Navy midfielder Kiernan aims to lead by more than example

Face-Off ClassicSeverna ParkUnited States Naval AcademyNCAAProvidence FriarsAnnapolisMark Dixon

Pat Kiernan, Navy's do-it-all long-stick midfielder, plays wing on faceoffs and is a threat to score in transition. He acknowledged, however, that there is one area of his game that needs work: his voice.

"I would definitely say that I've tried to be a lot more vocal and loud on the field," the junior said. "I'd actually consider that to be one of my biggest weaknesses. I'm always trying to stay vocal and stay loud, and I know the coaches are getting on me about that a lot. That's definitely something I need to improve on."

Kiernan leads the Midshipmen (3-5 overall, 1-2 Patriot League) — who will meet No. 16 Colgate (6-2, 1-0) in the opening game of Saturday's Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium — in ground balls (54) and caused turnovers (21). Kiernan has also won 12 of 22 faceoffs (54.5 percent) and scored a goal.

ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said Kiernan might be the best long-stick midfielder in the country behind Maryland's Jesse Bernhardt and Loyola's Scott Ratliff.

"I had the opportunity to officiate Navy's game against Detroit in February, and I just walked off the field thinking that No. 26 can play," said Dixon, a former Johns Hopkins midfielder. "He is very athletic. He's not big. He's not a real huge guy but he has tremendous heart, he has a great stick and he's just very tenacious. Every time there was a ball on the ground, No. 26 was there. I think he's a tremendous long-stick middie. It's tough when you have Bernhardt and Ratliff and then there's everybody else. I think Kiernan has clearly established himself as one of the better long-stick middies in the country."

Navy junior attackman Sam Jones remembered meeting Kiernan at an all-star event in Providence, R.I., the summer before their first year at the academy and coming away with the impression that his future classmate didn't say much. But on the field, it was difficult not to notice Kiernan.

"I can tell you that from the moment I saw him at [the Naval Academy Preparatory School], I thought Pat Kiernan was one of the most phenomenal players I had ever played with," said Jones, an Annapolis native and Severna Park graduate who leads the offense in goals (13) and assists (eight). "He's very, very talented and he's very, very hardworking. You put the combination of those two together, and you get Pat."

After sharing long-stick midfielder duties with Tom Mansfield in 2011, Kiernan became the starter last season and didn't disappoint. Despite sitting out two games because of a broken hand, Kiernan recorded seven goals, three assists, 36 ground balls and 14 caused turnovers.

Among long-poles, only Bryant's Mason Poli (19 goals and six assists), Ratliff (12, 7) and Duke's C.J. Costabile (7, 4) finished with more points than Kiernan, who credited Jones and junior attackman Tucker Hull for actively looking to pass the ball to him.

Coach Rick Sowell said Kiernan's skills on offense may be traced to his roots as an attackman before switching to defense.

"I think that's been a great benefit to him because he understands the mindset of an offensive player," Sowell said. "He has the savvy — if he's coming down and a defenseman is coming towards him — to move the ball or shoot. He certainly hasn't had quite the scoring production that he had this time a year ago, but he's got that scorer's mentality. When he gets into that position, he's not just winging it at the goal like most defensemen do who have never played offense. They just come down and hope it goes in. Pat is shooting. He's not just guessing. So I think that's been a huge benefit to him as a defensive player."

Kiernan calls his goal in last year's 9-6 loss to Army the most memorable of his career. But he said scooping up loose balls is a more satisfying task.

"Going into a game, I always think about ground balls," he said. "That's the No. 1 thing on my mind, just trying to fight for as many ground balls as I can get. The thing about ground balls is you can just go for it. With caused turnovers and goals, it's kind of a chance you take sometimes, and it can turn out bad or it can turn out good. I've got to say that if I can get a goal in transition, it's always a great spark. But for the most part, I have to say that getting a ground ball is most gratifying."

Sowell agreed with Kiernan that the player needs to communicate more on the field.

"You have to be able to communicate on defense, and for Pat, he's a leader by example," Sowell said. "He just goes out and plays his heart out. That's pretty darn good, but there are certain times — and it's not just him — that we would want our guys to communicate. So we've asked him to step up and be vocal when the opportunity is called for, and I think he has."

Kiernan isn't enjoying quite the offensive explosion he experienced last season, and the spotlight has shifted away from him. But Kiernan said he is more concerned with helping Navy position itself for a berth in the Patriot League tournament — and perhaps the NCAA tournament — than he is about accumulating accolades.

"I'm not concerned with the attention at all," he said. "Losing games is what concerns me. All I'm concerned with is winning games. I play my best and I try to do as much as I can so that we can win. I'm not concerned with the attention that comes along with it."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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