February 22, 2010

Mondays with Matt: How the Mighty Fall

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Zach Brenneman and Notre Dame are the talk of the town following their big win in Durham.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

How do we top this?

Upsets, near-upsets, shootouts, buzzer beaters and historic debuts marked the most dramatic weekend of college lacrosse this side of Memorial Day. And it’s only February.

Here’s a more in-depth look at the stunners.


Why it’s surprising: The Blue Hens pretty much beat the Retrievers with two players -- Curtis Dickson and Martin Cahill. A dumb-luck element also came into play on the game-winning goal, Dickson’s seventh of the game. Dickson dodged short-stick midfielder Maxx Davis from the wing and ripped a shot that looked like it would go wide. A UMBC defenseman had his stick positioned to the inside. It deflected off his stick and into the goal. “I’d like to say I’m that good of a coach,” Delaware’s Bob Shillinglaw said Sunday, “that we have a drill in practice that’s shoot-at-the-defender’s-stick-and-ricochet, but I can’t take credit.”

Why it’s not: UMBC has holes. The Retrievers’ best player, All-American midfielder Kyle Wimer, played out of position at attack. That’s just patchwork. Wimer had a big game, with three goals and three assists, but UMBC missed his grit between the lines. Kevin Kohri (5 saves, 6 GA) and Adam Cohen (0 saves, 6 GA) invoked the “if you’ve got two, you’ve got none” mantra about starting goalies. On the flip side, Delaware is strong and experienced up the middle with goalie Noah Fossner (9 saves) and faceoff specialist Tommy Lee (15-for-24).

Staying power: Dickson has already established himself as one of the game’s best finishers, but he’s not just one-dimensional. He’s active on the wings and thrifty behind the cage. As long as the Blue Hens have him up front and experience up the middle, they’ll be contenders. “He’s a great shooter and a good athlete, explosive,” Shillinglaw said of Dickson. “Obviously teams will be gearing to prevent him as much as they possibly can. They’ll look to prevent him from getting open, not allowing him to dodge, going early -- I think the rest of our team’s got to step up and take the burden off him.”

Next: With momentum at its back, Delaware returns to Baltimore for a huge game Tuesday. The Blue Hens meet No. 5-ranked Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field (5 p.m.). It will be a rematch of the 2007 NCAA semifinal, which Hopkins won en route to a national championship.


Why it’s surprising: The Blue Devils, ranked No. 1 in Lacrosse Magazine’s preseason poll, have so many weapons, it would take a special defense to hold them to single-digit goals. Notre Dame was supposed to have lost a step on defense. But the Irish were like a wet blanket, snuffing Duke opportunities at every turn. Sure, All-American goalkeeper Scott Rodgers (15 saves) had something to do with that, but Mike Creighton -- who played long-stick midfielder until this year -- flourished down low. The move opened up more time for Andrew Irving at long pole. Irving, generously listed at 5-foot-9, took full advantage and sparked the fourth-quarter lockdown in which Notre Dame blanked Duke. “He's one of those guys everybody looks at in high school and says 'If he was bigger he'd be a hell of a player,'" Irish coach Kevin Corrigan told LMO’s Powell Latimer. "And at some point we looked at him and said, 'Well, he just is.' He is a hell of a player."

Why it’s not: Not to toot my own horn, but check out Friday’s “Ten to Watch” feature. Did I call it, or what? I’m no less convinced Monday than I was Friday -- or in preseason, for that matter -- that Duke should move Ned Crotty back to midfield. Notre Dame is better and deeper at the midfield position. Zach Brenneman scored three goals and added an assist from the first line. Steve Murphy and David Earl combined for another three goals from the second line. Duke’s midfield produced just two goals.

Staying power: Notre Dame might not be as good as last year, when the Irish went undefeated until the NCAA tournament, but they’re not about to fold, either. Rodgers’ story is a great one. He waited his turn for three years behind one of the top goalies in Notre Dame history (Joey Kemp), and then stepped up as if the Irish never missed a beat between the pipes. A fifth-year senior, Rodgers won’t let up, and the Irish are not about to suffer a letdown when backed by the best goalkeeper in the country.

Next: Something of a trap game for Notre Dame, which hosts Penn State, which is still licking its wounds from a 24-17 season-opening loss to Robert Morris. Obviously, the Nittany Lions can score in bunches. The Irish must frustrate them the way they did the Blue Devils, who managed just three goals in settled situations.


