Blogs and Commentary

posted 04.08.2013 at 10.01 a.m. by Jac Coyne

NCAA Division III Notebook

The Aurora scores kept rolling in. 34-0 over Milwaukee Engineering. 30-1 over Defiance. 29-2 against Elmhurst. It was becoming clear that the Spartans were having very little trouble with many of their Midwest Lacrosse Conference foes.

Now I'm not one of those pantywaists who gets all weak-kneed about sportsmanship and running up the score. I'm very much a lacrosse Darwinist. But Aurora's plight had me thinking about the parallels between Cabrini and its situation in the CSAC. The Cavaliers have been saddled with a weak conference for years — they have a winning streak of over 100 games against league foes — but in the last last half decade they have compensated by putting together a brutal non-conference slate. Now Cabrini is considered one of the best teams in the country.

It's a philosophy that Aurora head coach Kylor Berkman is aware of, although his program is just in its third year of existence.

"We want to compete with those top level teams and in order to do that, those are who we need to have on the non-conference schedule," Berkman said. "Not to say that our conference is weak, but getting out to the East Coast and getting to Ohio Wesleyan, which has been a tournament team, that's where we want to be. Ultimately playing against those teams is what is going to get us there."

Because of the distance from a lot of the better programs — Aurora is located in the suburbs west of Chicago — the Spartans mostly have their weeklong spring break to strengthen their schedule. This year, they squared off with Randolph-Macon (16-13 loss) and Frostburg State (12-8 win) while playing former MLC rival Adrian (13-10 loss) on the way out. They also snuck in a mid-February contest against Ohio Wesleyan (11-9 loss), the best team on the docket this spring. Christopher Newport, Eastern and Virginia Wesleyan are already signed up for next year.

Like a lot of teams that are both on the outskirts of the lacrosse-dense areas of the country and getting better every year, it's not always easy to convince a traditional power to take a chance on Aurora. A win doesn't provide the weight a power team is looking forward to and the potential for a loss can be damaging — something Cabrini had to deal with as it was getting its legs. So Berkman keeps plugging along.

"We make a lot of phone calls and send a lot of emails to find teams who have an open slot," he said. "A lot of conferences are locked into 2014 and 2015 already. There is never an exact science. It's a team here and a team there and we get lucky when they have a slot and they put us in. It's never been where we'll get someone to say we'll play you every year. That's why it doesn't stay the same. Next year OWU isn't going to be on the schedule."

There is one distinct contrast between Aurora and Cabrini. Unlike the Cavs, the Spartans haven't completely out-kicked their conference. Concordia, Augustana and Carthage — three teams that are still remaining on the Spartans schedule — all have MLC championship aspirations and the AQ that comes with. The game against Carthage, which is located a little more than two hours away in Kenosha, Wis., has turned into the league's best rivalry.

"Every game has been a battle and there is a little bit of bad blood just between players," said Berkman of the April 27 contest with the Red Men. "It's not something that I've asked for; it's just something that has happened."

Until those games come around, Berkman and his staff will attempt to keep the players as level-headed about their prospects despite the blowouts.

"We're constantly on them," Berkman said. "Even though we had some lopsided victories, you can't go start thinking you're all that and a bag of potato chips. Just being aware of where we stand and showing up for practice every day so that we are capable when it is time for those big games. Fortunately, we're hitting our stride at the right time. We've been putting in a couple of wrinkles that we're going to through out there late in the season, saving them for those big games and not wasting them right now."

- Aurora's best player is sophomore Max Obriecht, who not only is second on the team in points (33g, 23a), but is running at 64.6 percent (124-for-192) on faceoffs. Berkman, who dabbled in faceoffs in his first year with Salisbury, knows he has to lighten Obriecht's load at some point so he doesn't get burned out, but it's tough to keep him off the field.

"We've got to get some other guys in there to give Max some breaks because we don't want him to be exhausted in the fourth quarter," Berkman said. "He plays d-middie, too. He's up, down, all around. We call him 'Snake,' because he'll slither his way on the field when you don't want him to."

- There will probably be four new teams in the rankings this week, and possible five, after several programs in the back end of the poll lost. On Wednesday, No. 18 York lost to Ursinus, 10-9, and No. 16 Plattsburgh fell to St. Lawrence (which is one likely contender for admission this week). Nazareth routed No. 14 Ithaca on Friday night, 15-8, while No. 17 Mary Washington got thumped by No. 6 Salisbury on Saturday, 20-4. No. 14 Bowdoin (tied with Ithaca) also lost, bowing to Trinity, but the Polar Bears have a decent chance of hanging on. Look for Widener and Roanoke to get some love this week.

- Speaking of the Maroons, they're back on the radar after picking up an impressive, 9-8 road victory against No. 7 Lynchburg on Saturday. Much of the credit for the win has to go to Charles Pease, who turned away 14 shots, along with Spencer Parsons, who netted a hat trick, including the game winner with 1:28 left in the contest. I'm not sure if this game has more of an impact on Roanoke or Lynchburg at this point. I am sure that Tuesday's rescheduled game against No. 3 Stevenson is a tad more interesting.

- Congrats to Colby senior Greg McKillop for eclipsing the 100-point mark in his career. He is one of three players on this year's White Mule team who have reached the plateau along with Ian Deveau and John Jennings...King's went to 7-1 for the first time in school history with a win over Arcadia...congrats to Keuka coach Jason Paige for winning his 100th career game with the Storm...sophomore Ryan Turner scored seven goals and dished out an assist for Albright in a 17-8 win over Lycoming...six goals and three assists for Springfield's Ryon Lynch against MIT...after knocking off Sewanee, keep an eye on Berry (Ga.) out of the SAA in the Pool B discussion...Riley Dobel (6 goals) and Dylan Swope (6 assists) set Marywood school records in the Pacers' 19-11 win over Rosemont.

- Christopher Newport must win its last three games against St. Vincent, Greensboro and Ferrum in order to reach the .500 mark and stay eligible for Pool B...Tufts has had a well-documented offseason, but they're also doing good works in their community...St. Lawrence has won five wasn't pretty, but Stevens managed to get past St. John Fisher, 10-8. The Cardinals have been a thorn in the Ducks side in E8's tempting to hand Stevenson the MAC Commonwealth championship, and the Mustangs certainly are the favorites, but keep an eye on Widener. The Pride are 7-3 with one-goal losses to Dickinson and Ursinus and a two-goal setback to Salisbury, along with a win over Gettysburg. Widener and Stevenson play on April 20 in Chester, Pa...danger time for Union after the loss to Clarkson. The Dutchmen are 0-2 in Liberty action and will probably need a 3-3 conference record to earn a bid to the four-team tourney...Plattsburgh's Brett McClelland earns "Mug Shot of the Week" honors.