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December 27, 2009

Men's DIII: The Real Deal

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive

Women's D-III Real Deal | MCLA Real Deal

Seriously, what exactly is the purpose of a preseason poll?

Will Brandon Misiaszek and the Red Dragons have big smiles on their faces at the conclusion of the 2010 season? If you want to wait until May to find out, don't look at the bottom of this page.

Are we trying to predict who will be where at the end of the season? If Cortland is the preseason No. 1, are we saying that they will win it all this year, or is it just a bouquet for winning last spring's title? If I pick Roanoke No. 10, does that mean they are considered a tournament team, or is it they have serious potential for the upcoming season? How are we supposed to read these things?

Frankly, I'm sick of it. Yes, we here at LMO, along with everyone else, post preseason rankings, but what good does that do anyone? A rough reproduction of last season's final rankings with the usual upgrade for the traditionally strong programs - the standard formula for preseason polls - tells us nothing. What we need to know is what will be the key storylines for the upcoming season, what teams will be making the tournament, and, of course, who's taking home the hardware in May.

One of the reasons you get the vanilla preseason rankings is because they are safe. Any publication that puts out a preseason poll can point at the voters if there's an anomaly, quickly passing the blame. Safe, but kind of soft. It takes a higher intellect - a man of vision, if you will - to precisely predict the state of lacrosse in eight months.

I'm your huckleberry.

Below, you'll find the eventual storylines of the 2010 season, as well as the tournament field and the ultimate winner. But just a quick word of caution: if you don't want to know how the 2010 season is going to finish, stop reading here.

Top Five Storylines in NCAA Division III

1. NESCAC Greed Continues
They simply have the magic touch. Through their insular scheduling (which perpetuates their SOS), the fact they don't play a full 17-game slate (they cap out at 14) and because they are pretty darn good, the NESCAC is going to reel in two of the five at-large bids in 2010, giving them three candidates in the 22-team field. This is not a terribly shocking development as it happens more often than it doesn't lately, but this time around it will be heightened by the fact that the Empire 8 will snare two bids, giving the traditional "North" four of the five at-larges.

This will obviously lead to...

2. Southern Dissatisfaction
When the "South" was aced out of all four Pool C bids at the conclusion of the '07 campaign there was certainly grumbling from some coaches off the record. Most of them took the high road when it came to public comments, but there was an underlying belief that something fundamentally wrong when power conferences like the ODAC, Centennial and the Capital can't muster an at-large between them. It's tough to argue against that.

This spring, when four of the five bids go to New England and New York teams, there is going to be a call to reexamine the current regions and their impact on the in-region winning percentage that is so important come selection time. Some of the flaws are obvious, such as Colby (Maine) and Washington College (Md.) lumped in the same region even though they are located 560 miles apart while Roanoke versus Gettysburg is considered an out-of-region game despite being separated by 264 miles. Further, while many of the westerly NESCACs are in a different region than New York teams, they have access to a dense amalgamation of programs in Eastern New York due to their proximity within the 200-mile radius granted by the NCAA (i.e., Williams vs. Union is a regional game because they are only 48 miles apart).

The perfect solution is unclear at this point (it is something I will be tackling in a future column), but the call will go up for a more equitable interpretation after the Great Sweep of '10.

3. Bring a Jacket
It might give the southern conferences left out of the at-large bonanza a slight measure of satisfaction that this spring is going to be a weather nightmare for programs in the northern climes. Cancellations and postponements caused by weather have become nearly obsolete in the last five years with the availability of synthetic turf venues on campus and nearby, but turf can't help a team when the bus won't move. And that's the kind of weather I'm talking about. My impeccable meteorological sources are suggesting that there will be two late-winter storms that will cause the cancellation of several key games and the backlogging of others into April. You'll be seeing teams needing every victory having to face three opponents in five days to make up for February and March.

So if you're planning on being in Upstate New York on Feb. 27 for the Cortland/WNEC game, I'd suggest compiling an alternate itinerary. And if you've booked a room for the Springfield at Nazareth game on the same date, you probably should order an extra garbage plate because it might be a while. Ditto with the Stevens at Endicott match.

4. Game of the Year: Mustangs v. Sea Gulls II
Just like last year, Stevenson and Salisbury will meet during the regular season (April 4) and then follow that up with a meeting in the Capital championship game 20 days later. Unlike last year, when Salisbury was playing for their NCAA tournament lives, both these two will have their tickets punched by the time this dandy comes along. As such, it will be a pure rivalry game with complete bragging rights on the line. Similar to last year, however, is the Mustangs will win the regular season tilt and the Gulls will take this one.

5. Surprise Team of the Year: RIT
As you'll see in my tournament breakdown below, RIT will be earning a bid this spring with an impressive 14-4 record (they'll be a Pool C team as Naz will win the Empire 8). This selection coincides with the arrival of Jake Coon as the new head coach, replacing Gene Peluso, who is now with E8 rival Stevens. With all due respect to Coon, who will undoubtedly be a good fit in Rochester, this is more about the team Coon has to work with. All of the big guns are back on attack and in the midfield, and a strong defense and goalie platoon also return. Throw in the promise of '09 and the motivation to show their old coach what he's missing and the Tigers have all the ingredients for a tourney run.

