May 16, 2013

Men's Division II Semifinal Breakdown

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Le Moyne has gone 1-1 against Northeast-10 rival Adelphi this season. Can the Dolphins win the rubber match and earn a trip to the national championship game for the seventh time in the last 10 years?

All four of the coaches remaining in the NCAA Division II field are experienced in postseason preparation. Le Moyne's Dan Sheehan has led his program to the national championship game six times, pocketing three titles. Mercyhurst's Chris Ryan has two visits and one crown. Both J.B. Clarke of Limestone ('12) and Adelphi's Gordon Purdie ('11) have guided their programs to Memorial Day weekend.

They've all had learning moments during previous tournaments that have shaped how they are handling this year's run to the Promised Land.

"The smartest thing I've done is keep our game prep consistent and on the lighter side of things," Ryan said. "Whatever has gotten you to this point is there. You are not going to change a whole lot. I told the kids yesterday that they earned the right to be in this position, and you've got to enjoy it. Thinking back to the earlier years, you have to resist over-coaching at this point. You're not going to reinvent the wheel. I can remember back in the day we'd have extra conditioning, but at this point, what you've got is what you've got."

Staying consistent is a theme that is expressed by most of the coaches, including Clarke.

"One of the greatest lessons I've learned, going all the way back to Roanoke in '92 when I was an assistant and we went to the national championship game, are the mistakes I've made in how you operate during the week leading up to games," Clarke said. "How you practice, when you eat, what you do in practice, what kind of meetings you have. Staying more normal is the better way to go. We try to practice at the same times every day, have meetings when we do, eat where we eat and all those types of things."

But teams don't want to stay too consistent. They are participating in the division's marquee event, so the players should also enjoy the ride to a degree.

"This is almost contradictory, but the other part our job as coaches at the collegiate level is to give our kids the best experience possible," Clarke continued. "I remember when I was at Washington College, we had to go to Salisbury a couple of times to play there in either the quarters or the semis. The first time we did it, I tried to make it another Saturday, where we got on the bus in the morning, changed in the maintenance shed and played. That was a mistake. The next year, or the subsequent years, we went down the day before, stayed overnight and treated it like a true NCAA game. That's something I learned there."

When Purdie talks about his past experiences, he is very specific. He speaks about how he wasn't prepared for the crowd noise at M&T Bank Stadium for the championship game and how that impacted the way he was able to communicate with his defense. Purdie also noted Mercyhurst's ability to burn a lot of clock in that championship contest in '11, and how the Panthers have revamped their system to deal with that.

That's more of the nitty-gritty of the games themselves, but as far how he has his team approaches the ultimate goal of reaching the national championship game, Purdie attempts to downplay the end objective.

"The focus isn't on the destination, but rather the journey," Purdie said. "For our players to get through to the championship game, we need to focus on the journey and that is playing one possession at time. That's how we've played the entire season. We had some games where we haven't played well and struggled, but we've managed to pull it off. Certain players stepped up to make that happen. You do play to win the game, but you've got to win the little battles to win the war. Our players have learned to focus on that and we'll need to do it this weekend against Le Moyne."

Do the Mercyhurst players keep an eye on the big stage that awaits two teams after this weekend's games?

"Yeah, because you know it's there," Ryan said. "You've been there before. That's what we stress with these kids: act like you've been there before. Whether it's not excessively celebrating after a goal, there is no need to do any more than what it's worth at this point. As you near Memorial Day, you know what's at the end of the journey and what the reward is. It's not anything that needs to be talked about. Just the mentality of playing one game at a time has helped our kids, so we're not looking past Saturday at 2 p.m."

Limestone's Clarke says getting to the national championship isn't a subject of conversation during the course of the year, but he echoes a familiar theme.

"We try not to talk about it," Clarke said. "Our initial goal at the beginning of the year is to win our regular season conference, which puts us in the conference tournament. Once you get selected to the NCAA tournament, I think it's really important to focus on the process and not the outcome. You focus on today's practice and focus on how we can improve today and not what the outcome will be. That's what I've learned from talking to coaches who have gone through this and from reading a lot of books. Focus on what you need to do today, and when the game comes around, the score will take care of itself."

Le Moyne (16-2) at Adelphi (14-2), 4 p.m.

