Blogs and Commentary

posted 04.22.2013 at 10.01 a.m. by Jac Coyne

NCAA Division III Notebook

When it made the trip literally across the street to play Cabrini last year in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Eastern had the same hopes as any team in the tournament. When the Eagles scored the first goal of the game less than two minutes into the contest, optimism was running high.

Alas, when the Cavaliers responded with a goal six seconds later, which was the first in a 14-goal run for Cabrini, head coach Kevin Wallace and his team realized that day would not end well. The Eagles' first postseason dalliance ended with a 19-3 loss, although the trip home was mercifully short.

Looking back on that game, Wallace sees the glass half full.

"It was the best thing that could ever happen to us," said Wallace, who is now in his second year as the Eagles head man. "Obviously we didn't like the result, but that made our guys hungrier and work harder in the offseason. We had guys who live in California fly in two weeks prior to school because they wanted to get back going again. Having that taste was definitely huge for our program and our guys, and I think that's what is propelling us this far into the season."

Eastern is in a different spot this year. Last year, it grabbed the automatic qualifying bid from the unified MAC, but this year's split has changed everything. While the MAC Commonwealth has an AQ, the Freedom subset does not and won't have one until the 2015 campaign. That means that the Eagles are operating in the wild world of Pool B. They're looking good at this point with a 12-2 record, although with only one win against a team with a winning record, Eastern is eyeing a rough first round match-up.

A win in either of the two games that Eastern has lost this year — a 12-11 overtime setback to Gettysburg and a 7-3 loss to Ursinus — and they'd be feeling a lot better, but they still took something away from them.

"The Gettysburg game proved to our guys that we can play with anyone," Wallace said. "It was a team that knew how to win versus a team learning how to win. We know how to win now, and we expect to win. That overtime loss was tough, because we expected to win that game. We had our chance in overtime; we had the ball first but couldn't come through.

"Ursinus was our third game in five days. We beat them last year and they were pretty upset and they wanted it more than we did. We had a ton of turnovers and it was a team I didn't recognize. Fortunately, we haven't played that way again. It was a good refocus game. We got caught, and we've learned from it."

Like many other teams that try to break through to the next level, scheduling has been a thorn in Wallace's side. He is trying to improve the slate incrementally every year — the Eagles keep Gettsyburg and add Haverford next year — but with another year in Pool B, he has to keep an eye on criteria. As such, Colorado College, Ferrum and Greensboro will also be on the sked.

"We would definitely like to get the Salisburys, Stevensons, Roanokes, Lynchburgs and Cortlands of the world," Wallace said. "I'd love to play those teams, but they are booked so far in advance, it's going to be at least a couple of more years before we get them."

As for this year, the MAC Freedom title is just a formality. But the Eagles could make some noise in the postseason. They have a top-flight goalie in Aaron Benz (65.5 sv%, 6.39 GAA) and an athletic defensive middie, Ron Johnson, who Wallace says, "is like having a fifth long pole on the field." Grant Ferguson (43g, 15a), Chris Farrar (23g, 34a) and Zac Ivy (24g, 17a) comprise an experienced attack that Wallace says is the best the Eagles have ever had.

Even though he is just 27 — one of the younger head coaches in Division III — and with just two years experience as a head man, Wallace is a confident guy. He's a perfect fit for an ambitious program with aspirations that will be challenging to meet. They'll be working out of Pool B for this year and next, but one gets the feeling that there is a vast amount of latent potential for the Eagles to tap into over the next three seasons.

- Just in case you haven't been keeping up since the last time we spoke, here's a rundown of the ranked teams that have lost during the past week: No. 5 Salisbury, No. 6 Stevens, No. 7 Tufts, No. 9 Washington College, No. 10 Lynchburg, No. 12 Washington College, No. 15 Franklin & Marshall and No. 16 Widener. And, with the exception of Salisbury, all of the losses have come against conference opponents.

What does it mean? It's the weekly USILA poll, so not much. But if we switch over to the all-important regional polls, which were released for the first time last week, there were some interesting developments. In the North, five of the 14 ranked teams took a loss and in the South, seven of 16 teams were dealt defeats. I won't call it unprecedented because I'm not entirely sure, but it's undoubtedly an epic turn of events.

One team in each region catches my eye. Nazareth's rout of formerly No. 6 (and No. 3 regionally) Stevens is important. The Flyers were already No. 8 in the region, and now they'll certainly move up. Naz also controls its own fate in regards to getting the No. 1 seed in the E8, as well (if they can beat Fisher and Elmira). In the South, Gettysburg, which entered the weekend with a No. 11 regional ranking, whitewashed regional No. 8 Washington College. The Bullets have far less leverage than Naz, as the losses to Widener and unranked Muhlenberg sting, but there's no underselling the strength of Gettysburg's schedule. It's going to be interesting.

- The quarterfinal winners in the SAA tournament won their games by an average score of 22-5. Centre, Sewanee, Birmingham-Southern and Berry all advanced to the semifinals. Still plenty of moving parts, but the SAA is in good shape to grab at least one of the Pool B bids...he may be off the radar a little bit, but one Coach of the Year candidate to keep in mind is University of New England's Charlie Burch. The long-time Maine high school coach has guided the Nor'Easters to an 11-4 record with victories over Endicott and Colby so far...speaking of Endicott, it was a rough week for the Gulls.

- Arcadia notched the first MAC win in program history by downing Manhattanville, 10-6, on Wednesday...Josh Frey scored five goals and set up a sixth, helping Bridgewater top Shenandoah, 10-8, for the Eagles' first ODAC triumph...congrats to Lebanon Valley junior Malik Pedroso, who netted his 100th career goal in the Dutchmen's 12-6 win over Messiah...Vincent Manasia scored six goals against Mt. St. Mary, helping Richard Stockton grab the last spot in the Skyline tourney...Plattsburgh tied the program record for wins with the 11th triumph over Brockport...DeSales 20-6 victory over FDU-Florham was the Bulldogs first-ever win over the Devils...Christopher Newport remains in the Pool B discussion, Ferrum is out...Albright registered its first win against a ranked opponent when it beat No. 16 Widener in overtime.

- Rob Kunz scored three goals and set up three others, helping Potsdam defeat Geneseo, 11-10...Casey Balzer scored a career-high five goals in Oswego's 15-10 victory over Oneonta...both St. Lawrence and RIT are guaranteed to be one of the top two seeds in the Liberty tourney. This weekend's clash between the pair will determine who is the top if RIT needed another weapon, sophomore Eddie Kiesa scored a career-high six goals in the rout of Skidmore...Marywood's Riley Dobel broke his own school record for single-game goals with eight in the 26-11 rout of Immaculata.