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March 7, 2010

Making Sense: Delivering a Message

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

The Michigan coaching staff sent their players a strong message by suspending six of them, including five seniors, for the BYU game on Saturday. The Wolverines delivered a memo to the rest of the MCLA by winning anyway.

In the grand scheme of things, it was a minor infraction - one that might have been handled by other programs with some extra wind sprints or picking up balls after practice. There were no state or federal laws broken. There were no alcohol or drugs involved. It was just a small mistake made by college-aged kids.

But the six Michigan players did break a team rule, which mandated all of them were suspended for Saturday night's contest against Brigham Young. With the game against the Cougars always circled on the calendar, it was a tough pill to swallow for the five seniors who would likely never suit up against BYU again. As one can imagine, they weren't happy about it.

That was the intent.

"If you're doling out punishments that are supposed to be life lessons and the players don't mind the punishment, you're not really teaching them anything," said John Paul, Michigan's head coach.

Missing the six players, which won't be named here because they've already served their time (although it's certainly not a secret), didn't matter as the Wolverines rallied to defeat BYU, 13-9. Still, the action by the Michigan coaching staff sent two clear messages.

The first was to their team.

Following the rules is a constant theme for Michigan, mostly because Paul feels that the 2007 team - the one that was a third seed in the MCLA tournament and was bounced by a 14th seed in the first round - was hamstrung by a lack of discipline.

He vowed he would not let that happen again, and the results have been obvious: two national titles and a 43-game winning streak.

The suspensions, four of which were given to key offensive players who amassed 72 goals and 59 assists last year, made it clear that no one was above the law.

"We set a course three years ago that this team is all about commitment and accountability," said Paul. "We're going to teach that lesson. That's what we're about more than winning. Really. We're going to do what we can to keep the team and guys along that course and that maturation process."

The decision wasn't without danger. The potential was there that if Michigan took the loss to BYU and snapped the streak, the team would become dispirited and potentially splinter in the face of a mildly selfish act. Some of the players might view the punishment as a needless overreaction to a minor infraction.

"Did it have that risk? I think it did, but I also think our team is way stronger than that. We talk to our team constantly about handling adversity. We throw them into situations in practice where they have to handle it. We talk all the time about how things are going to come up that we'll have to deal with. Really negative things, like injuries to key players or losing a game. You have to be prepared for that and handle it. Because we stress that so much, the whole team is a little bit more prepared to confront it."

To their credit, the six transgressors took their punishment like men.

"They were our number one cheerleaders; they were great," said Paul. "Some of those guys are natural leaders who just slipped up one time. They led us into the game and they sang The Victors after we won it. As far as we're concerned, it's done. We're back together and we'll move on."

The other message went out to rest of the league.

The memo basically stated that the Wolverines can add a degree of difficulty component when they play Top 10 programs and the outcome remains inevitable.

If you took away the equivalent six players from any other lacrosse program - MCLA or otherwise - that team would be hard-pressed to defeat any opponent, never mind a quasi-contender like Brigham Young. All Michigan does is shuffle some players around the field and up the depth chart and the streak continues.

You can bet that directive is being heard from Orange County to Fort Collins to Tallahassee.

"It doesn't really matter to me," said Paul of sending a message. "I know what kind of program we have and I think most people out there do, too. Whoever we have on the field, there is no one who is going to take us lightly. We have come to the point where we don't expect to lose a game."

Game Balls
Alex Cervasio, Attack, Florida
Trailing by two goals with a minute left in regulation against No. 8 Cal Poly, Cervasio struck for a pair of goals, including one with eight ticks remaining to send the game into overtime where the No. 13 Gators eventually won it.

Michelle Cook, Attack, Nazareth
Cook scored four goals and set up two others, helping the Golden Flyers hammer No. 15 William Smith, 18-10. The junior scored three of her goals in the second half, helping Nazareth turn an 8-5 halftime lead into an eight-goal triumph.

Jamie Goldberg, Attack, Michigan
With only two attackmen left on the roster after the above-mentioned suspensions, Goldberg - a middie by trade - was bumped to the front row with Trevor Yealy and Tom Paras against No. 6 BYU. The senior responded with a pair of goals, both coming in the pivotal 6-0 Michigan run that turned a 3-0 deficit to the Cougars into a 6-3 lead the Wolverines would never lose.

Harry Johnson, Middie, St. Lawrence
If the Saints were going to spring the upset on Haverford, one of the key elements was controlling the face-off X and Johnson came through. The junior won 10-of-16 draws during the 8-6 SLU victory, including a 4-for-6 performance in the pivotal fourth quarter. One of the biggest holes for Mike Mahoney was finding a replacement for First Team All-American face-off man P.J. Santora and, for a day, Johnson proved up to the task.

