April 26, 2010

In Lions' Den, Dowling 'D' Dictates Tempo

by Chris Gentilviso | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Dowling defenseman Kyle Rubisch (right), the team leader with 29 caused turnovers, says the No. 3-ranked Lions are in the NCAA tournament discussion thanks to their commitment to pressure defense.

© Joe Rogate

A coach’s definition of defense is often open to interpretation.

Ask Dowling men’s lacrosse coach Tim Boyle for his slant, and tempo tops his priority list.

“The one thing we always talk about is that we don't want the other team to set the tempo,” Boyle said. “I believe strongly that an offense in a rhythm is a very dangerous offense.”

Winners of nine straight contests, the No. 3 Golden Lions have succeeded in disrupting the rhythm of opponents’ attacks. Dowling (10-1) suffered its only loss to date this season at the hands of No. 2 Mercyhurst, which stands as one of two remaining unbeatens in all of Division II.

As the club’s leader in caused turnovers with 29, senior defender Kyle Rubisch has noticed the intense commitment to Boyle’s tempo-driven philosophy.

“This year, I feel like the team has really gelled and bought into all of the systems,” Rubisch said. “Everyone is playing together, working hard at practice every day. It's been showing on the field as of late.”

When Boyle talks defensive X’s and O’s with his team, he does not clamor for the big check. Nor does he hammer away at the notion of picking up a turnover on every play.

What the ninth-year coach does expect from his players on game day: forcing the opposing attack to make bad decisions.

“We try to put pressure on them all over the box and put them in difficult situations,” Boyle said. “Maybe to get the ball on the carpet. Maybe throw a pass that ends up being errant. Maybe someone is out there adjacent and they might get knocked down.”

Those potentials may seem difficult to consistently simulate in practice. But with the help of some ice-driven tactics, Boyle’s defense has honed its strategies for loose-ball situations.

As the NHL playoffs have hit their stride, Dowling’s defense has done the same with its new “hockey footy” drill. Using their feet or stick as a hockey stick, the players’ goal is to propel the ball into open space.

“I can't tell you how it has translated into the 50-50 ground balls going our way, from all sides of the ball,” Boyle said.

The stat sheet backs Boyle’s assertion, as Dowling has racked up over 46 ground balls per game over its first 11 contests. Only St. Leo ranks better in that department.

Beyond the new drills, better communication has helped the Golden Lions boost their play down the stretch. Sophomore goalkeeper Ryan Dougherty has been integral in that process, allowing only 40 goals in the second half this season.

A large part of that low figure has been Dougherty’s vocal presence on the field. By guiding his defense to the right spots, he’s faced only 90 shots on goal after the 30-minute mark.

By adhering to that overall defensive disposition as a team, the Golden Lions have established firm footing for their NCAA playoff push. That’s a goal that has been embedded in their minds from day one. While Conference Carolinas champion and No. 4-ranked Limestone the likely South region representative and top-ranked Le Moyne likely qualifying, barring a Northeast-10 tournament disaster, ECC foes Mercyhurst, Dowling and C.W. Post must duel for the remaining two spots.

Mercyhurst and C.W. Post meet Saturday. Dowling hosts first-year Chestnut Hill.

“This year, we really want it,” Dougherty said. “We've had that goal since the beginning, that we want to go all the way and win it. That's definitely in the back of our minds during every game, especially when it comes down to the end.”

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