Blogs and Commentary

posted 02.25.2013 at 10.01 a.m. by Jac Coyne

NCAA Division III Notebook

Washington College reemerged on the national scene last year, making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament in four years. Despite the success, the Shoremen had found their white whale as their season was bookended by losses to Goucher. Naturally, with this season starting again with the Gophers, there was a sense of unfinished business.

"Of course we were thinking about last year and of course that doesn't settle with us, but it's a different year and they have almost a completely new team," said Washington College head coach Jeff Shirk.

One of the constants for Goucher is senior goalie Connor Mishaw. He made 14 saves in the season-opening 8-6 win over WAC last year and followed that up with a 15-stop effort in the Gophers' 5-4 win in the first round of tournament. Because of the past success, Mishaw was a marked man on Saturday.

"To be very honest with you, their goalie was one the guy we kind of keyed on if we did want a revenge factor because, in my opinion, the reason we lost both of those games was because of Connor," Shirk said. "We definitely tried to get our guys excited about facing him because he is such a good goalie. We didn't dwell on it, but we definitely used that angle that he was the one guy who beat us last year, so we wanted to get to him early this year."

The Shoremen were successful, scoring eight goals in the first quarter on their way to a comfortable 16-8 win over Goucher.

Along with finally beating the Gophers, there was something else different about this first game for Washington College. Five different players scored in the opening frame and nine players tallied at least one goal in the contest. This is a departure from last year when the Shoremen were top heavy, relying on Bennett Cord — who was responsible for nearly a quarter of WAC's points — to carry the load.

"The beauty of it is we're very unselfish," Shirk said. "Bennett has no issues taking the backseat when teams key on him because it opens the door for other players. I don't know what he had at the end of the day — he had at least a couple of goals — but he was letting other guys take advantage of the fact that Goucher was keying on him. [Goucher] realized they had to make some adjustments and key on some other guys, and that's when Bennett took advantage. It's a really unselfish approach and I think it's going to help us."

Perhaps the biggest learning moment in the opener was for Shirk, who started to get unnerved when the Shoremen's 8-3 first-quarter lead was narrowed to 9-7 midway through the third quarter. He brought his players over and saw that he was the only one worried about the situation.

"The thing that I learned is I need to relax a little bit because it's easy for me to get jammed up and worry about stuff, but at the end of the day, the guys just want to go out and play," said Shirk, who watched his team score the next six goals. "If we can get them prepared, they are not going to be too high or too low, they are just going to do their thing. I was impressed with their demeanor when Goucher started coming back and all of a sudden it's a two-goal game. No one got flustered. It told me that it's a pretty laid-back group. We want to get them prepared and keep them focused, but on game day we're going to let them play."

- It may not have been on some beach in Daytona, Jamaica or Cancun, but this past week will be a spring break trip that the Washington & Lee players never forget. The Generals went on the road and knocked off No. 1 Salisbury on Wednesday and then beat No. 10 Denison, both by a goal and the former in double overtime. There are a lot of adjectives to describe the accomplishment, but impressive seems to be the best one.

"What impressed me the most about our guys' ability to win these last two games was their resolve, their determination and their courage," said W&L head man Gene McCabe. "Just to go along with that, it was a team effort through and through. It wasn't pretty in either game, but I've watched them grow and come closer together through this process and through this week."

The wins were, well, impressive, but perhaps more so was the calmness the Generals showed in two scenarios that were basically next-goal-wins.

"When you have a seasoned, veteran group of players and the middle-classmen and the underclassmen have some good game experience under their belt, I think it helps a lot," McCabe said. "It helps with the composure and poise that you need to win those games at the end. I also give a lot of credit to my coaching staff because we're just focusing on what needs to be done and what's next, as opposed to getting wrapped up in the emotion of the situation. That has allowed us to be better coaches and teachers in those moments."

As coaches always do, McCabe and his staff were quick to re-ground the players, especially since the calendar hasn't even flipped to March yet.

"I told them how proud I was of them and that it was a big deal for them to beat Salisbury and Denison on the road in the same week," McCabe said. "I also told them that as great as these wins were, and they know this, we have a lot of improvements to make. There were a lot of things we didn't do well today and didn't do well in the Salisbury game. It doesn't get easier from here and our guys know that. We've got to go up this week to Washington College and then home the following weekend against a tough F&M team. I just challenged our guys to come ready to work on Tuesday."