Why’s it’s surprising: It was the sixth time in Binghamton’s eight-year history that the Bearcats defeated a nationally ranked team. Binghamton has played Colgate close over the years, but this was its first victory in the series. Binghamton head coach Ed Stephenson said it’s a byproduct of increased resources the university has allotted its men’s lacrosse program. “They’ve elevated our support,” he said Monday, “and it’s starting to pay dividends.” Stephenson would not specifically say if those resources equated to more scholarships. “We are not fully resourced at this point,” he said. “To compete with lot of these teams that are more fully resourced, we’ve needed some incremental increases, and we’re getting them. Over the next couple of years, we’ll really close that gap down.”

Why it’s not: Stephenson said this Binghamton team invokes memories of the 2006 and 2007 teams that flirted with national rankings. Colgate, meanwhile, was overrated. Minus the graduated Brandon Corp and Kevin Colleluori, the Raiders lack playmakers. Rumors have connected their coach, Jim Nagle, with several job searches at other Division I schools the last few years. Why does he want out so bad?

Staying power: America East favorite UMBC is clearly vulnerable. In fact, it was Binghamton that pushed the Retrievers to the limit in last year’s conference tournament. The Bearcats have the experience to stick around, especially at midfield, with two seniors (Andy Cook and Steve Carlson) and a junior (Frank Donlon, two goals and an assist Saturday) spearheading the unit.

Binghamton hosts Lafayette, which also turned some heads over the weekend with a 15-10 win over Fairfield. “I knew Lafayette was good. We talked about that over the fall and summer. They return five of their top six scorers, do a nice job defensively and are terrific in goal,” Stephenson said. “Some coaches have talked about them being an up-and-coming team.”


Why it’s surprising: Navy’s defense seldom let’s one player go off as it did Cooper MacDonnell. “That was the game of my life,” MacDonnell told the Baltimore Sun afterward. MacDonnell factored in seven of the Greyhounds' eight goals, scoring six, including the game-winner in overtime. Midshipmen goalie R.J. Wickham was outstanding (19 saves), and is quickly emerging as one of the better keepers around. But he was left exposed by another unlikely Navy culprit: turnovers. The usually disciplined Mids had 24 turnovers, including an unforced one that set the stage for MacDonnell in overtime.

Why it’s not: Loyola has proven to be quite opportunistic in the Charley Toomey era and, smarting from last year’s NCAA tournament snub, had a point to prove.

Staying power: With the offseason realignment, the Greyhounds are clearly the class of the new ECAC. Who’s going to challenge them? Ohio State and Hobart are the nearest contenders. By the same token, the weakened conference slate only adds to the importance of non-conference games for at-large positioning. The win over Navy is a nice feather in Loyola’s cap.

Next: Loyola remains on the road for what should be easier games at Quinnipiac (Saturday) and Bellarmine (March 3) before the Greyhounds' March 6 showdown with Notre Dame in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic.


Why it’s surprising: Penn State allowed Robert Morris to dictate the pace, as evidenced by the 24-17 final score and 115 shots combined between the teams. Didn’t the Nittany Lions learn their lesson last year, when Robert Morris bit them in double OT? Weren’t they going to be better prepared this year? Didn’t they have momentum at their back, ending last season with six straight wins following that terrible 0-3 start precipitated by this same RMU team? Apparently not.

Why it’s not: The Canadian-laden Colonials are dangerous in an unsettled setting. “We’ve built the team on wanting to be up-tempo and pushing it,” RMU coach Bear Davis said Sunday. “It’s what you would consider old-school, spectator lacrosse. It’s just more fun. It was a shootout. There were some smoking guns going off around there.”  Disappointment is no longer a surprising sentiment around Happy Valley. Last year’s 0-3 start had people calling for longtime coach Glenn Thiel’s head, and the murmurs resurfaced after goalie Drew Adams’ heir apparent, Steven Rastivo, transferred to North Carolina in the offseason. Dave Baker and John Nichols were awful Saturday. Penn State is a rudderless ship.

Staying power: Robert Morris and Sacred Heart, both of whom will join the new Northeast Conference, were exiled by the CAA to make room for Penn State and UMass amidst the realignment. The Colonials are operating as an independent this year, so unless they run the table and upset teams like Virginia, you're looking at a one-game-at-a-time approach.

