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December 23, 2009

Women's Scoop: SoCal Conference Call

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive

Whether you think Middlebury's Missy Foote deserves induction into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame (read below), she has survived the "Kessenich Stare Down," which is probably just as impressive.
© Brad Nadeau

How odd would it be to have an automatic qualifying conference located in Greater Los Angeles?

Considering the Landmark Conference, based in one of the more fertile areas of the Mid-Atlantic can't (or won't) find enough teams to reach the seven-team plateau, it would be stunning for the most lacrosse remote part of the country to jump into Pool A.

Sure enough, here comes the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC, or "Sky-ack" as those with their finger on the WD3 pulse call it), which is currently comprised of Claremont, Pomona, Occidental, Whittier and Redlands. With five institutions already on board, the conference is two teams away from earning an immediate automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament.

While the SCIAC is right on the cusp of Pool A, it will likely have to reach outside of its traditional league and adopt associate members to push it over the top. The three other institutions comprising the SCIAC - Cal Lutheran, Cal Tech and LaVerne - don't appear to be close to adding varsity women's lacrosse anytime soon.

The solution is so elementary that I have to assume negotiations are already underway. The SCIAC simply needs to add Puget Sound (Wash.), Linfield (Ore.) and Pacfic (Ore.) as associate members, bumping the number up to eight and triggering the countdown to an automatic qualifier.

For the East Coast types, the geography would appear to be a problem because of the travel costs. But let's be frank: you don't start an NCAA lacrosse program in the Pacific Northwest or SoCal with the mindset of saving on travel costs. These teams typically play each other anyway, so if the members can tweak the schedules, alternating between trekking to Oregon/Washington or hosting those Pac Northwest teams, it would work perfectly. As a side benefit, there would be plenty of time to pursue non-conference opponents.

One of the hurdles facing conferences like the SCIAC - leagues whose member institutions view themselves as a cut above - is finding associates who fit their academic band. Puget Sound, Linfield and Pacific all mesh seamlessly, and would be a nice accent to the SCIAC.

Another reason I think this can work is the SCIAC is now blessed with a coach who has the experience to put a new confederation on the right track from the start.

Michele Uhlfelder, who helped build the Stanford program and the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation into what it is today, is now the head coach at Occidental and will be guiding the Tigers in their inaugural season as a varsity program in 2010. Nothing has been brought up yet, but Uhlfelder would welcome the challenge of growing another powerful western conference at the D-III level.

"If that time comes when I'm asked to play a role in that, I'll be very excited about it," said Uhlfelder.

Hopefully it will be sooner than later.

Business Merger
In an effort to help teams in both conferences find NCAA tournament eligibility in women's lacrosse, as well as well as men's tennis, women's tennis and baseball, the North Atlantic Conference (NAC) and the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) are joining forces.

For the purposes of women's lacrosse, the NEAC, consisting of seven members, will allow the four-team NAC league to piggyback off their numbers to get an automatic crack at the NCAA tournament. As the logistics work out, the two conferences will play their league schedule and conference tournament, with the winner of each meeting in a one-game playoff to determine who goes to the Big Dance. This arrangement begins in 2012.

Technically, the NEAC members - Cazenovia, St. Elizabeth, Keuka, Medaille, Penn St.-Abington, Wells and Wilson - will be joining the NAC - consisting of Green Mountain (Vt.), Husson (Maine), Me.-Farmington and Thomas (Maine). In order to ameliorate the costs, each conference was assigned two sports to sponsor, and the NAC picked up women's lacrosse.

This effort by the two leagues should prove to be an attractive model for a lot of other leagues attempting to join an AQ conference but don't have the numbers yet.

A Hall of a Coach
I'll just throw this out there in case there's anyone else who believes the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame could use more representation from the women's Division III coaching ranks and wants to fill out a lengthy nomination form.

- Sharon Pfluger (in '07 when she was inducted): 21 years, 318-26-1, 11 national championships
- Pat Genovese: 38 years, 362-133-1
- Missy Foote: 29 years, 342-83-1, 5 national championships

I'm not saying Missy Foote should be in the Hall of Fame, I'm just sayin'.

Late Recognition
Talking with various coaches it seems that there was one player in particular who was overlooked during the season-ending awards process. On three occasions, coaches singled out former Messiah goalie Jen Venter for her performance last year.

"She played as well as I've seen a goalie play," said Catholic head coach Meghan McDonogh, who watched Venter make 13 saves and push the highly favored Cardinals to the brink before falling in overtime, 9-8. Venter was also spectacular in the MAC finals, where she made 14 saves to upset Elizabethtown and earn tourney MVP honors.

Venter started her career at Division I UMBC, but transferred to Messiah after her rookie season. She finished her career second on the all-time Falcons saves list with 450.

Although Venter didn't receive the recognition she deserved last year, new Liberty University coach Regan Denham saw Venter's potential and hired her as the Flames' goalie coach

"Beginning my coaching career at a university with the mission of Liberty is an exciting opportunity," said Venter. "It is a special undertaking to start a program and I am blessed to assist Coach Denham as she ushers in a Christian university's lacrosse program at the Division I level."

Slides & Rides
- I'm a little worried about Union coach Jessica Critchlow. I think she may have lost her mind.

Have you seen the non-conference schedule the Dutchwomen are playing this year? Here's the list, along with last year's record: Babson (15-3), Stevens (17-2), St. John Fisher (11-7), Washington & Lee (13-5), Salisbury (20-2), Trinity (10-4), Middlebury (11-6) and Cortland (14-7).

All but two were NCAA tournament qualifiers in '09 and the two that weren't - Trinity and Stevens - had a gripe about not being included. Throw in Hamilton (16-3) and William Smith (11-4) from the Liberty League and we're talking about one of the epic schedules of all time. If LaxPower doesn't have Union's schedule as the toughest from start to finish, they need to re-run the numbers.

- As I look at the Colorado College schedule, I find it curious that, by my count, the Tigers are only playing one regional game (the season opener against Redlands in Texas). Considering that most of the primary criteria for tournament selection are based off of regional play, this decision is slightly odd. While there are many factors involved in scheduling, Colorado College had to play Claremont, even if it meant traveling to California for a second consecutive year. A win there and the Tigers were in good shape (although certainly not assured a bid with the ascendant presence of Adrian).

Also, CC is burning four dates against in-state Division II opponents Regis and Fort Lewis. The Tigers should sweep all four games, but those wins will only count against the overall win-loss percentage (a secondary criterion) as inter-divisional games don't count for much else. In defense of Colorado College, it's smart to play D-II opponents and get something out of it instead of using a date against a club team - something the CC men's team does.

One of the criteria the Tigers have over most of their Pool B competition (other than TCNJ, Rowan and Catholic) is strength of schedule. Susan Stuart's troops will hit the Maine NESCAC Trifecta (Colby, Bates, Bowdoin) as well as taking on Catholic and Roanoke in Washington, D.C. If CC goes 3-2 on those two trips, it'll make up some ground on its regional deficiencies.

- More and more programs are posting their schedules online. We're collecting them and putting them into our database for the season, but that probably won't be rolled out for another month or so as we cross-check many of the dates and times. From what's out there, the season will really get cooking on Feb. 27 (although there are some games the weekend before), which is only a scant two months away.

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