March 27, 2014

Morning Jac: Small College Midweek Notebook

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Joe Corapi (above) is second on Le Moyne in points and one of the members of Dan Sheehan's band of "believers." (John Strohsacker)

Division II's Unrelenting Champion

A storm came to Syracuse on Tuesday. It manifested itself in the form of a desperate Merrimack team lost in a pack of NCAA hopefuls all clawing for the fourth spot in the North bracket. A win against defending champion Le Moyne would allow the Warriors to separate themselves from the pack.

The Dolphins were expecting the onslaught.

"Everybody in our program understands that regardless of who comes in here or where we go, we're the game that is highlighted, starred and circled on their schedule," said Le Moyne head coach Dan Sheehan. "To compound it, Merrimack already had an in-region loss against Dowling and they've lost to two teams that we have wins against, so we knew that they were going to come in fighting for their playoff lives. And it's only March."

After 15 minutes the tempest was over.

Le Moyne led 7-1 after the first quarter and Merrimack never threatened the rest of the way in a 16-9 Dolphin win. The triumph not only cemented Le Moyne's spot at the top of the weekly polls, but further strengthened its grip on the top seed in the region.

Any signs of complacency on the part of the champs are difficult of find.

"Our kids are believers," Sheehan said. "They are believers in what we're doing. It's an internal confidence that we're headed in the right direction, we're doing the right things and we've got the talent in the right positions. We certainly work hard each week to be as prepared as possible for whoever we're playing, and that doesn't change whether the calendar says February or May."

A lot of coaching staffs wouldn't tinker much with a team that is undefeated and unquestionably the best in the country. Sheehan and his assistants don't use polls and records as their metrics, however. Everything is performance based, and that doesn't necessarily mean only when the bright lights are on.

Ben Romangnoli, a goalie transfer from Syracuse, started the first six games of the season, posting a 6.88 goals against average, a 57.5 save percentage and a perfect record. Of late, junior Pat Brothers – once thought to be the heir apparent to the graduated Jeff White – has emerged as the new starter, and has received the nod in the last two outings.

Why upset the apple cart when things are running so seamlessly?

"Everybody understands that you have to compete for your job every day," Sheehan said. "It's not just what the stats show on game days. We actually talk about the fact that we don't look for gamers here. We look for guys who bring it every day at practice. We have that competitive atmosphere in practice and we stress to the kids that you can't rely on the 15 games to show what you can do, especially not when you have over 100 practices."

Brothers came on in the second half of the Dowling game, which was a tumultuous contest that the Dolphins finally managed to win in overtime. It was really their only true test of the season.

"That was great win for us, not only because it was Dowling – an undefeated North region team coming in here – but also because of what we went through during the course of the game," Sheehan said. "We went up early and we handled the run that Dowling made, took the lead again, then went down. Our kids showed great composure. Going back to the 'believers to what we're doing' [concept], no one panicked, not even with nine seconds left on the clock. We got a great look and buried a shot. The experience that we got from that game will certainly pay its dividends down the road."

Le Moyne will face its last likely threat this season on April 5 when it hosts No. 2 Adelphi. There's a road game against a pesky St. Anselm team this weekend, but with the Dolphins unrelenting approach to their craft, it's tough seeing them overlooking anything or anyone at this point.

"Even with [Tuesday's] game against Merrimack, we made three or four mistakes that stand out to us that could have been the difference," Sheehan said. "The game ended up 16-9 and it could have been 20-plus to three or four. We can absolutely get better."

Bowdoin Still a Work In Progress

For most coaches, it would be an awkward admission at this point in the season. For a NESCAC coach who doesn't have a fall ball and starts with a truncated preseason, it's understandable that Bowdoin head man Jason Archbell says he is still trying to get a read on his squad.

"We've had eight games but only 25 practices," Archbell said on Wednesday. "When you think about it in that context, we're still trying to jell and figure each other out. I feel like I'm just getting to know this team. Even though we're more than halfway through the season, we only have 10 weeks in our league to play lacrosse. You're still trying to work on things and figure things out. It's a work in progress."

Bowdoin has been a work in progress so far this season, but senior defender Ben Brewster (above) has been a constant for the Polar Bears this spring. (Brian Beard)

Viewed through that prism, the Polar Bears' 6-2 start to the season, including Tuesday's win over No. 13 Springfield on the road, is encouraging. Despite still finding itself to a degree, Bowdoin has been a resilient team. That was on display against the Pride. Trailing 3-1 early in the second quarter, the game had the potential to get away from Archbell's troops, but the Polar Bears didn't get too worked up about it.

"With the way scores are these days, a 3-1 lead today is completely different from a 3-1 lead five years ago," Archbell said. "It's just different and you can't be too concerned with it."

Bowdoin scored the next three goals and the two long-time rivals went back-and-forth until Brett Kujala netted the game winner with just over two minutes to play.

The resiliency has also manifested itself from game to game. The Polar Bears first loss of the season was a neutral site affair to uber-talented Nazareth, 14-11, but Archbell's guys responded with a thrilling triple overtime contest against league rival Hamilton. Just prior to the Springfield win, Bowdoin suffered a grisly, 10-4 loss to Middlebury at home in which the Polar Bears were completely taken out of their game.

"No discredit to Middlebury, and part of us not playing well was them making us not play well, but I was disappointed," admitted Archbell. "I would hope we would have played a lot better. They came in with a little chip on their shoulder and they are a really talented team. For us, it's always a big game, and it's a shame we didn't play like it."

The possibility of a carryover from the Middlebury loss was in Archbell's mind, but the Springfield win cured a lot of ills.

