April 28, 2014

MD2 Notebook: LIU Post Honors Seniors with Victory

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

Senior faceoff man Dom Mantovani (above) was critical to LIU Post's upset victory against Dowling on Saturday, earning him Lacrosse Magazine's Player of the Week honors. "It was the first time this season we've been over 50 percent on the faceoff and he had a goal," said LIU Post head coach John Jez said. "He had some key ground balls and he was probably the difference for us." (Lee Weissman)

Leading up to the regular-season finale against LIU Post, Dowling head coach Tim Boyle knew it was going to be an uphill slog despite Post's uncharacteristically weak record. The rivalry, which is one of the best in Division II, isn't based on win-loss marks, and, more importantly, Boyle figured the Pioneers would like nothing more than preventing his team from earning its first outright ECC regular season title in program history.

After LIU Post stifled Dowling, 9-6, to win the contest, Pioneer head coach John Jez was asked if ruining the Lions historic bid played a factor.

"It didn't really come up. We weren't really thinking about that," Jez said. "We just wanted to play well and do it for the seniors. At the end of it all, it's what we accomplished more than anything else. This game was for the seniors."

Playing in the final home game for the 10 seniors and graduate students on the roster, LIU Post raced out to a 3-0 lead in a game in which it would never trail. Dowling would come back to tie the game by the end of the first quarter, but the tone had been set for the afternoon.

"They came out on fire and I think Senior Day had a lot to do with it," Jez said. "The guys finally played up to the level that they wanted to play at all year. They kept a positive attitude and they played with full energy the entire game. When it was 3-3, they were still upbeat. They didn't look down on themselves."

Two players participating in their final game on Hickox Field made a difference for the Pioneers. T.J. DiCarlo made 10 saves in net while Dom Mantovani played his best game of the season at the faceoff dot. Jez was impressed with Mantovani's performance, which was 10-for-18 on draws along with eight ground balls.

"It was the first time this season we've been over 50 percent on the faceoff and he had a goal," Jez said. "He had some key ground balls and he was probably the difference for us."

A trio of juniors also played a role in slowing down a Dowling offense that was averaging nearly 15 goals per game entering Saturday's tilt. Robbie Chiocco, Justin Woodley and Steve Gruse put the clamps on the Lions attack, holding Chris Stemke, Kevin McElhone and Matt Crough to a combined three goals and one assist. The trio had combined for eight goals and four assists per outing before running into the Pioneers backline.

"They are three juniors who have played with each other the last three years," Jez said. "They are pretty good guys, and they can match up with a great attack like Dowling's, which has three good guys. They shut them down and played tough with them one-on-one."

Sending out the seniors/grad students in style was a welcome finish for Post, but it has the added drawback of illustrating the potential this squad had and the frustration that followed it all season.

It started with the cancellation of the spring trip to North Carolina because a snowstorm wouldn't let them off the Island. It was compounded by three one-goal losses – including a triple overtime setback to NYIT last weekend – and a two-goal defeat at the hands of Mercyhurst. In total, the Pioneers five losses came by a total of nine goals.

While LIU Post isn't completely eliminated from NCAA discussion, their sights are firmly on winning the first-ever ECC tournament, which begins on Wednesday when the Pioneers take another crack at NYIT.

"We had some hiccups early and we didn't play well, but now we still have something to play for," Jez said. "Though the NCAAs are a stretch for us, winning a conference title is there."

Mercyhurst Snags Hosting Privileges Again

When Mercyhurst moved out of the ECC and into the brand new ECAC-II conference last year, one of the big logistical changes for the Lakers was the presence of a postseason tournament. And, having never played in one, 'Hurst head coach Chris Ryan wasn't sure if he was going to like the new format.

