Can Otterbein Keep Ohio in the Pool B Biz?
For a long time, Ohio was the land of Pool B. The programs in the North Coast Athletic Conference gobbled up the independent bids at an alarming rate by utilizing their above average schedules and talented rosters. That's all over now, with the NCAC finally joining the Pool A/C party this spring.
But the Buckeye state is not completely devoid of Pool B hopefuls.
The nascent Ohio Athletic Conference, which will have three full varsity programs in 2013 and six in 2014, has the potential to fill the vacuum in the near future. The best candidate to give it a run this spring?
Located in Westerville, Ohio, Otterbein is the most mature men's lacrosse program out of all the schools in the state and could feasibly be in the running for one of the yet to be determined number of independent bids.
"We're not living in fantasyland, but we don't want to sell ourselves short," said Colin Hartnett, Otterbein's head coach, about the program's prospects in 2013.
For the first time in program history, the Cardinals will have four-year seniors on the roster. Established in 2010, Otterbein has made steady improvement – 4-11 in '10, 7-10 in '11 and 9-6 last spring – and now the next step could be to join the hunt for the postseason with an experienced group that has a clearer path to the NCAAs.
"We've got some guys who have been with us for three and four years that are going to be a big factor in how we're going to do this year," said Hartnett.
The Cardinals lose just one starter off last year's edition, and return senior Andrew Donatelli (18g, 12a) and junior Mikey O'Neil (23g, 20a) on attack, which should be the deepest unit in '13. The midfield corps, paced by Jeff Reese (14g, 4a) and Pat Teynor (7g, 4a), will continue to be a sum of its parts. Hartnett says "we don't have one player who outshines the others."
The defense returns just about everyone, and Otterbein has four goalies returning who saw action last year.
As the NCAC showed, competing in Pool B is as much about scheduling as anything else. This might be where Otterbein has its biggest advantage. The Cardinals are playing four NCAC teams, including Ohio Wesleyan and Wittenberg, which will help the RPI, but will also be playing many of the teams they will grapple with for the Pool B bids.
Hartnett is bringing his club down to play independents Ferrum and Greensboro before traveling to St. Vincent and hosting Whittier. If they can sweep those games – and keep their record at .500 or better – the Cardinals should be in the driver's seat. Winning tough games on the road will be key in achieving the latter.
Last year, five of Otterbein's six losses came away from Westerville. Can that be changed?
"We hope so," Hartnett said. "Hopefully a little more age and being a little older and a little smarter and a little better will push us over the top in games like that."
Like the NCAC before them, the Pool B days for the OAC schools may be numbered. With Mount Union and Wilmington joining Otterbein this spring, and then Baldwin-Wallace, Capital and John Carroll coming online in 2014, the league is just one school away from garnering an AQ. With four institutions currently without the sport – Heidelberg, Marietta, Muskingum and Ohio Northern – the odds are pretty good in the near future.
"I hear rumors," said Hartnett.
It will be only then that Ohio will no longer be in the Pool B business.