Tim Kurpis, Defense, Gettysburg
Even though he was surrounded by top drawer defensive talent like Tommy Kehoe and Yanni Peary, Tim Kurpis watched Cortland wear down the Bullets last year in the national championship game. On Saturday, it was Kurpis, a senior, who led the defensive unit to one of the more impressive defensive displays against a high-end opponent. Gettysburg's poles and d-mids, anchored by Kurpis, made life uncomfortable for the Red Dragons, allowing goalie John LeClerc the chance to sweep away the easy stuff in the 7-5 win.

Alyssa Pigott, Attack, Stevens
Pigott, a senior, fed Christine Smith with 24 seconds left in the first overtime period to send the game against Union into double OT. In the second extra frame, she buried the game-winner just over a minute in to give the Ducks the important, 11-10 non-conference victory. Pigott ended with three goals and three assists, and gave Stevens that signature win it lacked last year when it was left off the tournament bracket.

Lauren Sawyer, Attack, Keene State
Sawyer factored in on two-thirds of the Owls goals in a 9-8 upset of Division II St. Michael's. The junior scored one goal and set up five others, giving Keene State a 1-0 start to the season.

Scott Sutton, Middie, Lebanon Valley
The Dutchmen (re)started their program's existence with a victory, handing fellow start-up team Mt. St. Mary (N.Y.) a 14-7 loss in Elizabethtown and Sutton was a big factor. The freshman finished with five goals and an assist, with four of the goals coming in the first half when Leb Valley built a 6-2 lead that would never be threatened.

Games on Tap
No. 13 Florida (4-0) at No. 20 UC Santa Barbara (4-3), 7 p.m. PT, Monday
Florida defeating Cal Poly was one of the biggest MCLA surprises for me. Granted, they needed a bit of miracle - two goals in less than a minute to send it into overtime - but a win is a win, especially on the road against a Top 10 team. That will be gold when the committee is discussing at-larges. The Gators can lose a lot of momentum, and hand over their at-large cred to UCSB, if the Gauchos spring an upset here, however.

No. 18 Ohio Wesleyan (2-0) at No. 10 Washington & Lee (5-0), 7 p.m., Tuesday
The Battling Bishops won't have played in 10 days since their then-surprising defeat of Lynchburg, so we'll have to see whether they are helped by the rest or hurt by the rust. W&L is coming off a dominant defensive effort against Washington College, but OWU probably has a more experienced attack unit than the Shoremen. The General offense will have to be more prolific or there could be another upset brewing for the Bishops.

No. 8 Tennessee Wesleyan (5-0) at Clemson (4-2), 7 p.m., Tuesday
I'll be posting a story in the next day or so about the Tennessee Wesleyan team, so we'll tease that a little bit by placing the Bulldogs in the line-up. Clemson is a halfway decent Division I program, so if D-II TWC knocks off the Tigers, the Bulldogs will inch a little closer to being an official second division title contender.

No. 1 Cortland (1-1) vs. No. 4 Salisbury (4-0), 4 p.m. (at Haverford), Wednesday
I'm not sure if I have to sell this one too much.

No. 12 Ithaca (0-1) at Union (1-1), 4 p.m., Thursday
The Bombers still have a number to the left of their name because this 3,500-word behemoth is written on Sunday evening, but there's a pretty good chance there won't be when the rankings come out on Monday morning. This game is intriguing because whichever team loses will be so far behind the pack in Pool C consideration as to be almost in the ‘AQ-or-bust' realm. That means these guys will be playing for keeps. Definitely worth the watch if you're in the scenic Schenectady area on Hump Day.

W: No. 10 Catholic (1-1) vs. No. 2 Gettysburg (2-0), 10 a.m. CT (at San Antonio), Thursday
This contest will lose a little bit of steam if the injury suffered by LM's Preseason Player of the Year Kate Robinson is serious. The Cardinals do have some talent besides Robinson, but they'd be paddling upstream without her against the Bullets. We'll keep our fingers crossed for her.

No. 5 Florida State (7-1) at No. 8 Cal Poly (4-2), 7 p.m. PT, Friday
This is an incredibly important game for the Mustangs. If they lose this one, they'll be living in the bubble world if they can't win the WCLL automatic qualifier.

No. 3 Simon Fraser (0-2) at No. 1 Michigan (3-0), 7 p.m., Friday
It's not desirable to be looking for your first win against the best team in the land. A spanking here and it could be light's out for Fraser.