If Mercyhurst wants to capture its second consecutive ECAC-II championship, they'll have to beat Seton Hill -- a team it lost to early in the season -- in the semifinals. "We have a senior-laden team that was embarrassed," said Lakers head coach Chris Ryan of the loss to the Griffins. "Seton Hill came in here and kicked our butts. They came on to our field and took it to us." (Kevin P. Tucker)

"I was set in my ways and I'm one of those guys who gets grumpy about change," admitted Ryan. "So that's how I went into last year's first postseason tournament, but I thought it was great. We had great crowds and a terrific atmosphere. It was a positive for our conference, but also a showcase for some of the better teams in Division II."

Now Ryan is a huge proponent of the conference tourney, especially when he gets to host it, as he and the Lakers will for the second consecutive season after beating Lake Erie, 8-5, on Saturday for the regular season title. While Mercyhurst is a lock for the South bracket when the NCAA tournament is announced on Sunday even with a loss, winning the league tournament is serious business in Erie.

"In Division II where there are no AQs, a lot of times the meaning of a conference tournament is diminished a little bit," Ryan said. "After we developed the ECAC and had a tournament, I told the guys we want to win the ECAC-II title every year. We tell the kids that whenever you are able to add the word 'champion' to what you are doing, we want to be a part of that. It is very important. It's a prideful thing. We put a lot of work into what we do and the kids have fought back this year and are in a pretty successful position."

When Mercyhurst takes to the field on Friday, they will do so against a team that caused its early season swoon. Seton Hill came to Tullio Field on March 8 and snapped a 36-game regular season winning streak and a 21-game home winning stretch with a 10-7 win. It's something that has not been forgotten by Ryan or the Lakers.

"We have a senior-laden team that was embarrassed," Ryan said. "Seton Hill came in here and kicked our butts. They came on to our field and took it to us. That game shook us up. The following weekend we lost to Queens and we were definitely disheveled coming out of the Seton Hill game. Getting ready for Friday's game, I think there is little I have to say to this team because it is not often that a team comes in here and out-plays us on our home field and Seton Hill did that in all facets of the game, including coaching. I think all of us will work pretty diligently to make sure we are ready to go."

If Mercyhurst can avenge its loss to Seton Hill and then defeat the winner of the Lake Erie-Wheeling Jesuit semifinal in the ECAC-II championship game, they should keep the field clean because they'll be hosting at least one more game in the NCAA quarterfinals.

Lacrosse Magazine's Player of the Week

Dom Mantovani, Sr., FO Middie – LIU Post
For the first time all season, LIU Post managed to record a positive faceoff percentage and topple then-No. 5 Dowling thanks to Mantovani. The West Babylon, N.Y., native won 10-of-18 draws and also chipped in with an early goal to help the Pioneers win, 9-6, and keep alive the faintest of hopes for an NCAA berth. Mantovani also grabbed a team-high eight ground balls in the victory. He'll try to continue his hot streak when LIU Post travels to NYIT for the semifinals of the ECC tournament.

Honor Roll

Corey Allen (Southern N.H.), Ryan Applegate (Catawba), Mason Axline (Walsh), Don Denman (Franklin Pierce), T.J. DiCarlo (LIU Post), Matt Gebhardt (Pace), Evan Hodel (Wheeling Jesuit), Paul Jones (Merrimack), Kevin Kelly (Le Moyne), Joe Leonard (Molloy), Michael Melnychenko (Chestnut Hill), Mike Messenger (Limestone), Luke Miller (NYIT), Dom Mantovani (LIU Post), Ryan Mee (St. Anselm), Shawn Murphy (NYIT), Kevin Powers (Dominican-Calif.), Jake Rooney (Tampa), Joe Roy (Lindenwood), Patrick Sheridan (Limestone), David Solomon (Colorado Mesa), Brandon Thomson (Mercyhurst), Sal Tuttle (Adelphi), Jesse Wood (Mercy).

Bracket Watch

Things are becoming more difficult for the committee as they assess the landscape in both the North and South. Last week's regional rankings looked as most expected, but the results since Tuesday's phone call have shaken things up at the back end of both brackets.

