April 21, 2014

MD2 Notebook: Queens Closing Up Shop, Waiting

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

Garrett Chan (above) and Queens won the first-ever South Atlantic Conference championship by beating Lenoir-Rhyne on Saturday. Now the Royals are taking some time off as they wait to see if they can sneak into the NCAA tournament. (Queens Athletics)

The first South Atlantic Conference championship game brought all the excitement any fan could want. Queens, the top-seeded team, needed a late rally to tame second-seeded Lenoir-Rhyne, 11-10, and raise the inaugural hardware.

Combined with the win over Coker on Thursday in the semifinals, it was essentially a reversal of how the regular season played out for the Royals.

"It was basically flip-flopped," said Queens head coach Jim Fritz. "Against Coker, we had a close game during the year and we just reminded our kids that they are going to look at that and say, 'This is a team that we can beat.' We put it our kids that, 'Hey, we're better than that score.' Against Lenoir-Rhyne, we had the opposite. We beat them in the regular season 13-9 and we said, 'Hey, this is a very good team and they are going to come out and it's going to battle and we can't take them lightly.' It turned out to be an 11-10 game with five seconds left and they still had shot on goal."

Behind the play of sophomore goalie Eric Dolan, who was named the tourney MVP after making 18 saves against L-R, and junior FOGO Kenneth Stryker, who killed a pair of Bear runs with clutch possessions, the Royals rallied from deficits three times during the contest. For Fritz, it was the product of what they learned this season.

"The one thing that has been good for us is we've had a lot of close games and big games," he said. "We kind of reminded them about Mercyhurst when we were down 7-3, and we just kept clawing back. We pointed to some of the games in the past and said, 'Hey, we've got this. We have plenty of time and we'll score.' Once we tied it, everyone said, 'OK, we're going to win.'"

It was the seventh consecutive victory for Queens, a run that started after a double-overtime loss to Catawba. The loss to the Indians on March 24 became a seminal moment for the Royals.

"We pointed at that game, and we wanted to not just use it as a turnaround for the season, but a turnaround for the program," Fritz said. "Now we know we can beat people on any given day, and we can lose on any given day. We used the loss to Catawba to fuel the whole second half of the season."

With no more games on the schedule and a slight chance for selection to the NCAA tournament out of the South region, Queens must now blend reality with preparedness. The Royals sat at No. 6 in the first regional ranking that came out last Wednesday – two spots out of contention – but if results over the next two weeks prior to Selection Sunday break their way, they could get the nod.

But for now, they're shutting it down for a little while.

"We're going to have our end of the year meeting today [Monday] and we're going to have our usual individual meetings this week," Fritz said. "One of the things we're going to tell them is that we're going to wrap-up the season like we normally do, but we have to make plans in case we get selected. We're on the bubble right now, and we're waiting on some other teams."

The plan isn't optimum in terms of staying prepared for a potential tourney berth, but it's what is best for the Royals right now. Fritz said five of his players entered the tournament with a lingering illness and gutted out the wins, and this week is the school's exam period, so down time is the right move at this point. Queens will practice lightly next week and keep an eye on other games in Conference Carolinas, the Sunshine State Conference, the WILA and the ECAC.

Regardless of how it plays out, Fritz feels his team has reached all of its goals this spring.

"When we started the year, we wanted to have double-digit wins, beat some top ranked teams and win the conference. And we did that," he said. "If we do not make the NCAAs, we'll be disappointed, but we can look and say, 'Hey, we've got to learn to finish every game.' I don't mean that it in a negative way, but that will be a lesson for us heading into next year. Going from the hunter to the hunted is definitely a lesson we'll learn."

Lacrosse Magazine's Player of the Week

Sal Tuttle, Soph., A – Adelphi
The Panthers made the trip to Northeast-10 rival Merrimack with visions of wrapping up the top seed in the conference playoffs, and Tuttle made sure it became a reality. He scored five goals, including three in the first half when Adelphi was building an 8-2 lead. The Massapequa Park, N.Y., native leads the top-ranked Panthers in goals (39) and points (55) this spring.

"This season, he has not only limited his turnovers but he has learned to let the game come to him," said Adelphi head coach Gordon Purdie of Tuttle. "That is making us a better team. He sees the field very well and creates opportunities for his teammates. He is playing smart and making good decisions."

