April 14, 2014

MD2 Notebook: Dominican's Western Realities

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

With no established East Coast teams making the trip to Northern California this spring, Dominican couldn't build a strong enough schedule to realistically sustain a loss and still be viable for the NCAAs. Penguins head coach Ned Webster (above) is hoping there will be a way to change that in the future. (Dominican Athletics)

Sitting in the airport waiting for Dominican's flight back to San Francisco International on Sunday evening, Ned Webster was speaking into the memo function on his smartphone. There was a lot flowing through his head after the Penguins 1-1 weekend in Colorado, including the one-goal loss to Colorado Mesa that gave the Mavericks a leg-up in the race for the WILA crown earlier that day.

It was a game that looked to be in the bag for the Penguins. Despite facing a rash of injuries and two games in three days – including an overtime affair with Adams State on Friday night – Dominican held an 8-6 lead with under six minutes to play. Over the span of 2:08, Mesa flipped the outcome with three goals, including a pair of markers 13 seconds apart for the 9-8 final.

"If you look at the last five minutes of the game, they played very well and we played poorly," Webster conceded. "I think we had five turnovers alone in the fourth quarter, and I would guess that most of those turnovers were in the last five minutes of the game. They put some pressure on us and caused some of those turnovers, but we didn't do a good job of protecting our sticks and escaping the pressure. All three of their goals to end the games were fast breaks and one of things we pride ourselves on is not giving up transition, so it's a tough pill to swallow to see them all be 4-v-3 or even 3-v-2. We didn't have a great finish."

The loss drops Dominican to 7-3 season and ends whatever distant hopes the Penguins – or any western programs – had of being in the NCAA tournament mix. Despite Dominican's win over Queens, which went on to post wins against Mercyhurst and Pfeiffer this season, the NorCal program didn't have the strength of schedule to suffer any losses this spring. So when it did take that first defeat three days later against Pfeiffer, that bubble had burst.

"We certainly didn't achieve our goals," Webster said. "At the beginning of the year, we looked at our roster and saw the depth at every position and believed that we could beat anyone in the country. I'm obviously biased, but I truly believe that. If we played Pfeiffer another nine times, we would fare better. Heck, even one more time."

Dominican, along with the rest of the WILA teams, had trouble this year getting the high-end games they needed to stay in the postseason discussion. In year's past, Chestnut Hill, Adelphi and NYIT traveled to the Bay Area to face Dominican and its travel partner, NDNU, but that was under the old regional format when the western teams were slotted in the Central region with the ECC. Now in the North-South alignment, the WILA squads are in the south, so the allure of playing in a warm-weather locale is diminished. And with the gradual improvement of the western teams over the past several years, many northern teams are likely leery of adding a February date against a team that has been practicing outside for a month.

With no teams coming westward, Domincan and others had to maximize their one trip east by stacking two weeks of games into a spring break, often putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage. At this point, it's just something that has to happen.

"As a coach I'm not going to say that I like losing, but I believe it is essential for the development of a program, especially for a team that is so young," Webster said. "You have to take some lumps to get better and it would be nice to get a chance to prove ourselves later in the season going against some of those teams that are ranked higher than us right now. It was a bit frustrating for all of us, and I just hope that next year it will be different. I hope that teams will come out to California and play us so we can take a loss or two to improve and still be in the consideration for the postseason."

The plight of the WILA teams has brought about the question as to whether the D-II NCAA tournament should be used as a way to grow the division outside of its traditional boundaries. On one side of the discussion are the WILA teams, which would like any kind of dedicated access to the tourney, even if only in a play-in capacity, to make the sport more viable for prospective programs. More western teams lessens the travel/budget burden, with the conventional wisdom saying that will spawn even more programs.

On the other side of the argument are the established programs in the east, many which who had to go through a decade's worth of futility under the old four-bid system before gaining entrance to the tournament. A lot of those teams endured their share of growing pains, travel hassles and one-loss seasons that did not gain them entrance to the tourney on their way to build successful programs, so the notion of deeding the western teams a mandated slot just because the tournament has expanded to eight teams is often met with derision.

Webster understands that argument and doesn't discount it. He also doesn't want the western teams to get the reputation of being a bunch of whiners. He's just frustrated, and he's trying to devise a solution that will work for all parties involved, but within the budgetary confines of a Division II institution. He knows the western teams will someday get in the mix, and he points to his alma mater, Notre Dame, as proof positive.

"In my freshman year in '95, we played Duke as a No. 12 seed and everybody was laughing at us," Webster said. "And we go down to Durham and we knock them off. Duke probably had one of the best teams they had at that point. It obviously helped Notre Dame and other schools, and made people think about the big picture."

