March 10, 2014

MD2 Notebook: Seton Hill Hits Its Benchmark

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Matt Delmonico (above) scored three goals, not only helping Seton Hill knock off Mercyhurst, but snapping the Lakers 36-game regular season winning streak, a 21-game home regular season winning streak, and a 20-game conference winning stretch. (Dave Miller)

One of the questions asked of Brian Novotny in the wake of Seton Hill's 10-7 victory over Mercyhurst on Saturday was whether this was the biggest win in the program's history. For a lot of teams, the question would be somewhat melodramatic, but the Griffins are in just their ninth year of existence. It's a legitimate query.

"I said in my first season getting the first win in program history was probably the biggest," said Novotny, of the Griffins 15-12 triumph against Division III Cazenovia in 2006 – the only win that first campaign.

"And in recent memory, there have been a lot of big ones, but this one is important because it almost seems like every chance to beat Mercyhurst has slipped away from us," Novotny continued. "We've had some competitive games over the years and we had a game four years ago where it was a one-goal game and Mercyhurst went on to win the national championship. That was one we thought we could have won.

"There have been some others that have been really close and we've never been able to close it out or to take that final step and beat them. It's a benchmark in that regard. We have a lot of respect for Mercyhurst and Coach Ryan and to beat a team that is as well coached and talented as they are, that's always a benchmark."

The three-goal differential gives the impression that this was a mildly comfortable win, but it was anything but. After the first 23 minutes, it appeared Seton Hill might be in serious trouble, trailing 5-2 with the last three Mercyhurst goals coming via the man-up.

"When we were playing even strength, we were even with them and maybe out-playing them in some regards during those stretches," Novotny said. "But then we got a three minute non-releasable stick penalty on our faceoff guy. They got a quick goal. Then the next faceoff we got a procedure so we were two-man down and they scored quickly again. We were digging ourselves a whole. In the second quarter we had a chance to clear the ball twice and two times in a row we threw it away on the offensive side of the field."

It would be panic time for a lot of coaches and teams, especially going against a team that as clinical as the Lakers.

"There wasn't a lot of urgency on my end or on the team's end," countered Novotny. "We felt very comfortable in the game. We knew that we had to stay cool, calm and collected and we had to get some stops and get the ball to the offense. They calmed down and got some big plays on the offensive end that tied the score and then with 13 seconds left in the half, Matt Delmonico sticks one that puts us up at the half. Not only did we overcome a pretty big deficit, but overcame it and then took the lead at the half."

The 4-0 run over the final 6:07 of the first half sent the Griffins into the locker room with the 6-5 lead, but Novotny didn't get the sense that he had Mercyhurst on the ropes. It was the opposite, really.

"I actually think Coach [Chris] Ryan likes to be in that situation at halftime," said Novotny of the Mercyhurst coach. "I don't know how many one-goal games they had last year, all the way up to the final four game against Limestone, which was an amazing comeback. And we've been in that situation with Mercyhurst before when we've been up on them at the half, and then the third quarter starts and they usually come out and do very well. We talked about setting our intensity level for the third quarter as high as we could. Once we started to build on our lead in the third quarter, that's when the guys really started to believe."

They were able to build the lead thanks to a defensive unit that held Mercyhurst scoreless for a stretch of nearly 32 minutes – from the 7:34 mark of the second period to the 5:36 mark of the fourth. In the second half, the Lakers managed to get just two shots on the Griffins net. Novotny credited junior goalie Brady Lawrence (8 saves) and sophomore close defender Josh Albo for the defensive success, but also gave a nod to the offense, which controlled long stretches of possession that threw Mercyhurst off its rhythm.

Now the Griffins are in the catbird seat. Not only are they essentially assured of hosting the ECAC conference tournament – they'd have to lose twice in conference to even bring it into doubt – but they have to be considered the top seed in the South at this point.

Everything can change within the course of a week, however.

"After the game, it was a pretty festive environment in the locker room and on the bus ride," Novotny said. "It was a fun ride home. But everyone understands where we are at on our schedule and what looms next for us is Limestone next weekend. We can celebrate it for a little while, but we'll have to move pretty soon and get ready for the next one."

Wheeling's Fruitful Florida Foray

After a turbulent offseason that was marked by the murder of senior midfielder Kevin Figaniak and the hiring of Kevin Dugan as the new head coach, Wheeling Jesuit finally got back on the field this week. With their former teammate still heavy on their minds, the Cardinals rolled to three victories on their swing through Florida.

It started with a comfortable, 14-5 win over Lynn on Monday, followed by an impressive, 9-6 triumph over Saint Leo on Wednesday and was capped off by a thrilling, 12-11 overtime victory against Florida Tech on Saturday.

"We knew we were going to need a huge effort against Saint Leo's, so when Lynn came out in a zone we were pretty content to pass the ball around and save our legs," Dugan said. "We didn't force the issue or pressure as much as we would have if we had a week off after the game. They won face-offs, have a very talented young goalie and had a good game plan to keep us from running away from them. Against Saint Leo, we had a really tough time adjusting to the pace of the game in the first quarter. Saint Leo has a very good team speed and it took us a quarter to settle down. I was really proud of the mental fortitude and poise our team showed in the face of some first quarter adversity."

The Cardinals were helped by the play of FOGO Evan Hodel, who bounced back from a miserable night against Lynn (3-of-16) with a 10-for-19 performance against the Lions. "St. Leo had been winning over 75 percent of their face-offs and Evan went out there and was a fearless, scrappy competitor," Dugan said. Hodel was instrumental in the win over Florida Tech, as well, snagging 18-of-27 draws, including the only one in overtime.