Honor Roll

Josh Baker (Bentley), Justin Bard (AIC), Brad Brandenburg (Colorado Mesa), Alex Brownlee (Post), Kam Bumpus (Le Moyne), Matt Delmonico (Seton Hill), Eric Dolan (Queens), Joseph Donnelly (Chestnut Hill), Matt Dromeshauser (St. Michael's), Jay Goldsmith (Lenoir-Rhyne), Reagan Harding (Lake Erie), Matt Kristiansen (Shorter), Tim McDonald (St. Michael's), Adam Mirken (Pace), Shawn Murphy (NYIT), Todd Nakasuji (Limestone), Kevin Powers (Dominican-Calif.), Alex Seltzer (NYIT), Dane Sorenson (Florida Southern), Chris Stemke (Dowling), Trevor Vargo (Mercyhurst), Conor Whipple (Tampa), Jesse Wood (Mercy).

Bracket Watch

The committee tipped its hand on Wednesday by releasing its first regional ranking, which gives us a baseline for the rest of the season. Three of the four spots in the North were as expected, but the committee had NYIT ranked ahead of Merrimack for the final berth in the four-team bracket. With Merrimack losing to Adelphi and NYIT edging LIU Post in three overtimes this weekend, the Bears solidified their spot.

In the South, Pfeiffer was slotted at No. 4 – the first three are pretty much locked in at this point – and it's difficult to envision the Falcons getting bumped out of that spot this week, even though they lost to Limestone handily and fifth-ranked Dominican (Calif.), was victorious. A team that could threaten Pfeiffer's dreams is Queens, which took down Lenoir-Rhyne for the first-ever SAC crown. The Royals are 12-4 and already in the barn, so it would be reasonable to assume the Falcons must beat Mount Olive in the Conference Carolinas semis and pick up the SOS bump by playing Limestone again.

No. 4 NYIT (10-3) at No. 1 Adelphi (13-0)
No. 3 Dowling (11-2) at No. 2 Le Moyne (12-1)

No. 4 Pfeiffer (9-4) at No. 1 Limestone (13-1)
No. 3 Tampa (14-2) at No. 2 Mercyhurst (10-2)

Slides & Rides

- In an email to the rest of the coaches in the league, Notre Dame de Namur declared their intention to exit the Western Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (WILA) at the conclusion of the 2014 campaign and play the 2015 season as an independent. While the decision still must be approved by the institution (which is probably a formality), it trims the WILA – which is likely to morph into the RMAC with associate members in 2016 – of one program. The decision boiled down to money, and NDNU wanted to make sure that its annual trip to the East Coast took primacy over everything else, and with the impending expansion of their league, they didn't have to budget to satisfy both needs.

We'll refrain from judging the wisdom of the decision, but the move is consequential, particularly for Dominican – the other Division II program in the Bay Area. Because of the geographical realities, western teams must rely on the "buddy system" to survive, using travel partners to ensure that there are enough games in a particular location to be economically attractive for competition. It's the main reason why Grand Canyon (Ariz.) had to close up shop as a D-II program. With no league-affiliated travel partner, Dominican is less likely to be extended associate status when the RMAC eventually comes online, and will probably be thrown into the independent realm. That's an unfortunate turn of events for a Penguins team that was just a spot outside of an NCAA bid in this week's regional rankings.

- As expected, Tampa and Florida Southern advanced to the finals of the inaugural Sunshine State Conference tournament. The top-seeded Spartans came out a little sleepy against Rollins, trailing by two at halftime, but thanks to two goals and four assists from Conor Whipple, Tampa rallied for a 13-8 win. The Mocs rode an epic performance from Dane Sorensen (10g, 2a) to whitewash Saint Leo, 18-7. The SSC championship game is slated for 1 p.m. on Saturday at Tampa.

- Here's the Division II conference clearinghouse if you want to keep track of league seeding and results...after dismantling Pfeiffer, 16-6, Limestone is essentially a lock for the South's top seed...even with a loss to Bentley in the regular season finale, Adelphi has locked up the top seed in the Northeast-10 tourney. If the Panthers lose to NYIT midweek and then lose to Bentley? The conference stuff doesn't change, but the top seed in the region would be in jeopardy...in its last two games, NYIT has played seven overtime periods. That's the equivalent of nearly an extra half of game action...most coaches don't believe in moral victories, but color me impressed with Wheeling Jesuit's performance in the 7-5 loss to Mercyhurst. The ECAC tourney is going to be no joke...looking for a potential sleeper in 2015? Keep an eye on Mercy. They've had a tumultuous season, but Jordan Levine has something brewing in Dobbs Ferry...the ECC tourney is set, regardless of any remaining results. Chestnut Hill will visit Dowling and LIU Post will make the hike to NYIT.

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