"I was a little bit concerned with a hangover, but I also knew that our upperclassmen weren't really happy with how we played," he said. "I felt we would play well, but knew that Springfield was talented and would be tough to defend and tough to score against. We were going to have to play 60-plus minutes, and luckily we ended it in regulation. I was seeing overtime the way it was going, but we were able to get the win."

The Polar Bears still have plenty of big tests left on the schedule, and five of the final seven regular season games are on the road. The final three – Wesleyan, Endicott and Tufts – would be a gauntlet for any program. If there's a bright side, Bowdoin has a defense, led by senior close defender Ben Brewster and junior goalie Connor Laughlin, that can hold its own against most opposing offenses. It also has a multi-layered offense that combined to hang 17 goals on Amherst.

There's a lot to like about this Bowdoin squad, but as Archbell well knows, there is still plenty to figure out.

Eastern Gets Back in the Mix

After Eastern's loss to Whittier last Friday – the third loss in as many games for the Eagles – Kevin Wallace knew he had to change something. The run started with a humiliating loss to Gettysburg, 21-4, and was followed by Ursinus (9-4) and the Poets (8-7), and the players were visibly despondent. The very real prospect of dropping a fourth consecutive game with No. 12 York coming to town forced Wallace into action.

"After our three-game losing streak, we got together as a staff since we realized our guys were getting down on themselves," said Wallace, Eastern's third-year head coach. "We got back to making practices fun and worrying more about us as a team, what we can do to be better and less on our opponents."

The change in approach worked as Eastern stunned the Spartans, 10-9, on Wednesday. The Eagles were certainly helped by already playing in a pair of close games – both losses – and it paid off, as they were able to parry a late York charge.

"We have had a couple close loses and our guys finally figured out what it took to get up [after] being knocked down," Wallace said. "We talk a lot about character, and our guys showed great resilience and fought every second today."

Eastern, which will compete for an NCAA berth out of Pool B, needed this win to keep itself in the hunt after falling behind the pack during the losing skid. Now the Eagles have the confidence to put themselves back in the mix as they enter the conference portion of their schedule.

"After the game we told our guys, 'When you put your mind to anything, you can do it,'" Wallace said. "When you have the whole team on board and fighting for each other, anything is possible."

Slides & Rides

- One of the key reasons for Le Moyne's success so far this year has been the play of Kevin Kelly. The junior, who leads the Dolphins with 30 points (21g, 9a), always seems to be in the right spot. "I'd love to be able to describe his game to you, but I can't," Le Moyne coach Dan Sheehan said. "He has a knack for putting the ball in the back of the net. He always finds himself in the right spot. It is kind of a security blanket for the rest of the guys on offense: you make a couple of extra passes and there's a chance that Kevin is going to take care of you."

NCAA Division II Notes: Catawba won its fifth-straight overtime game on Monday, upending No. 14 Queens, 9-8 in double OT. Tyler Ulrich got the game-winner for the Indians. The Royals couldn't keep the momentum going after the win over Mercyhurst...American International snapped its eight-game losing streak with an 8-6 win over Saint Rose...Pace made No. 2 Adelphi work for its win. The Panthers led by just a goal at the start of the third before pulling away for a 13-10 triumph. Sal Tuttle with six goals and two dimes...I wouldn't be surprised if Bentley earned the fourth spot in the NE-10 tournament and gave the top seed a headache in the semis...Lindenwood snapped its five game losing streak to start the spring with a 12-8 victory over Adams State.

Lake Erie stopped Wheeling Jesuit's undefeated string at six games, as the Storm handed the Cardinals a 15-8 loss in ECAC action on Wednesday. Trevor Tarte and Ryan Jurek each had a hat trick and a dime for LEC...Tampa lost its first two meetings with Colorado Mesa, but they finally snapped that string, but it wasn't easy. The Spartans triumphed 10-9, but were trailing 8-6 heading into the fourth quarter. Conor Whipple had three goals and four assists...Jay Goldsmith had five goals and set up a sixth, helping Lenoir-Rhyne improve to 7-2 with a 17-10 victory against Wingate. The Bears are in sole possession of first place in the SAC.

NCAA Division III Notes: No. 5 Denison won a grinder with formerly undefeated Wooster, 9-3...Otterbein dipped below .500 with a 10-9 overtime setback to Kenyon...St. John Fisher led No. 9 Ithaca 6-3 after 15 minutes, but the Bombers settled down for an 11-9 win...Richard Stockton has won five straight...even though they came within a whisper of beating Tufts, Keene State has lost six in a row after bowing to Bates, 12-9...No. 18 Roanoke barely beat Guilford, 8-7, while No. 11 Union snuck past Williams, 8-7, in extra was a five-point day for No. 17 F&M's Will Ballantyne in 13-8 Centennial win over Ursinus...No. 1 RIT clubbed Colby, 21-4, in Maryland...John Carroll to 8-1.

Alfred State won its first game in Division III with a 13-8 victory over Houghton...Skyler Saunders had two goals and seven assists in New England College's 28-3 win over Maine-Farmington...Stevens made it two wins in a row with 14-7 takedown of Eastern Conn. Charlie Cronin with four goals for the Ducks...Tufts didn't hit the 20-goal mark for the second time this year, but they still drilled Western N.E., 18-7. Beau Wood with the seven-point (5g, 2a) outing for the Jumbos...Illinois Wesleyan up to 6-0 after beating Fontbonne...a year after posting a 12-5 record and cruising to the GNAC automatic qualifier, Norwich is now 1-6 and 1-2 in I wrote on Tuesday, keep Berry coach Curtis Gilbert in your thoughts during his surgery on Friday.

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