Robert Morris continues a season-opening, four-game road swing with games Friday and Sunday at Manhattan and Wagner, respectively.


Why it’s surprising: For all the discipline Denver was supposed to have under new Hall of Fame head coach Bill Tierney, the Pioneers squandered a 10-4 lead to the Dolphins, who were playing in just the third game of their inaugural season. Denver did not do itself any favors by scheduling games at Syracuse and Jacksonville in the same weekend, so fatigue could have been a factor.

Why it’s not: While all the hoopla surrounded the Tierney-to-Denver saga, Matt Kerwick quietly built a solid team in Jacksonville -- Florida's first Division I men’s lacrosse program. The Dolphins gave No. 4-ranked North Carolina a tough game in their debut and learned a good lesson about playing from ahead when they squandered a six-goal lead in a tough loss to Bellarmine. “I told the guys coming in that if we play like we practice, we’re going to be in this game,” Kerwick said. “I’m so proud of their effort today after going down six goals to a really strong, really well-coached team. They kept their heads up, fought hard and never gave up.”

Staying power: Jacksonville does not have the conference affiliation or strength of schedule to be an instant contender in the national landscape, but games against Bucknell, Duke and Hofstra could certinaly land the Dolphins on the radar. Don’t look now, but Kerwick boasts the nation’s top scorer in Ryan Serville, who has 10 goals and five assists in three games.

Next: Jacksonville encounters another first -- its first road trip. The Dolphins play Saturday at VMI, which gave Army a run for its money.


Why it’s surprising: The Aggies had not defeated their UC rival since 2001. And given the way in which UC Davis’ club team is tearing up the WDIA ranks, it seemed its varsity counterpart was in line for a Virginia Tech-like upstaging. Au contraire. UC Davis showed tremendous offensive balance. Christina Corsa led the way with three goals. Four other Aggies tallied two each.

Why it’s not: With the MPSF champion this year earning a bid to the NCAA tournament play-in game (against the Atlantic 10 champion), the conference, while still dominated by Stanford, is bound to become more competitive. There’s more at stake.

Staying power: If UC Davis is good enough to beat Cal, the Aggies are good enough to beat St. Mary’s, Villanova, Manhattan, Detroit, Liberty, St. Francis, Regis and Fresno State -- a slate of fairly woeful opponents. (Although it’s not quite fair to lump in first-year Liberty, which hasn’t played a game yet.)

Next: UC Davis hosts St. Mary’s on Saturday at 1 p.m. Pacific.


Why it’s surprising: Virginia made it a point to improve team chemistry in the offseason, but it did not translate to the field -- not in the Cavaliers’ season-opener, anyhow. Caity Whiteley (4g) and Josie Owen (2g, 4a) were bright spots, and Brittany Kalkstein became the school’s all-time draw controls leader. But Kaitlin Duff, whom UVA is counting on for more production, was a non-factor. The Cavs also made a pedestrian goalie look great. Loyola’s Kerry Stoothoff made 15 saves.

Why it’s not: It was actually something of a must-win for the Greyhounds, who were upset by Penn State in their opener and faced the perilous prospect of an 0-2 hole to start the season. Their deep, talented midfield would not let that happen. Emily Gibson (5g, 1a), Grace Gavin (4g, 1a), Cass Cursaro (3g, 1a) and Cara Filippelli (3g, 1a) were unstoppable.

Staying power: Loyola is legit and will give Syracuse, Georgetown and Notre Dame a run for the Big East title.

Next: The Greyhounds turn around Tuesday for a game at UMBC. The Retrievers, under first-year head coach Kelly Berger, have won their first two games by a combined 34-10 score.


Drexel almost did it again. The Dragons almost upended Virginia. It would not have been terribly surprising to some.

“They don’t look like a Feb. 13 team,” Brown coach Lars Tiffany told LMO’s Brian Logue after the Bears scrimmaged Drexel.

Steele Stanwick saved Virginia, scoring all three of his goals in the fourth quarter, as the No. 3-ranked Wahoos escaped with an 11-8 win. Virginia trailed 7-6 going into the fourth quarter.

Other near-upsets of note: A week after getting blown out by Navy, VMI hung mighty close with Army. The Keydets scored four unanswered goals to pull within 10-9 with 5:51 remaining, but could not overcome the Black Knights. Keep an eye on VMI faceoff specialist Stephen Robarge. After impressing against Navy, he won 16 of 19 faceoffs against Army.

