April 28, 2011

Binghamton Makes Playoffs Amidst Controversy, Coaching Change

by J. Jude Hazard | LaxMagazine.com

Former Binghamton men's lacrosse coach Ed Stephenson resigned midseason in protest of the suspension of three players who have reportedly been readmitted to the university.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

It's been a rocky ride, but these Bearcats have clawed their way into the postseason.

The Binghamton men's lacrosse team has qualified for the America East conference tournament despite being picked to finish last in the conference preseason poll and losing their head coach midseason in protest of the suspension of three players on the team.

Head coach Ed Stephenson abruptly resigned in March following the reported suspension of three players after a fight with a fourth individual. According to an Inside Lacrosse report, those players have since been reinstated to the university.

"It was a pretty rocky ride trying to stay focused," sophomore attack Matt Springer said. "I guess we kind of figured it would be a little bit bumpy, but I'd say we did OK."

Binghamton (6-7, 2-2 AE) clinched an America East conference tournament berth last week with a 10-8 win against Hartford. The Bearcats will conclude their regular season on Saturday at home against Albany, a team they have never beaten.

"Everything seems a little bit more normal, and I think time has been really the biggest thing," interim head coach Kevin McKeown said. "All three of us on [the coaching] staff played here, so we're very familiar with how we do things and what we're trying to do. We tried to make things seem as normal as possible and tried to keep things the way the guys are used to."

McKeown declined to comment on specifics of the incident regarding the suspended players or the report that they have been readmitted to the school. Stephenson did not respond to a request for comment made through McKeown.

"I have nothing but the utmost respect for Coach Stephenson. I am very thankful for all the opportunities he's provided me, first as a student-athlete here at Binghamton and then three years ago as a [coach]," McKeown said. "I know wherever he does land on his feet, he's going to do a great job."

Junior midfielder Chris Cook said that while he was disappointed that Stephenson resigned, he has faith in the coach's decisions and what he felt was the right thing to do.

"Once everything got pushed to the side, we really started focusing back on lacrosse," Cook said. "I'm pretty proud of our team. We faced some troubles and we really stepped our game up, got together as a team and really worked together to get into the conference playoffs."

"We just had to get the guys together and make sure they focused on what we can control, which is the product on the field," senior defenseman Derrick Danieu added. "The stuff that was going on off the field, we as players couldn't really control."

Binghamton hosts Albany on Saturday riding a four-game home winning streak. Seven seniors will play their final regular season home game on Saturday.

"No one on our team has ever beaten Albany besides a couple guys on our coaching staff," McKeown said. "I'm excited for the opportunity that those guys have to try to get a victory against Albany one last time."

The win over Hartford last week showed McKeown that the team is working well together and taking advantage of offensive opportunities. He also credited the play this year of senior midfielders Frank Donlon and David Raleigh.

"Defensively, we just need to keep working strong as a team and trusting one another out there when we're making slides and knowing everyone's got each other's back," Cook said. "On offense, it's just taking the 'S' off your chest and understanding that it's a team, and goals will come."

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