February 22, 2013

Limestone-Dowling III: It Still Means Something

A lot of the names have changed from last year's national championship contest, but the battle between Limestone's Jake Ternosky (right) and Dowling's Louis Riley will continue this Saturday. Whoever comes out on top has bragging rights as the top draw man in Division II.
© Bill Danielewski

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

This game just doesn't mean much.

When Dowling and Limestone square off for the third time in less than 10 months on Saturday, the stakes will be low. Yes, the Sportsman's Cup — the rivalry trophy between these two schools — is up for grabs, but that's about it. It certainly pales in comparison to the national championship game last spring and, with the new Division II men's postseason format, it won't have the potential impact that last year's regular season finale held, either.

But it is a title rematch. Just like the Maryland-Loyola redux on Saturday, that makes it important for fans of the division, even if the coaches are taking it for what it is.

Both Dowling's Tim Boyle and Limestone's J.B. Clarke referred to the contest as "just another part of the journey." They aren't trying to be anti-climactic. It's just that rivalries may carry over from year to year, but teams do not.

"We're concentrating on us," Clarke said. "We're barely even talking about Dowling. Not because we don't respect them or don't think they're terrific. But because it would all be guessing. We're going to do what we do and see how it matches up with Dowling."

"It's a totally different scenario right now," added Boyle. "We're a very different team, they're a very different team. It'll be a cool atmosphere and the fact that three of our last four games will be against them adds something. But it comes down to the fact that they are two separate seasons. We have the 2013 team and we had to replace a lot. I'm sure they did, too. We're still working on replacing what we lost and building back up."

Both teams are replacing key players all over the field. Vito DeMola, the hero of the national championship game, has graduated from Dowling. The same is true of Limestone's Shayne Jackson, who is now running the show for the Minnesota Swarm of the NLL. Both goalies from last year's meetings have departed and the defenses have been reconstructed. The only true constant has been at the faceoff position, where both programs boast one of the best in the game.

In the first meeting last year, Limestone's Jake Ternosky held a slight advantage (12-of-22) over Dowling's Louis Riley, and the Saints won, 15-7. In the title game, it was Riley with the marginal edge (14-of-25) and the Lions came out on top, 11-10. The two seniors will once again be battling for a team victory, but also regular-season long bragging rights about who's the best in D-II.

"Jake knows Riley, and Riley knows Jake," Clarke said. "If you combined the faceoff from both games, it was basically a dead heat. Splitting would be just fine. I think either coach would take splitting. If you get a few extra, you get a couple of extra possessions, and it's huge. [Riley is] a special player, and we think Jake is, too. All eyes will be out there on those guys."

"We've talked a little bit about it, but I'm sure Lou and Jake are real excited about this battle," Boyle said. "Jake got the best of him on May 6, and Lou got the best of him a little bit in the championship game. It was real tight. It was just a couple of faceoffs each way. It's going to be a tough battle and I'm sure Lou is going to be excited."

One of the natural human emotions for the Limestone players will be to seek revenge for last year's loss in the title game, no matter how inconsequential a February game might be. Clarke is going to concentrate less on revenge and more on ratcheting up the intensity.

"I just want to get them excited to play," he said. "Friday night down in Tampa, our guys were just very excited to play. That emotion led to speed and effort and, quite frankly, a toughness I wasn't sure we had. That's what we'll try to do. We talk about taking the excitement from games like these and putting it into how fast you play. We're going to have to do that Saturday."

Likewise, Boyle isn't worried about defending a championship. He wants to immerse his players — especially the rookies on the roster — into what they can expect this season from every opponent on the schedule.

"We've been telling them all along that they have a target on their backs, even the new guys on the team," he said. "Everyone wants to knock you off, no matter who it is. It showed in the scrimmages in the fall. Everybody wants a crack at you, you've got to be prepared for it and you have to be able to handle it. Whether you come out on top is neither here nor there, but you've got to be able to handle that. You have to keep yourself composed and compete. That's what we're looking for. Hopefully we'll be successful."

Ultimately, Dowling and Limestone will be judged this year on how they do in their respective conferences and against teams in their own region as opposed to this game. The two teams are very different than the combatants who mesmerized us twice last May. And, yes, they have different approaches entering this contest.

But, deep down in places they won't talk about, each team wants this game badly. And everybody knows it.

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