Tor Reinholdt and Limestone will present plenty of challenges for South top seed Mercyhurst. But will the Saints be able to solve the efficient Lakers?
© Bill Danielewski

The North region final will be a replay of the Northeast-10 championship game as the Dolphins and Panthers renew their friendship for the third time this spring. It's a heated matchup, and will only be more intense with a trip to Philadelphi on the line, but there is a healthy respect between the two programs.

"If there is anybody I'd love to play to get to the championship game, it would be Le Moyne," said Purdie. "They are a classy program. Coach Sheehan has made his way down here twice, and he and I have told each other at the end of each game that this is what lacrosse is all about. The rivalry is only growing."

The previous two meetings give us a clue about how these teams will be approaching this third interaction.

In its 18 games this spring, Le Moyne has allowed more than eight goals in a game just once: the Dolphins' 10-9 overtime loss to Adelphi on April 6. That contest evolved into a game of runs, with Le Moyne scoring four straight in the first quarter followed by a six-goal skein by Adelphi that bridged the first, second and third quarters. The Dolphins countered with three straight, leaving the score at 7-7 heading into the fourth, which was eventually won by Adelph, 10-9, in overtime. That's how Adelphi would love Saturday's game to be played.

Conversely, of Adelphi's 16 games in this campaign, they've been held below eight goals just once, and that was the 7-5 setback to Le Moyne in the NE-10 title game on May 5. While the Dolphins spotted the Panthers two goals to start the game, Le Moyne controlled the pace of play for the entirety of the second and third quarters. The Adelphi defense got worn down, allowing the Dolphins to slowly build their lead with seven consecutive markers. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, it was far too late for the Panthers. That's how Le Moyne would love Saturday's game to be played.

On paper, Adelphi has a huge advantage on faceoffs with Greg Puskuldjian and Rashad Cureton, who have combined to give the Panthers a plus-18 advantage over the Dolphins in the first two meetings. Still, Adelphi was 11-for-16 against Le Moyne in the second meeting and it didn't translate into shots or goals.

Shots will ultimately be the tell-tale stat on Saturday. If Adelphi gets more than 30, as they did in the first game (38), the Panthers will win. If they are sub-30, as they were in the second (27) contest, it'll be Le Moyne.

The Dolphins are able to turn this one into one of their patented grinders, and make plans for Philly.

Prediction: Le Moyne, 9-6.

Limestone (16-1) at Mercyhurst (17-0), 2 p.m.

These two programs have not met since the end of the regular season in 2011, but neither coach sees much difference in what he saw then compared to now.

"It's still the same fast, athletic, slick, savvy Limestone team that has always been around," said Ryan. "They have a number of guys who are at the All-American level who are very good players, but they are surrounded by teammates who also have high lacrosse IQs. They play fast and they make good reads. They have a number of good decision-makers on the team. They also seem along the same lines of Lake Erie or Seton Hill, maybe a little more polished, but very good in transition with a lot of skilled kids and a number of shooters on the field. Defensively, they don't allow you much. It's going to be a typical Mercyhurst-Limestone game."

Limestone's Clarke said that Mercyhurst has the same characteristics.

"And some of the same characters, too," he said. "Brian Scheetz, I think he has been there for 12 years. He is just a remarkable player. They get so much out him. They got a lot out of him two years ago. Just a very disciplined lacrosse player. They do what they do, and they do it remarkably well. They play outstanding defense. They don't make mistakes."

This has all the feel of the Dowling-Limestone game from last year, but the question is, does Limestone run all over the Lakers like they did Dowling in the first match-up last year, or do they get ground down like in the championship game?

As Ryan mentioned, Mercyhurst had the luxury of seeing Seton Hill and Lake Erie, a pair of teams who share some of Limestone's same philosophies. And the Saints have certainly seen their share of teams who don't share their wide open approach (Le Moyne, Pfeiffer).

It'll come down to faceoffs and goaltending. If Jake Ternosky (65 percent) can control the dot and give Limestone plus-six on draws, that's a huge advantage for the Saints. Mercyhurst is no slouch on faceoffs (61.4 percent as a team), but if they can just make it a 50-50 proposition, advantage Lakers. In the net, the winning goalie will have to make at least 10 saves. That puts more pressure on both the Saints' Christian Dzwilewski and Mercyhurst's Mike Grace because their opponents are both excellent shooting teams.

This is a coin-flip. Call it in the air.

Prediction: Mercyhurst, 10-9.

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