Who's In the Tourney: (assuming the number of bids stays the same from 2009)

* Bowdoin (13-4) - Early season wins over Naz and WNEC set the tone for spring.
Cabrini (14-3) - Once again, the regular season doesn't mean a whole lot as there is still no competition in the CSAC for the Cavs.
Castleton St. (13-5) - After folding in the NAC title game against Mount Ida last year, the Spartans hold up and punch their ticket.
Colorado College (10-2) - Massive win against Denison on April 16 acts as the signature win of the Guy Van Arsdale era and propels the Tigers into the tourney for the first time.
Cortland (14-3) - A tough schedule awaits the Red Dragons, but they have the talent and, more importantly, the experience to handle the heavy lifting.
Denison (11-3) - The Big Red is a Pool B lock until further notice.
Eastern Conn. (14-3) - The Warriors are reemerging as a power player. Regardless, they'll own the Little East.
Haverford (14-2) - The Black Squirrels put their stamp on the Centennial, even without the familiar guidance of Mike Murphy.
Ithaca (13-3) - The Bombers sweat it out again on Selection Sunday after faltering in the E8 tourney (again), but finally get the good news.
Lycoming (15-4) - Warriors put the horrific end to the '09 season behind them by upending FDU-Florham in the conference championship game.
* Middlebury (14-2) - It's another dominant run for the Panthers in the regular season, but the NESCAC title still eludes them.
* Kean (14-4) - Bard hooks up with the Skyline for a year before heading off the Liberty, giving the conference an AQ, and Kean a bid.
* Nazareth (13-5) - Everything's back in place for a Golden Flyer resurgence. They go back-to-back in the E8 championship.
* Ohio Wesleyan (9-4) - Wins the proverbial coin-flip with a couple of Landmark teams because of schedule strength to snag the final Pool B berth.
* RIT (14-4) - See No. 5 above.
* Salisbury (18-2) - Don't call it a comeback.
* Springfield (11-6) - Business as usual for the Pride: Tough non-con slate. Easy conference. Tough out in the tourney.
* Stevenson (15-3) - The Mustangs will get off to a slow start, but finish strong.
* Tufts (14-3) - Jumbos again have enough for the postseason, but earn a tough draw.
* Union (12-4) - St. Lawrence's stranglehold on the Liberty finally comes to an end as the Dutchmen's depth pays off to win the auto qualifier.
* Washington & Lee (15-2) - The Generals face a relatively weak schedule, but they win the games they need in the ODAC tourney.
* WNEC (19-3) - John Klepacki's overcompensation for his conference hands him a couple of losses, but creates a grizzled squad for the postseason.

Who's Out:
* Endicott (14-6) - The wins the Gulls needed were too elusive.
* Geneseo (9-6) - To their credit, the Blue Knights beefed up their schedule, but it proved too much.
* Gettysburg (12-5) - Early April misstep in Chestertown is costly.
* Lynchburg (13-5) - Overtime loss to Salisbury in the season opener was the difference.
* Merchant Marine (12-6) - Regional loss to Skidmore on March 20 is a killer.
* Roanoke (13-5) - Neutral site non-region loss to Endicott on April 11 proves devastating.
* St. Lawrence (12-4) - It looked like business as usual, but Union stings Saints in Liberty finals.
* Stevens (9-7) - Four one-goal losses haunt Gene Peluso's first season.
* Wesleyan (12-5) - The Cardinals almost pulled it off, but a semifinal conference loss pulled the plug.

NCAA Division III Men's Tournament
First Round - Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Nazareth d. Castleton St., 18-5
Union d. RIT, 13-11
Tufts d. Springfield, 8-6
Denison d. Ohio Wesleyan, 15-9
Lycoming d. Colorado College, 12-11 (ot)
Eastern Conn. d. Kean, 12-7

Second Round - Saturday, May 15, 2010
Bowdoin d. Ithaca, 9-8
Washington & Lee d. Cabrini, 14-9
WNEC d. Nazareth, 11-10
Middlebury d. Union, 15-5
Cortland d. Tufts, 8-5
Stevenson d. Denison, 16-11
Haverford d. Lycoming, 14-6
Salisbury d. Eastern Conn., 13-8

Quarterfinals - Wednesday, May 19, 2010
WNEC d. Bowdoin, 11-7
Cortland d. Middlebury, 9-8
Salisbury d. Washington & Lee, 15-6
Haverford d. Stevenson, 14-13 (ot)

Semifinals - Sunday, May 23, 2010
Salisbury d. Haverford, 12-8
WNEC d. Cortland, 9-8 (ot)

Finals - Sunday, May 30, 2010
Salisbury d. WNEC, 14-9

So there you have it: the 2010 season laid out like a road map. Women's Division and the MCLA "Real Deals" follow in the next two days.

Enjoy the last couple of months before these predictions play out and have a safe New Year.

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