W: RIT (2-0) at No. 20 Buffalo State (0-0), 4 p.m., Friday
I've been riding the Buffalo State bandwagon for two years and I'm not about to get off now. While it's true that Meg Stevens wants nothing to do with me - each time I've called her over the past two seasons, the Bengals lost their next game - but I'll ride way in the back of the wagon. RIT poses a nice test as the Tigers will be in the mix in the Empire 8 this season. Buff State plays a much stiffer schedule this year - Middlebury, Tufts and Williams are all on the slate - so a strong start would build some confidence.

The Power Fives
Men's Division III
1. Gettysburg (4-0) - They've got to be tops, right?
2. Stevenson (4-0) - Workmanlike effort against WNEC impresses.
3. Cortland (1-1) - Doesn't get any easier Wednesday.
4. Salisbury (4-0) - We'll see what the Gulls are about on Wednesday.
5. Roanoke (5-0) - The Cabrini win showed me something.

Women's Division III
1. Franklin & Marshall (1-0) - Yikes. I was expecting a close game with W&L.
2. Salisbury (5-0) - Take blowout win over Catholic with a grain of salt.
3. Gettysburg (2-0) - Middlebury on March 23 might be first real test.
4. Hamilton (0-0) - Oneonta State will actually be a nice first test.
5. TCNJ (0-0) - Opener postponed, Lions finally open this Friday. Maybe.

MCLA Division I
1. Michigan (3-0) - Beating a Top 10 program with five starters out? Scary.
2. Chapman (6-0) - Panthers showed balance against Seminoles.
3. Colorado State (4-0) - Dominating performance against Simon Fraser.
4. Minnesota-Duluth (5-0) - The Bulldogs are moving into the thick of their schedule.
5. Florida State (7-1) - ‘Noles showed up a half late to the Chapman game.

MCLA Division II
1. St. Thomas (1-0) - Not sure if we learned much from the Eau Claire game.
2. Dayton (2-0) - The Flyers wins don't seem that impressive.
3. Utah Valley (3-1) - Considering their schedule, they have a beef to be No. 1.
4. Davenport (5-0) - Underranked? Possibly, but we'll find out for sure this week.
5. St. John's (3-0) - Dayton and Davenport both await this weekend.

Slides & Rides
MD3 Notes
- It's time to take a closer look at what this Gettysburg team has on the docket the rest of the way. After a tune-up against Merchant Marine, the Bullets will face Haverford and Cabrini in the space of four days - no easy task, but certainly nothing Gettysburg can't handle. Overall, the Centennial looks down this year. There are questions about the Black Squirrels after the St. Lawrence loss and the rest of the league is a step slow. The one huge game left is Salisbury on March 27. The Bullets have gone from a team with a lot of question marks to one that could flirt with a perfect record.

- I wrote off St. Lawrence in my weekly pick'em contest and, sure enough, they post the clutch win against Haverford on the Island. The win is a testament that you have to start with defense. Mike Mahoney makes it a priorty, as he told me earlier this year for a Men's Scoop.

"You'd like opportunity to be explosive offensively and to run-and-gun a little bit and we try to take advantage of those situations, but at the same time if we can hold our opponents in that six-to-eight goal range, which is where we've been the last few years, each time you go out there you give yourself a chance to win even if offensively you're not clicking on all cylinders that particular day," said Mahoney. "We do make it a focus."

Pretty prophetic stuff. All of sudden the Liberty League looks a whole lot less volatile.

- You have to feel bad for Geneseo coach Jim Lyons. He racked up a 13-2 record last year but was omitted from the tournament, so he turned around and beefed up his schedule just in case he finished second in the SUNYAC to Cortland again. Or so he thought.

They beat Union, but the Dutchmen didn't look too stellar in their most recent win over Babson. Ithaca just lost in stunning fashion to Scranton, so this might be an off-year for the Bombers. Keene State has already lost to NESCAC lightweight Bates and RIT is off to an 0-2 start, including a loss to RPI. And Clarkson just fell to Oneonta State. So all of Lyons' planning may fall prey to some unexpectedly down seasons.

On the bright side, the Blue Knights now have a win over Nazareth in their pocket, which should serve them well, and all of the teams mentioned above could turn it around in a matter of weeks. Right now, however, Genny's best laid plans are going awry.

- Can I really start believing in Roanoke now? The Maroons make me nervous because of their weak schedule, but I'm sold after the win over Cabrini. Kind least John Raba, Wesleyan's coach, can be happy about his defense. But overall, the 8-3 win over Salve Regina - a second tier Commonwealth Coast program - raises some questions, especially with Bowdoin looming...look at Marywood and its 4-0 start. Good stuff...same with Dickinson...tough sledding so far for Jake Coon and RIT. They were doubled up by Stevenson, 20-10, before bowing by a goal to RPI, 13-12. With Geneseo and Cortland on the schedule this month, the Tigers will be lucky to get out of March over .500...Stevens beating Springfield on Sunday capped an 0-5 pick ‘em week for me against Zazzaro.

