October 21, 2011

Fall Ball Brief

Third Year Holds Massive Potential for Mercy

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

The Division II Goalie of the Year in 2011, junior T.J. DiCarlo returns as the backbone of the Mercy defense. With the loss of just a couple of players off last year's 11-3 team and another solid recruiting class, the Mavericks have the real potential to crack the tourney field in just their third year of existence.
© Mercy Athletics

Mercy College will be running into one of the age-old problems for up-and-coming programs. The Mavericks, which are entering just the third year of existence in 2012, will no longer be sneaking up on anyone after the '11 campaign, in which Mercy posted an 11-3 record, knocked off East Coast Conference bully NYIT, and finished with a No. 7 national ranking.

"I don't think anyone is going to be penciling in a 'W' next to us like they did last year," said head coach Steve Manitta.

Certainly not, especially considering the Mavs return over 200 points from last year and nearly the entire team intact, along with the addition of another solid recruiting class. With the current trajectory of the program, it very well may not matter whether the rest of the ECC sees the Mavs coming or not.

The anchor of the team this year once again will be T.J. DiCarlo. The junior netminder posted a 7.58 goals against average and a 63.6 save percentage on the way to earning All-American and USILA Goalie of the Year honors.

- Fall Ball Priority: As Manitta looks back on the 2011 campaign, he acknowledges that it was a successful one, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. He has pinpointed stick-work fundamentals as a priority this fall.

"I just had a conversation with the guys watching film," said Manitta. "At this time of year, there is so much football on television so I used that to ask the question, 'What kind of team are we?' Are we a ground-and-pound team – eight yards and a cloud of dust – or do we want to go deep? Well, we want to go deep, but you have to make sure you're not throwing interceptions and putting yourself in bad situations. So that's where we are: just the fundamentals."

- Know this Name: Frank Palumbo. A starting close defenseman as a freshman in 2010, Palumbo missed all of last spring when he tore his labrum a week before the season opener. Although he probably could have come back at the end of the year, he was held out to preserve his injury redshirt. As Mercy ramps up for the '12 campaign, Palumbo is all the way back and should help make the Mavs backline even stingier.

"He's the perfect captain," said Manitta of the redshirt sophomore. "Having him back this year is going to take a lot of pressure off of T.J. and some of the other guys. He runs the show for us defensively and he's going to have a nice year."

- Eye on the Future: Despite the rapid ascent of the program, Manitta is keeping a close eye on his 2013 recruiting class. That group will be the telltale class in terms of keeping the Mavs in the top tier of not only the ECC, but the entire D-II landscape.

"The cornerstone will be the next recruiting class," said Manitta. "It'll be a class that we really feel will come in and help us get into the position to be a little bit more successful. The seniors that started this whole thing will drop the keys in their hands and say, 'Don't screw this thing up.'

It'll be a delicate balancing act because, unlike some of the other larger schools, Mercy will never have a huge roster size – "I'm never going to have 60 guys on my roster," said Manitta. As such, the Mavs' staff won't be able to afford many swings-and-misses on the recruiting trail.

- "Trust Fall" Recruiting: Mercy's quick ascendancy has been a product of a specific recruiting methodology, according to Manitta.

"I don't think anyone wanted to play for a start-up program in the East Coast Conference," admitted Manitta. "No one wants to get beat up for four or five years. So we kind of presented [the recruits] with what I call the "Trust Fall" recruiting method. I'd say, look it, you've got to trust me; we're going to be good.

"The ones who are juniors now really believed in that. Now we've got some guys through recruiting who I don't think we would have been able to go after that first year because that's a tough sell. Playing the C.W. Posts, Dowlings, Mercyhursts, NYITs of the world is a dangerous situation to be in. Finishing 11-3 along with the accolades we've got has put us in a much better position recruiting-wise because we're getting the kids we might not have been able to get that first year."

- Don't Forget the Offense: Palumbo's return on defense is a boon, but the Mavs could also be an offensive juggernaut this year. Manitta said that sophomore Jesse Wood had "almost a perfect season for a freshman in the ECC" after he scored 26 goals and set up 27 others from the quarterback role. Senior Sal Spinelli (27g, 1a) is a crease finisher who "will get a good look at the goal if you put it in his wheelhouse."

The midfield will be paced by junior Mike Marzocca (27g, 4a), who Manitta describes as a player with a "slickness to his game and is starting to develop into a kid who is a match-up nightmare because he can run on poles." Sophomore middie Pat Hodapp is a guy who flew below the radar last year (14g, 7a), but is expected to run on the first line and be a large contributor.

- Verdict: As mentioned above, Mercy is not going to be sneaking up on anyone this season. Compounding this reality is the ECC should be collectively just as strong, if not stronger, than last season. Even with these obstacles, it's still difficult to envision the Mavericks not being a player for what will likely once again be two NCAA bids for the Central region. Entering its third year, however, Mercy's goals are a little broader.

"We want to build a respectable program, and that means when an opponent comes in here, they know they'll have to play their best to beat us," said Manitta. "The kids have really bought into that and they have worked extremely hard. They have shown the coaching staff by putting in the extra work that the great programs like C.W. Post, Mercyhurst, Le Moyne and Limestone do."

- News & Notes: Mercy does not have a turf field, but Manitta said the facilities are continuously improving at the Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., school...the Mavericks travel to Syracuse this weekend for a scrimmage against Le Moyne, but Manitta will be sitting several of his banged-up veterans as a precaution...Mercy will travel to NYIT, Wheeling Jesuit, Molloy, C.W. Post and Seton Hill this spring. The Mavs do avoid lengthy, cross-state trips by hosting Lake Erie and Mercyhurst...two of the three losses in 2012 came on the road (Merychurst, Dowling)...Manitta was my pick for Coach of the Year in Division II.

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