Blogs and Commentary

posted 02.25.2013 at 10.00 a.m. by Jac Coyne

NCAA Division II Notebook

When Andrew Conley walked into the office, Florida Tech head coach Ryan McAleavey wasn't sure what was going on. Conley, a sophomore attackman for the Panthers, was distraught. One of his cousins was one of the "Newtown 20" — a victim of the Dec. 14 incident that left numerous schoolchildren dead in Newtown, Conn.

Conley's cousin was a six-year-old first-grader.

"We sat down and we talked, and he wanted to know if we could do something," said McAleavey. "Without hesitation, we jumped all over it."

McAleavey had received a blast email from Jim Fritz, the head coach at Queens (N.C.) saying that memorial stickers — made up of the Newtown town seal and a black ribbon — were available since Fritz had a player on his team from Newtown who wanted to do something. The Panthers added the sticker to their helmets, along with the initials of Conley's cousin.

For Florida Tech, Conley's plight has been a motivator of sorts as the team has dedicated its season to his cousin, Allison Wyatt.

"The night before our first game with St. Leo, when we were going over our final game plan, my assistant, Tim King, and I spoke about what it means to dedicate a season and to be playing for somebody," McAleavey said. "It was an emotional moment. Once we showed our emotion, I think the kids really got it — what this really means to the family, Andrew and to all of us."

Their heart was in the right place, but dedicating a season doesn't always pay off in wins, especially for a second year program coming off a 2-12 inaugural campaign.

Or does it?

In the season-opener against Deep South Conference foe Saint Leo — a team that thumped Tech by nine goals last year — the Panthers trailed by three in the second quarter. It looked like business as usual for a team that was trying to find itself, but McAleavey saw something different in his players.

"There was a timeout, and the guys starting using it as a rallying cry," McAleavey said of Conley's cousin. "They weren't going to let Andrew down and the family down. We're doing it for her. We pumped in four straight goals right after that."

The Panthers went on to beat Saint Leo 16-15, registering their first-ever conference win. They followed up that up with another league game, this time against Rollins — a team that defeated Florida Tech, 15-7 in 2012. Again, it was the Panthers finishing on top, 9-5, raising their record to 2-0.

"They are motivated," said McAleavey after the Rollins win. "They're playing together and they're doing it for each other and for this family. When we talked about it to the team, we said, 'No matter what we do, we'll never be able to bring her back, but at least by winning games we might be able to bring a smile to the family's face.' They really took that to heart. I'll tell you, they're fighting."

The ride ended last Wednesday in a loss to DSC foe Tampa, 11-7, but there were positives. Tech scored just two goals against the Spartans last year. Lindenwood came in on Sunday and beat the Panthers, as well, evening the record at 2-2.

The team will keep fighting, for the memory of Conley's cousin, but also to put this young program on the map. McAleavey is optimistic about the future, especially after what he saw from his second recruiting class when they arrived on campus.

"On the first day of orientation, instead of those guys hanging out and getting to know each other, the majority of them were in the weight room working out," McAleavey said. "The returning players got wind of that and they started working out. Now we have the whole team in the weight room in the second day of classes. Before I could even meet with them, they are taking the initiative and looking forward to the goals that we're setting."

McAleavey admits that the goals are fluid at this point, especially in light of the relatively strong start. Put into a greater perspective, Florida Tech has met the goal that any team would be proud of – bringing a smile, however briefly, to the heartbroken.

- As was noted last week, NYIT will be working with a short roster this year, but it didn't seem to be a problem in the Bears opener, a 12-11 victory over No. 6 Seton Hill. Luke Miller, who scored four goals and dished out two assists, proved he was back at full strength after missing a good chunk of last year.

"Luke proved that he is back from his injury," said NYIT head coach Bill Dunn. "His play quarterbacking our offense was a big part of the win. The play of our midfielders — Ryan Brunet, A.P Nist and Mike Ross — was a turning point, keeping the Seton Hill midfielders from maintaining ball control for periods of time in the second half."

- Limestone won the rematch with Dowling, 10-7. The Saints have a break before back-to-back games with Merrimack and Le Moyne...interesting start out West. Dominican (Calif.), which was once Notre Dame de Namur's little brother in the Golden State D-II scene, obliterated Notre Dame de Namur, 18-3. The Brothers Bernstein — freshman Cody (3g, 4a) and sophomore Jake (2g, 4a) — lit up the Argos for a combined five goals and eight assists...staying out West, Pace started out 2-0 with victories over Adams State and Colorado Mesa...congrats to Ohio Valley head coach Corey Struss, who won his first game with the Fight Scots, a 20-1 win over Franciscan...Chris Button had six goals and an assist as No. 3 Le Moyne rocked No. 9 Chestnut Hill, 16-3...LIU Post is finding its legs. They defeated a good Saint Rose team on Sunday, rolling to a 15-6 triumph. Ryan Slane with five goals for the Pioneers.

- Hayden Kirk (Pfeiffer), Riley Loewen (Limestone), Corey Lunney (Merrimack), Tor Reinholdt (Limestone) and Brian Scheetz (Mercyhurst) made the Tewaaraton Award watch list...Joe Roy, Lindenwood's 6-foot-8 attackman, had a solid weekend. In the Lions' three games, he finished with seven goals and an assist. Lindenwood went 2-1 on their Florida swing, and were one bad quarter against Florida Southern from a sweep...Mount Olive got the best of their old coach on Sunday. Mike Lawson, who recruited may of the Spartan players before take in the Wingate job, saw his former team take it to his current outfit, 13-9.