WD3 Notes
- It didn't feature any of the top names in WD3, but Swarthmore hosted a worthwhile tournament this weekend. Dubbed the Tri-Co Invitational, five other teams descended on the Garnet's campus for three games all to benefit the International Rett Syndrome Foundation.

Rett Syndrome is a unique developmental disorder that is first recognized in infancy and predominately affects girls. Rett Syndrome causes problems in brain function that are responsible for cognitive, sensory, emotional, motor and autonomic function. These can include learning, speech, sensory sensations, mood, movement, breathing, cardiac function, and even chewing, swallowing, and digestion.

While the results were secondary, Moravian beat Bryn Mawr, 18-7, Swarthmore routed Neumann, 21-2, and Haverford downed Widener, 14-3.

This year's charity has a special connection to the Tri-College community. Bryn Mawr's assistant coach, Deb Charamella, has a sister with Rett Syndrome. Deb and her family have been active in IRSF and are excited to spread the word about Rett Syndrome through the Invitational. Congrats to Swarthmore for using lacrosse to help those less fortunate.

- Hats off to St. John Fisher senior Lauren Glavin, who became the school's all-time leading points leader. Glavin scored a goal and dished out an assist against Roanoke to pass Lauren Quackenbush with 201 points. Glavin's milestone was overshadowed by the disappointing start for the Cardinals. Fisher lost to both Mary Washington and Roanoke - mid-level NCAA type teams that the experienced SJF team probably should have beat. With the Liberty trifecta of Union, William Smith and Hamilton looming next along with strong early showings by Empire 8 rivals Nazareth and Stevens, Fisher better get its act together.

- Congrats to Stevens junior Christine Smith who notched her 100th career goal in the season-opening win over Montclair State...speaking of Stevens, the win over Union will have to be in the mix for game of the year with all of the action, especially in overtime....Congrats to Lebanon Valley for picking up the first win since 1985 when the Dutchwomen defeated Lancaster Bible...I mentioned it earlier, but obvious we're all keeping our fingers crossed for a speedy return of Catholics' Kate Robinson...still trying to figure out if the Oneonta women are legit. The Red Dragons will probably be 5-0 heading into the Hamilton contest.

MCLA Notes
- Colorado State is back. After a year in which they stumbled to an 11-9 record and a first round exit in the national tournament, the Rams are showing a different level of toughness. It was on display on Friday night when CSU stifled the usually high-flying Simon Fraser attack, holding the Clansmen to just one second-half goal. The Rams face another offensive-minded team this coming Friday when they play Arizona State in the desert. A win there and Colorado State is officially a contender.

- While Colorado State was taking care of business, the other name team from the Centennial State, Colorado, stumbled out of the gate, losing its opener to New Hampshire - a mid-level member of the lightly regarded PCLL - 9-8. With Simon Fraser on Sunday night, things were looking grim, but the Buffs responded. CU jumped all over the Clansmen, leading 9-2 at halftime and coasting in for the 17-7 victory, led by James Blackburn's six-spot. As ugly as Friday was for Pete Stevenson and the Buffs, Sunday was equally impressive (although that UNH loss could haunt Colorado on Selection Sunday).

- What should we think about Fraser's lost weekend in Colorado? My initial reaction is the month-long break they took hurt them and that they'll eventually rebound. But is that legit? This supposedly high-powered attack was contained twice by a couple of decent teams, and waiting in line next for the Clan is, in order, Michigan, Michigan State, BYU, Cal Poly, Chapman and Arizona State. SFU could easily be 3-6 after that run and needing to sweep the final four games on the schedule - which would include a win over Oregon - just to have a winning record. There'll be a lot of soul searching in Canada this week.

- Tough weekend for Georgia Tech. After entering this week's poll, the Jackets lost back-to-back home games to Boston University (10-7) and Buffalo (7-6). Bye bye, ranking...BYU is hitting a lull in its schedule and none too soon. The Cougars still need to figure things out and playing D-II Westminster along with Montana and Washington will allow them to do that...time to circle the April 1 game between Texas (4-2) and Texas State (7-0) on your calendar...I think Chapman is better than Florida State, but a rematch would be a lot closer. The ‘Noles looked like it took them a half to work off the jet lag...other than Michigan and Chapman at the top of the heap, there should be plenty of movement at the upper half of the Prodigy poll...this coming weekend will straighten a lot of things out in Division II. It starts Friday night when No. 2 Davenport plays No. 3 Dayton...No. 5 St. John's plays both the Flyers and Panthers over the weekend, as well...Utah Valley against Westminster will also straighten things out in the RMLC-II.

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