Division I Howard this Sunday.
"We made a conscious effort to improve our offense," head coach Leonard Trevino said. "I didn't think we were going to be quite as good of a defensive team, we just didn't have a whole lot of size, so we really focused on offense. This year, we're trying to find a better balance between the two."
While leading scorer and Second-Team All-Landmark selection Julian Livingston will not return this season, Goucher's next seven highest point producers will all be back, led by co-captain Alex Noble (Clinton, Md./Surrattsville). The senior guard averaged 12.6 points and finished third in the league with a free throw percentage of 86.1.
Kevin Miles (District Heights, Md./Gwynn Park), who was a top-10 3-point shooter in the league, and Norman Allen II (Bowie, Md./Riverdale Baptist), who averaged 7.6 points per game, will also be back for their junior seasons. The Gophers will have one of their most experienced squads in recent memory, with juniors and seniors making up seven of the 15 spots on the roster.
"We've got good guys coming back," Trevino remarked. "We've had some good kids in the program, but probably not since our championship teams did we feel like our veterans are some of our better players. Some of that experience will help, but I also think some of our new kids are going to be good players right away."
Sophomore forward Chris Outing (New Windsor, N.Y./James I. O'Neill) and junior guard Tucker Canary (Silver Spring, Md./Montgomery Blair) are included among the group of six newcomers. Outing is a transfer from Army while Canary appeared in 31 games over two seasons at Marymount (Va.), and both are expected to contribute from the onset for Goucher.
One area which will need to improve is the team's defensive play. The Gophers allowed a conference-high 80.6 points per game, their highest since joining the Landmark, which neutralized some of the progress made on the offensive front.
"This year's team has the capability to be better defensively," Trevino said. "We're a little bigger, and we're certainly athletic enough. We're going to have to create some points off our defense, but at the same time we don't want to slow down. One of the things we're really focused on this year is trying to make other teams adjust to us rather than the other way around."
Sunday's 6 p.m. matchup at Howard will be the first of several challenging non-conference contests for the program. Goucher will also face off against local rival Towson for the first time in program history on Nov. 26, and Amherst, which reached the D-III Final Four last season, will travel to the Decker Sports & Recreation Center on Jan. 2.
"Part of playing those Division I games is that it's just fun for our guys," Trevino said. "They're games where we really have nothing to lose, and it's good to get a little bit of exposure.
"Amherst actually called us looking to play a game," he added. "That will be a good chance to measure ourselves and see what it takes to be the best at this level. All three of those games should be good experiences for us."
Ultimately, though, success will be measured by the team's placement in the league standings. The Gophers have never reached the Landmark postseason tournament, but they picked up victories over five of the other seven conference teams last year, including a double-overtime win over eventual Landmark runner-up Susquehanna, and Trevino believes the opportunity is there for Goucher to crack into the top four.
"I think it's going to be a real scramble for the last few playoff spots," he said. "I don't know if it is the toughest league in Division III, but there's a lot of travel and there are a lot of different styles of play that teams have to adapt to every night. The teams that are best at handling those differences in playing style are the most likely to find success."
After opening at Howard, Goucher will host Covenant in its home opener at 7:30 p.m. Monday night. The full 2014-15 schedule can be accessed here.