April 10, 2012

Coyne's Midseason Rewind: NCAA Division II

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

They may not have the name recognition of past Le Moyne players, but Aaron Cahill and the Dolphins have done their best to make a name for themselves.
© Greg Wall

It boasted three USILA positional players of the year (attack, faceoff, defense) and a 12-2 record, but Le Moyne was relegated to the scrap heap when the NCAA bids came out in 2011. Now, with a virtually unknown, and mostly unproven, cast of characters, the Dolphins appear to have an even better resume than last spring as they head into the final third of their schedule.

How are they doing it? Well, it's important to know that the players that Dan Sheehan is rolling out this spring aren't noobs. You may not have heard of them, but they've paid their dues.

"We're not putting too many freshmen on the field," Sheehan said. "I've always said it's impossible to replace a senior with a freshman. Most of the guys who are in the lineup and on the field are guys who have been in the program. That's a luxury we've had over the past 10 years; our ability to develop players. They might be inexperienced when it comes to big games and maybe playing time, but the majority of the guys have been in our system for a while. They understand the expectations."

With five-straight championship game appearances from 2006-10, and two national titles, expectations are always high on the Le Moyne campus. What makes the Dolphins the story of the season so far is their ability to plant themselves atop the Northeast-10 (aka, the North region) in spite of the presence of a pair of more seasoned teams.

Le Moyne beat Adelphi, which was coming off its one-goal loss in the national championship last year and returned many of the weapons that got them there, on St. Patrick's Day, 9-6, and then followed that win with a victory over battle-hardened Merrimack this past weekend. There aren't any losses left on the regular season slate.

Much of the success has rested with the players who are trying to make their own names for themselves now – something that Sheehan has encouraged.

"We certainly challenge our guys and we talk all the time about how it's more fun to play in front of 20,000 people than 20, so go out there and let everyone know not only how good you are, but how good we are," Sheehan said.

In addition, without names like Harmatuck, Chadderdon, Venditti, Bulken and Moran at the top of the pecking order, the Dolphins are actually more dangerous now.

"When we walk on the field this year there isn't one guy that everybody looks toward to win us a game," Sheehan said. "We've got six offensive options on every offensive possession. I think we've come to be known for a stingy defense and you have to earn everything you get. But the biggest difference is offensively, where there is not really that star power where you can put the ball in one guy's stick and tell him to go win you the game. They all seem to be playing pretty well together."

The names have changed, but things have remained the same for Le Moyne. Actually, they might just be a little better.

Now, some superlatives from the season thus far.

Most Illuminating Contest

Limestone head coach J.B. Clarke is straightforward when he talked about the Saints' desire to play games out of the South region, like they did against Merrimack on March 10. "We need these games," he said. Not for any committee concerns – Limestone is in the tourney – but rather to prep his team for when the NCAAs come around.

Last year's 14-11 loss to Adelphi in the NCAAs was an eye-opener for Clarke in his first year at the helm. He realized he couldn't expect to feast on the rest of the considerably weaker teams in the South region and then flip the switch when the bright lights came on. It's the reason the Saints bused nine hours to face Merrimack and it's the cause for Limestone's trip to Long Island to play Dowling in early May. They need to know what to expect in terms of talent, energy level and discipline.

They got a taste against the Warriors, but it had to raise some serious questions for the Saints. Despite having played games for a month, Limestone couldn't defeat a Merrimack team that had played just one previous contest four days prior. The 12-11 result in favor of Merrimack illustrated the fact that until next year when they'll get some company in the South region, the Saints still have a lot to prove despite the records and the stats.

Surprising Teams

- Colorado Mesa: The second-year program has posted a 7-3 mark and is the frontrunner to win the WILA championship.
- C.W. Post: The margin of error is razor thin in the ECC, and the Pioneers struggles this year demonstrate just that.
- Mercy: Expectations were high for the Mustangs, but a triple overtime loss to Chestnut Hill in the opener started a three-game wobble. They finish with four of five contests on the road.
- St. Anselm: A lot of people had an inkling that St. Michael's might cause some problems, but St. Anselm has been a revelation.
- Saint Rose: In their inaugural season, the Golden Knights are no pushover. They'll make an already deep NE-10 even deeper when they officially join next spring.
- Tampa: Using transfers and rookies, the Spartans established themselves as the top team in the Deep South in their opening season.

Player of the Year Candidates

- Alex Cameron-Carter, Le Moyne: Fits in a long line of Dolphin defenders who excel with footwork as much as stickwork, if not more so.
- Vito Demola, Dowling: He's been a marked man from the start of the season, but he's still leading the Lions in goals and points.
- Riley Loewen, Limestone: Teammate Shayne Jackson earned Lacrosse Magazine's nod as the Preseason Player of the Year, but Loewen, a junior, is delivering on a consistent basis.
- Corey Lunney, Merrimack: The junior is the straw that stirs the drink for the Warriors and is a nasty weapon (23g, 5a) out of the midfield. His nine EMO goals are a marvel.
- Brian Scheetz, Mercyhurst: The quarterback of the top-ranked Lakers' offense, the junior has shined in all of 'Hursts' big games.

Coach of the Year Candidates

- Dave Klarmann, Mars Hill: In his first season back in the collegiate ranks, Klarmann has guided the Lions to an 11-2 record and a national ranking.
- Chris Ryan, Mercyhurst: No drop off for the champs. Everyone gave the Lakers their best shot, but Ryan has navigated the brutal ECC with aplomp.
- Dan Sheehan, Le Moyne: With none of the familiar names it had from last spring, Sheehan has guided the Dolphins to the front of the NE-10 pack.
- Rory Whipple, Tampa: In its first year, the Spartans won 11 games and posted the best record in the Deep South Confrence, thanks to Whipple's efforts.

NCAA Tourney: Who's In, Out and On the Bubble?

As things shape up right now, Le Moyne (North), Mercyhurst (Central) and Limestone (South) are in good shape. The race is for the Wild Card, and it features Dowling from the Central against Merrimack from the North. NYIT (Central) and Adelphi (North) still have a puncher's chance with their remaining schedule, and theoretically if Pfeiffer beats Limestone on Saturday and then again in the Conference Carolinas tourney, the Falcons will still be breathing.

However, conventional wisdom would say it's between Dowling (7-1) and Merrimack (7-1).

What will be the tie-breaker? Well, the committee will have to crunch all sorts of numbers that could illuminate one or the other, but it might come down to Dowling's game against Limestone on May 6. Merrimack already has a win against the Saints in their pocket – a 12-11 win on March 10 in Baltimore – so if the Lions can't tame the Saints on their own field, that might be the Warriors ticket to the prom.

What to Watch Down the Stretch

- Mercyhurst at NYIT on April 21. Tech can muddy the waters in a big way with a win.
- The Northeast-10 tourney. This meaningless postseason competition could be Dowling's best friend.
- Limestone's trip to Dowling on May 6. As mentioned above, that could clear things up.

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