May 26, 2013

NCAA Division II Championship Breakdown

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

"I'm anticipating the first five minutes of the game will probably set the tempo," said Le Moyne head coach Dan Sheehan about his rematch of the '07 national championship game with Mercyhurst on Sunday.

When Mercyhurst was preparing for the 2007 national championship game against Le Moyne, Lakers head coach Chris Ryan was a mess. All of the administrative and media expectations just kept coming and coming, to the point where lacrosse almost seemed secondary.

Then the phone rang.

"It was actually Dan Sheehan who called me, and he asked how I was doing," Ryan said of the Le Moyne head coach. "I said, 'Dan I'm going nuts.' And he said, 'That's why I called.' He explained the process to me. It was the one time that Dan and I have worked hand in hand and I was appreciative of the call. You can lose your mind."

Both Ryan and Sheehan enter Sunday's game with enough coaching experience in the game, but there has been plenty of roster turnover since the last time the two teams were in the championship game — 'Hurst in '11, the Dolphins in '10.

"The experience is certainly helpful, but at the same time for us, we haven't been there in a while," Sheehan said. "It's one of those things where I've had the opportunity to do this a few times, but I've got a locker room full of guys and for the majority of them, this is their first time."

"So when you talk about student-athlete experience, this is it," added Sheehan. "You want to make it special for the kids. You want to give them as much information so when the smack in the face comes on Saturday during practice, it isn't enough to hurt. But this is something that 15 years down the road these guys are going to look back on."

Past experience for the players may not mean much this year. With the expanded tournament, these are the most grizzled postseason teams to tangle in the championship game in the history of D-II. And while they have been mostly defensive-oriented programs in the past and for much of this year, both altered their image in the semifinals when Le Moyne beat Adelphi, 16-13, and Mercyhurst needed overtime to beat Limestone, 18-17.

It provides some intrigue as to whether we're going to get something like the 6-5 grinder we had in '07, or perhaps something more wide-open.

"In 2007 during the championship game, if you wanted to go get a hot dog and you had to stand in line for a little bit, it was probably pretty safe that you weren't going to miss much," Ryan said. "I just don't see this game being what everybody expects out of Mercyhurst and Le Moyne. You have two teams that are playing their best lacrosse right now, two teams that are playing with a lot of confidence and you have two teams that have bought into what the program is preaching. It is going to be very interesting."

"I'm anticipating the first five minutes of the game will probably set the tempo," Sheehan said. "Faceoffs and goalie play have a lot to do with what happens at this time of year. If you've got the confidence that your guy can go back to the X and get the ball back, playing make it, take it, it allows you to do some different things on the offensive end of the field. I'm anticipating a little bit of a chess match."

Sheehan's strategy will be in large part determined by the battle at the dot. If Kam Bumpus and Cameron Fedish are handling Mercyhurst's duo of Mitch McAvoy and Eric Wales, we'll probably see the Dolphins being creative on the offensive end and possibly even push the pace. If things are hovering nearer to 50-50 on draws, Le Moyne will probably revert to its more grinding style.

Mercyhurst probably has a pretty good idea of what to expect, and the Lakers know they are playing a team operating a peak efficiency.

"We have seen Le Moyne grow up this year," said Ryan of watching the Dolphins on film. "They had some tough games early and lost one or two, and then all of sudden you could see it all fall in place for them."

The Lakers, however, are a team that is seemingly built to handle every situation. Not only that, they've shown a remarkable resiliency this year to deliver at the perfect time. Mercyhurst has been seemingly beaten twice — at LIU Post and last weekend against Limestone — and found ways to pull it off in the fourth quarter.

Those are the types of intangibles that often resonate in championship games, which make the Lakers impossible to pick against.

Prediction: Mercyhurst, 10-9.

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