The victories could have long-lasting effects, especially on Selection Sunday, but the spring break trip could have secondary benefits. W&L did not return to campus after the Salisbury game, instead heading to Pittsburgh for a couple of days of practice. Then it was off to Granville, Ohio, for another day of practice before game day. It was a lot of bus times and four hotels in five days, bonding these players in a way no sunny vacation could.

"It was very worthwhile," McCabe said. "When you get a bunch of guys off campus and away from academics for a week, you get a chance to get on the road and spend a lot of time together. It definitely helps the team chemistry and helps them get closer. That was one of the goals of the trip. We just wanted to make it a little bit of adventure and bring the team closer together. And it worked."

- With Washington & Lee's hot start and Salisbury early struggles, Stevenson's wins over Nazareth and Hampden-Sydney have been overshadowed a little bit. Neither victory came against a ranked team, but Mustang head coach Paul Cantabene likes what he has seen so far.

"I feel after two games that we are doing well," he said. "I thought we beat two pretty good teams that should have great years and have two different styles. Naz is going to be very good by year's end. We are doing well on offense, but we need to shoot the ball better. We are getting a lot of quality shots. Defensively we played much better against Hampden-Sydney, but we need to clear the ball better at times."

Stevenson has been operating without the services of sophomore attackman Steven Banick, who led the Mustangs in points last year as a frosh. Banick has a knee injury and Cantabene is unsure when — or if — he'll be back, but he'll be reevaluated in the next two weeks. On the bright side, senior middie Nick Rossi, who was fifth on the team in scoring in '12, is expected to be back in uniform this weekend against Western New England, according to Cantabene.

- There's a long way to go in the Pool B race, but it was a good start to the campaign for Whittier. The wins over Morrisville State and Southwestern may not resonate during selection time, but the rout of 17-6 rout of Oneonta — a team that qualified for the SUNYAC tourney last year — should help.

"Our guys are playing very well right now and I'd attribute that to a combination of our players buying in to our offensive philosophy as well as having a sound understanding of creating good offensive flow based on what the defense is giving them," said Whittier head coach Brian Kelly. "We have a very box-lacrosse flavored philosophy that is predicated on rapid ball and player movement, unselfishness and reading the defense. The guys are really getting it and that is the biggest reason we are finding success. Honestly, not one particular player is standing out, and it's obvious by our point distribution. It's been a total collective effort. A huge factor, while not directly related to the offensive system, is the play of freshman faceoff guy Scott Pescheret. He's won over 60 percent of his faceoffs thus far and is allowing us to play a lot of offense. He's going to be a special faceoff guy."

- Congrats to Bridgewater (Va.) and head coach Mic Grant for winning the first game in program history, an 8-4 victory over Transylvania...same to Wilmington (Ohio) and coach Domenic Marzano, who started their program with an 8-6 win over DePauw...not only did Cabrini's Corey Elmer go for nine points (4g, 5a) against Haverford, but he wins the "Online Mug Shot of the Week"...kind of went under the radar last week, but Centenary (La.) played the first-ever varsity lacrosse game in Louisiana, which ended up being a 16-2 loss to Millsaps...Roanoke's Richard Lachlan scored six goals in the Maroons 13-5 victory over Kenyon.

Salisbury managed to snap its two-game skid by beating Widener, 7-5, but it wasn't pretty...speaking of not pretty, Lynchburg grinded out a 6-4 win over Franklin & Marshall...we cracked the 30-goal barrier on Saturday with Albion's 31-0 victory over Defiance...congrats to Benedictine (Ill.) and head coach Jason Farrell for winning the first game in program history, a 13-1 win over Calvin...Doug Sage picked up a win in his coaching debut as Scranton knocked of Farmingdale did Daniel Usaj at Washington & Jefferson...Ian Schmid scored six goals and set up three others as Lebanon Valley routed Randolph-Macon, 20-4...Ryan Clarke (Salisbury), Joe Lisicky (Lynchburg), Sam Ozycz (Endicott), Brandon Palladino (Dickinson), Bobby Thorp (Cabrini) and Jimmy van de Veerdonk (Oneonta) all made the Tewaaraton Award watch list.