April 22, 2013

Washburn: Bucknell a Team Comfortable in its Skin

by Evan Washburn | LaxMagazine.com

Bucknell has never had a losing season in eight years under coach Frank Fedorjaka. The Bison bring a unique look to the field, particularly with their defensive and riding sets.

A successful team and program must have an identity. When you hit the field as a player it gives you a comfort that allows you to play free. You know your role and your place within the team.

As I've watched Bucknell play over the years, I have always been struck by their unique identity.

This past Saturday the Bison went on the road and got a win against Colgate 13-8 in their final game of the regular season. The game itself highlighted all of the characteristics that make Bucknell different than many of the top teams in Division I men's lacrosse.

The best players play on this team, despite age or past success.

Underclassmen accounted for 13 points in Saturday's win, with freshman Sean Doyle leading the way with four goals and one assist. Eight underclassmen play significant minutes for Bucknell.

The Bison defense is the most complex I have seen.

Under the direction of head coach Frank Fedorjaka, Bucknell runs multiple slide packages within each settled possession. At times you will see them slide quickly and then all of a sudden they are not sliding at all. The only people — and that includes this guy in the booth — that know exactly what the Bison are running are the defenders on the field and coaches on the sideline.

The Bison held Peter Baum to one assist in the final home game of his career and the entire Colgate team scoreless in the final 16 minutes in the win.

Oh, and then there was the goalie change.

At the 7:53 mark of the third quarter — after a 4-0 Colgate run that gave the Raiders a 7-5 lead — Fedorjaka pulled his all-conference senior goalie Kyle Feeney. The head coach inserted sophomore Sam Grinberg, who had played in only three games to that point, making one save.

Bucknell outscored Colgate 6-1 after the goalie change. Grinberg finished with six saves.

The Bison style is hard to explain and plan for, which is a product of their head coach.

Fedorjaka is one of the best coaches in the game, but is rarely talked about. He has a very cerebral approach to coaching that comes across when you speak with him leading up to a game.

During his eight seasons as head coach, the Bison have never had a losing record and consistently have had one of the nation's best defenses with an average goals against average of 7.75.

Fedorjaka is only the second head coach in Bucknell lacrosse history and has taken a program from the periphery to the precipice of making a deep NCAA tournament run.

The run could start this weekend when the Bison enter the Patriot League tournament Friday at Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pa., as the second seed.

The Bison's resume may get them into the NCAA tournament even without a Patriot League title, but a tournament win could get this group a first-round home game.

Tewaaraton Watch

The Tewaaraton Foundation will announce the 25 nominees for the sports most prestigious award later this week.

This is still a wide-open race. As always is the case, the individuals whose teams do the best in April and May will help decide the winner.

But here are five players that I think have separated themselves.

Rob Pannell, Cornell A

The fifth-year senior is now the Ivy League's all-time leading scorer. Pannell has been consistent all season putting up 66 points (29 goals, 37 assists). I think Pannell may be the safest bet to walk away with the hardware, and has the opportunity to have his Tewaaraton moment this Saturday against Princeton.

Lyle Thompson, Albany A

Thompson has rebounded from a disappointing national TV game against Johns Hopkins, with 25 points in his last three games. For Thompson to win this award Albany needs to get into the NCAA tournament, win a game, and he needs to be great.

Marcus Holman, North Carolina A

North Carolina is the hottest team in the country, winners of their last seven games. Holman has been the most complete and consistent player in the ACC, averaging five points per game. I think UNC will finally return to championship weekend, which will help Holman's case.

Kieran McArdle, St. John's A

Much like Lyle Thompson at Albany, McArdle's odds of winning the Tewaaraton go hand in hand with his team's success. The Red Storm will need to secure a spot and win the Big East tournament to get into the NCAA tournament. McArdle's 6.55 points per game is tops in the nation.

Eric Law, Denver A

Law is a dark horse in this race, mostly due to the fact that his teammate, Cameron Flint, is getting so much attention as one of the nation's top players. Law has been good from start to finish this season. He leads Denver with 54 points (29 goals, 25 assists).

Evan Washburn, the former Delaware defenseman and current CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network lacrosse commentator, provides a column each Monday during the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse season. Follow Evan on Twitter @EvanWashburn.

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