The opening success was a good thing for the team, but Dugan saw enough that needs to be worked on before the Cardinals head to Missouri for the ECAC opener against Lindenwood on Friday.

"We need to clean up a lot of the 'in-between-the-lines' scenarios," Dugan said. "Our transitions from offense to defense, and defense to offense, need to be cleaner."

The 3-0 beginning was also a comforting agent for a team that still mourns the loss of Figaniak.

"We have done a lot of things to honor and remember Kevin," Dugan said. "Some are little things on helmets or shooter shirts, but the thing I try to remind our guys is that the biggest way to honor anyone that you care about that you have lost is to make your time count. Have a conscious gratitude for the gift of each moment, and by doing that, and by living and playing with passion, that is how you will honor your friend. We said a nice prayer to Kevin after the Saint Leo game, and I think our guys walked off the field filled with his spirit and a special Holy Spirit. He is definitely not forgotten and his life is an incredible source of inspiration to the team."

Lacrosse Magazine's Player of the Week

Dylan Lefebvre, Sr., A, - Seton Hill
Lefebvre scored two goals and dished out three assists in the Griffins road upset against Mercyhurst. With Seton Hill trailing, 5-2 midway through the second, the Saskatchewan product sparked an 8-2 run to end the game with a goal and then dished out his three helpers during the string.

Honor Roll
Matty Beccaris (LIU Post), Cody Bernstein (Domincan-Calif.), Miles Britton (Saint Leo), Chris Button (Le Moyne), Andy Campos (Coker), Dom Cianfarano (Roberts Wesleyan), Matt Crough (Dowling), Kevin Dargin (Franklin Pierce), Nick Ferriero (Tampa), Tyler Johnson (Wheeling Jesuit), Dylan Lefebvre (Seton Hill), Joe Leonard (Molloy), Todd Nakasuji (Limestone), Marc Piche (Seton Hill), Patrick Sheridan (Limestone), Garrett Smith (Assumption), Dane Sorensen (Florida Southern), Conor Whipple (Tampa), Jesse Wood (Mercy).

Bracket Watch

LIU Post (3-0) at Le Moyne (5-0)
Dowling (3-0) at Adelphi (2-0)

Tampa (5-0) at Seton Hill (4-0)
Mercyhurst (2-1) at Limestone (5-1)

Slides & Rides

- Merrimack's loss to Limestone will be a tough one for the Warriors to swallow. Merrimack dominated in shots (44-24), ground balls (52-30), faceoffs (13-of-18) and held the Saints to just 14-of-25 in the clearing game, but still lost, 8-7. Some of the credit goes to Limestone goalie Patrick Sheridan, who made 12 saves in the neutral site game held in Towson, Md., but the Warriors didn't take advantage of their chances. They went 1-for-8 on the man-up and shot a dreadful 16 percent. Mike Morgan and his guys can take some solace in the fact that they were able to statistically dominate a team like Limestone, but they are already a step behind Northeast-10 rival Le Moyne, which beat the Saints last weekend.

- Is Lake Erie in trouble? Well, the 0-2 swing to Florida wasn't an optimum start to the season, and there is certainly cause for concern, especially after the Storm got their doors blown off by Tampa, 19-8 on Saturday. However, it's still plausible that LEC can rally and get back into the NCAA tournament picture. It will probably mean finishing the last 10 games with nine wins, which will mean a road victory over Mercyhurst or Seton Hill. It's certainly doable, but it will mean Greg Stocks and Co., will have to fix a lot of holes before next Saturday's game with Pfeiffer.

- There's no question that Chestnut Hill has played one of the toughest – if not the toughest – schedule in the country so far, and the 1-3 start to the season has been the result. In the old Division II and old ECC, the postseason would be out of the question, but the Griffins still have a shot at a satisfying finish. They are now in the race for the fourth spot in the inaugural ECC tourney. Three of the spots would appear to be accounted for (LIU Post, Dowling, NYIT), but there is a race for that last bid. Chestnut Hill is competing with Molloy, Mercy and Roberts Wesleyan for the slot and with all three upcoming on the schedule – Molloy is next Saturday – the brutal early schedule could pay dividends. And if the Griffins do find their way in, they will be an experienced bunch no one wants to see.

- Roberts Wesleyan improved to 4-0 in its third season in existence after tripping Saint Rose in triple overtime. Nick Wolak struck for the game winner in the 71st minute for the 10-9 victory. Sophomore Dom Cianfarano continued his torrid pace, netting four more goals, giving him 22 markers and five assists in four games – a staggering 6.75 points per game. The competition level increases this week with a home date against LIU Post on Saturday, however the Redhawks held their own against the Pioneers last year on the road, bowing, 7-5.

- There are two huge games coming up on Tuesday. The most obvious one is the LIU Post-Adelphi contest in Brookville. That tilt will be give the committee some solid seeding material when they select the field in May. The other match-up will be between Dominican (Calif.) and Pfeiffer. Both teams are on the outside looking in at an NCAA berth, but this is a key game for the evolution of the WILA and western lacrosse. A win by the Penguins would be a statement victory for a league that is fighting geography for a seat at the table.

- Congrats to Florida Southern head coach Marty Ward, who was named to the Iroquois National training roster...congrats to Limestone head coach J.B. Clarke for picking up his 200th career victory in the win over Merrimack on Sunday...Saturday's game between Dowling and Le Moyne in the Carrier Dome will be one of the marquee games of the week in all divisions. Both the Lions and Dolphins coasted to victories over the weekend...Notre Dame de Namur finished their Florida swing with a 22-6 loss to Saint Leo, but they did grab a win over Lynn midweek...Colorado Mesa dispatched with Adams State, 11-5. The Mavericks head to Florida in two weeks for their chance at making a statement.

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