The near-upsets on the women’s side would not look so upon first glance, but No. 18 Penn State and No. 20 William & Mary held halftime leads over No. 2 Maryland and No. 5 Duke, respectively, before the ACC powers asserted their authority in the second halves of 17-9 and 16-9 victories.


Who says run-and-gun is dead?

Four Division I men’s lacrosse teams topped 20 goals over the weekend, highlighted by Robert Morris’ 24-17 victory over Penn State.

Davis credits the Canadian influence.

“They play with a shot clock all summer long. They’re accustomed to getting up and down,” he said. “It’s hard to recruit those guys and tell them we’re going to slow the ball down.”

Davis’ Canadian contingent includes Kiel Matisz (5g, 1a), Trevor Moore (3g), Corbyn TaoBrambleby (2g, 1a), Kevin Brownell (2g, 1a) and Kyle Buchanan (2g), all of whom went off against the Nittany Lions.

The Canucks weren’t just feeling the stroke in Happy Valley, however.

Jordan McBride (8g, 2a) and Kevin Crowley (4g, 5a) combined for 19 points in Stony Brook’s 21-14 blowout of Siena. On the other side, Saints sophomore Bryan Neufield scored a career-high seven goals. Ryan Serville, the nation’s top scorer coming into the weekend, had three goals and three assists in Jacksonville’s 13-12 upset of Denver. Delaware All-American Curtis Dickson scored seven goals in the Blue Hens’ triple-overtime upset of UMBC.

That’s got to be of some solace to those north of the border who are fuming over Team Canada’s historic ice hockey loss Sunday night to Team USA in the Winter Olympics.

"Who knows," Davis said. "Maybe one day us and Stony Brook will play, and you'll get to see a 50-point game."

In other shootouts, UMass scored its most goals since 2002 in a 20-10 whopper over Hartford. Rutgers blasted Wagner, 24-4.


1. Le Moyne College announced last week that it has endorsed the president’s recommendation to continue as a competitor at the Division II level. As such, it plans to reclassify its women’s lacrosse team, which currently competes at the Division I level.

My take: That should squelch any talk of the Dolphins’ men’s lacrosse team going Division I, and thus make Dan Sheehan a very happy man. Sheehan has been a vocal opponent of reclassification. The conversation took on steam when Le Moyne’s men’s basketball team stunned Syracuse in a preseason game to make national news. After getting exiled from the MAAC, the Dolphins’ women’s lacrosse team no longer had a foothold in the Division I realm. This move makes sense across the board.

2. The charges against three Sacred Heart men’s lacrosse players accused with conspiracy to commit sexual assault were dropped last week after the players apologized to their accuser in court.

My take: After what sounds like a sophomoric prank gone awry, the university did not overreact. SHU kept the three players -- Tim Sanders, Nicholas Travers and Zachary Triner -- enrolled and on its men’s lacrosse roster. They have been inactive through the first two games, however. The university will re-evaluate their status. Media coverage was also fair. I’m not sure such prudence would have been taken prior to the Duke fiasco.

3. Speaking of which, the woman who falsely accused three Duke lacrosse players of raping her four years ago has been charged with arson and attempted murder. According to Durham police, Crystal Mangum assaulted her boyfriend, set his clothes on fire in a bathtub and threatened to stab him. She was arrested Wednesday.

My take: This is just sad. Mangum’s publicized and troubled background of abuse and past injustices make her difficult to vilify, even given her false accusations of 2006. “My heart goes out to her,” Joseph Cheshire, who represented one of the accused lacrosse players, told WRAL. “Mostly, I worry about her children.”

4. Over 2,000 fans attended the University of Florida women’s lacrosse opener against Jacksonville, which the Gators won, 16-6.

My take: The crowd was more impressive than the victory. Florida is light years ahead of Jacksonville in terms of resources and recruiting. I’m more impressed that the Gators beat Princeton in their final preseason scrimmage. After playing La Salle on Tuesday, Florida visits No. 4 North Carolina in a must-see game Sunday.

5. Designer Michael Bastian got rave reviews for his lacrosse-themed sportswear collection for Gant during New York Fashion Week.

My take: Check out the photo in this Los Angeles Times’ blog. Gotta love the popped collar, short shorts and headband. Lacrosse might not make it into the Olympics, but at least the fastest sport in fashion has some global cachet.


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