For now, the Penguins focus conists of capturing the WILA for a second straight season by winning the rest of their games and beating Colorado Mesa by more than two goals when they meet again in San Rafael on April 27. The big picture stuff will have to wait another year.

Wheeling and Dealing for an NCAA Bid

Bryce Brochu had six goals and two assists in Wheeling Jesuits' upset victory over Seton Hill this week and has the Cardinals in the thick of the NCAA tournament hunt. (Wheeling Jesuit Athletics)

Looking at the Wheeling Jesuit schedule, it was tough to get too excited about the Cardinals because the slate lacked a certain heft. Leading into Saturday's game against Seton Hill, Wheeling had played just one opponent with the kind of gravitas that turns the selection committee's collective heads. And that was a seven-goal loss to Lake Erie.

Then came the 18-12 victory over the Griffins this weekend.

"This win certainly helps validate our 9-1 record, but more important than that, it is a reflection of the potential our team has when they play with confidence and come ready to compete from the opening whistle," said Wheeling Jesuit head coach Kevin Dugan. "Realizing our full potential is more important to me than the national rankings, and we have been taking some nice steps forward since our Lake Erie game that have us moving in the right direction. Our goal is to be playing our best lacrosse towards the end of April and I am really happy with where we are as a program right now."

With no team stepping up to claim the final spot in the south region bracket with any kind of authority, the Cardinals find themselves in the midst of that discussion. With a game against a resurgent Mercyhurst program on Saturday, Dugan isn't getting caught up in that hype quite yet.

"I honestly don't worry about it too much because of the quality of teams in our conference," Dugan said of the NCAAs. "Being in the ECAC is a real blessing to our program, because we are in a conference where more than likely you are going to have at least two teams make the NCAA tournament."

Wheeling Jesuit is definitely a team peaking at the right time, and will be a handful for the rest of the conference in the regular season as well as the all-important ECAC-II tournament.

"Our win against Seton Hill was a total team effort, and the thing I am most pleased with was our decision making all over the field," Dugan said. "Defensively we are improving on a lot of the little nuances that in isolation are little things, but that add up over the course of a 60 minute game. Offensively our shot selection has improved dramatically. As has been the case all year long our seniors have a special sense of urgency that helps carry the team. They are definitely the heartbeat of the team and served as the driving force on Saturday. I am fortunate to have the seniors and the assistant coaches that I have."

Lacrosse Magazine's Player of the Week

Bryce Brochu, Soph., A – Wheeling Jesuit
In a game that would have essentially eliminated the Cardinals from the NCAA hunt, the Ontario native stepped up and kept Wheeling in the mix by knocking off Seton Hill, 18-12. Brochu scored six goals, including four in the first half helping WJU build a 10-3 lead, while also dishing out a pair of assists.

"Bryce is a an All-American caliber player and has proved that all season," said Wheeling Jesuit head coach Kevin Dugan. "His spirit and demeanor is what makes him so special. His physical talents and competitive fire, coupled with a real humble spirit is a unique and special thing. The beautiful thing about Bryce is that he never stops having fun playing lacrosse; he has so much natural passion for the game."

Honor Roll

Kyle Aylesworth (Ohio Valley), Michael Beimford (Colorado Mesa), Andrew Chadderdon (Le Moyne), Alec Dambach (Chestnut Hill), Cody Dyer (Florida Southern), John Grebe (Molloy), Kyle Hemrick (Tampa), Geoff Kennedy (St. Anselm), Hayden Kirk (Pfeiffer), Dom Madonna (Merrimack), Jimmy McBride (Mars Hill), Austin Murphy (Wingate), Marc Piper (Adams State), Kevin Powers (Domincan-Calif.), Billy Richardson (Dowling), William Scioscia (Pace), Patrick Sheridan (Limestone), Dan Shields (Mount Olive), Matt Shields (Mount Olive), Bobby Spano (American International), Reis Stanley (Dominican-Calif.), Kyle Van Kauwenberg (Shorter), Jesse Wood (Mercy).

Bracket Watch

When Merrimack went into overtime with Pace, it was hard not to think the Warriors were about to absorb their annual soul-snatching defeat. Fortunately, Andrew Vivian saved The 'Mack's bacon with an overtime snipe, keeping Mike Morgan's crew ensconced in the fourth slot. The Warriors almost had a chance to clear some extra breathing room when Molloy brought NYIT to a fourth overtime, but the Bears pulled out the 13-12 win and remained just a step behind.