In the North, Adelphi's midweek loss to NYIT handed them an in-region loss, but I doubt that will shift anything at the top, especially with the Panthers head-to-head win over Le Moyne. Plus, the committee knows that the Adelphi-Le Moyne comparison will get settled in the NE-10 tournament one way or another. Dowling looked rock-solid at No. 3 at the start of the week, but the setback to LIU Post combined with NYIT's big victory has bumped them down to No. 4.

In the South, the top three seeds are almost written in stone at this point. The last spot is still way up in the air after Pfeiffer lost to Mount Olive in the Conference Carolinas semifinals and Florida Southern's setback to Tampa. Both of those teams are still in the mix, but I've got Queens in this spot as every Mercyhurst win is money in the Royals' bank. Seton Hill or Lake Erie will have to win the ECACs to get back in the discussion, and only one of them can do it.

No. 4 Dowling (11-3) at No. 1 Adelphi (14-1)
No. 3 NYIT (12-3) at No. 2 Le Moyne (13-1)

No. 4 Queens (12-4) at No. 1 Limestone (15-1)
No. 3 Tampa (15-2) at No. 2 Mercyhurst (12-2 )

Slides & Rides

- Now that the regular season is complete for LIU Post, what does John Jez think about the Pioneers missing out on the trip to North Carolina to play Queens and Lenoir-Rhyne at the start of the season?

"It could have helped us or hurt us," Jez said. "Those teams down in North Carolina are two good teams. The season could have flopped right away. It's always good to get some games under your belt before you start the ECC or region play, but it is what it is. It did hurt us. We were able to get on the field a lot, but it's better to see other people."

- It was awkward to watch, and it was undoubtedly painful for the players, coaches and fans of the teams, but the finish of the season for both Pfeiffer and Seton Hill has a silver lining. To review, at least once during the season, both the Falcons and Griffins appeared to be near locks to the NCAA tournament. Each had solid regional wins that anchored above-average resumes for the postseason, but both stumbled down the stretch. Pfeiffer lost four of its last five, including a pair to Conference Carolinas foes Mount Olive, while Seton finished with a 3-3 mark in its last six games, putting both of them on the outside looking in (for now).

The silver lining comes from what this means to the South region, and that is Dixie has already evolved from the region with one dominant traditional power (Limestone) and a bunch of carpetbaggers from up north (the ECAC) that it was in '13. The rise to prominence of geographically southern programs – specifically in the Sunshine State and South Atlantic Conferences – has meant the top ECAC teams will no longer be ceded bids just because they have some residual ECC street cred. It also means that a couple of solid ranked wins won't be enough for a tourney bid because there is a legion of up-and-comers ready to take down the contenders if they aren't ready week in and week out.

Each year, the South takes a step closer to having the depth and quality of the North region, and this spring was the biggest step to date. Every team in the region is coming to understand this, some quicker than others. Regardless, it's a very good thing for Division II.

- Needing at least a two-goal win over Colorado Mesa in the season finale on Saturday to win the WILA championship for a second straight year, Dominican (Calif.) held a 11-10 lead late in the game. And then with four ticks left, Kevin Powers scored his fifth goal of the game to push the lead to 12-10 and ensure the title. The Penguins came oh so close to squandering their opportunity. They led, 11-5, at the end of three quarters only to see the Mavs open the final frame with five consecutive goals - a turn of events that was eerily similar to how their loss to Mesa played out two weeks ago. In the end, however, Ned Webster's troops got it done, and made the repeat a reality.

- Keep track of the conference tournament results and schedules with LMO's clearinghouse...Limestone won its six straight Conference Carolinas tournament, dispatching with Mount Olive, 18-7. Saints goalie Patrick Sheridan was named the Most Outstanding Player...Ryan Applegate made 18 saves in Catawba's 11-10 win over Seton Hill. The Indians face Limestone next weekend to round out the season...Adelphi bounced back from its midweek loss to NYIT by pounding Bentley, 15-6.

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