Wheeling Jesuit moves into the fourth spot in the South, but it is a tentative visit at this point. The Cardinals win over Seton Hill resonates, along with their sterling in-region record (9-1), but when the final whistle blows, the strength of schedule could be an issue. A win over Mercyhurst next weekend will obviously bank the fourth spot for Wheeling. Alas, if Pfeiffer beats Limestone on Saturday, the Falcons will take a stranglehold on the last chair.

No. 4 Merrimack (8-3) at No. 1 Adelphi (12-0)
No. 3 Dowling (9-2) at No. 2 Le Moyne (10-1)

No. 4 Wheeling Jesuit (9-1) at No. 1 Limestone (12-1)
No. 3 Tampa (13-2) at No. 2 Mercyhurst (8-2)

Slides & Rides

- Leading 7-5 late in the third quarter after scoring six of the last seven goals, LIU Post looked like they were in control of Mercyhurst and headed for a much-needed win in order to get back in the NCAA race. Little did we know that the Pioneers were done scoring, stifled by the Lakers defense that held Post scoreless for the final 17:34 of the contest. On the flipside, the 'Hurst offense started the grind, scoring four goals over that same span, flipping the two-goal deficit into a two-goal lead and the eventual 9-7 triumph. There were a lot of key contributors for Mercyhurst, but you can start with FOGO Mitch McAvoy, who went 17-for-20 on the day and kept the Pioneers from stringing together goals.

- The bad, midseason conference loss has haunted Merrimack the last couple of years and the Warriors came ever so close to suffering another on Saturday. They needed extra time to take down Pace – a team that is 2-7 overall and 1-7 in the Northeast-10. Andrew Vivian scored the game winner with 1:08 left in OT, improving Merrimack to 8-3 overall and keeping them in the driver's seat for the fourth bid in the North. "They played really well," said Merrimack coach Mike Morgan of Pace. "Now them being down one versus Adelphi at home two weeks ago with two minutes left makes sense. They are skilled and Coach Mariano has them competing." The Setters were led by William Scioscia (4g, 4a).

- Believe it or not, it's conference tournament time, at least for the South Atlantic Conference. Queens earned the No. 1 seed and hosting priveledges in the inaugural SAC tourney and will play No. 4 Coker on Thursday at 4 p.m. That game will be followed by No. 2 Lenoir-Rhyne battling No. 3 Mars Hill. The championship game will be played on Saturday at 2 p.m. also at Queens. While there are no automatic qualifiers in Division II, the Royals must win the tournament if they want to keep themselves in the discussion for the NCAA tournament. With wins over Mercyhurst and Pfeiffer, Queens is viable, but anything but a SAC title would be lights out for Jim Fritz's outfit.

- Molloy took NYIT to four overtimes and goalie John Grebe did everything he could, making eight of his 19 saves in extra time, but the Lions eventually fell in the 74th minute when Tom Hughes connected for the Bears. Losing a game in that fashion is always heartbreaking, but furthering the pain is the setback likely bounced Molloy from the inaugural, four-team ECC tourney. If both the Lions and Chestnut Hill win out, as they should, both teams will be 5-3, but the Griffins hold the head-to-head – a 11-10 overtime win back in March – which cedes them the bid. Had Molloy defeated NYIT, it would control its own fate. Now the Lions must hope that either Dist. Columbia or Roberts Wesleyan upend Chestnut Hill. Dowling, NYIT and LIU Post still must settle how the Top 3 seeds are going to stack up.

- The four teams are set for the inaugural Sunshine State Conference tournament, which begins this weekend with the semifinals and then concludes on April 26. Tampa is the top seed and will host as long as it is alive while Florida Southern will be in the second chair. Both Saint Leo and Rollins are in, but they'll play on Tuesday to determine the third and fourth seed. The winner heads to Florida Southern, the loser to Tampa.

- Mount Olive sophomore Matt Shields set the school's single-game record for goals with eight in a 20-3 victory over Walsh...Le Moyne finishes the Northeast-10 schedule against teams that are a combined 10-24. The Dolphins will be rooting for Merrimack this weekend against Adelphi in order to trigger some kind of three-way tie-breaker that could land them the No. 1 seed in the NE-10 tourney...to prepare itself for its Conference Carolinas showdown with Pfeiffer next weekend that will determine the top seed and home field advantage for the league tournament, Limestone scrimmaged the MLL's Charlotte Hounds on Sunday. Charlotte's head coach, Mike Cerino, is the Saints athletic director...the ECAC tourney still could go through Painesville, Ohio...Bentley has some breathing room as the No. 4 seed in the NE-10 tourney.

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