June 4, 2014

Coyne's All-Americans: NCAA Division II

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

In his first year with Limestone, middie Mike Messenger (above) was a beast, helping to guide the Saints to their first championship in a dozen years. (John Strohsacker)

The genesis of my All-American team is a response to proliferation of the annual USILA divisional selections that have multiple teams and a ratio of honorees far too high for what is a prestigious award. I have one team and 13 players, as I've added a short-stick defensive midfielder to the equation this year in a nod to the specialization of the game.

In the past, Division II has typically been the most economical division in terms of All-Americans, but this year even the NCAA's middle child has added a third team to its usual two. It's understandable why the coaches would want this – All-American awards are a good way to honor student-athletes who have proven to be playing at an above-average rate. And without question, the 51 players that were tabbed this year should be very proud of their accomplishments.

But it's just too many.

So I've taken it upon myself to trim the field to just one group of individuals who have performed at a level above the rest at their respective positions. Fortunately, unlike the coaches, who have to make their selections using solely the regular season as their guide, I have the luxury of using NCAA tournament performance as a metric, if applicable, and I believe All-Americans are often forged in the crucible of postseason play.

So with all of that said, here is Coyne's Division II All-American team for 2014.

Attack – Luke Miller, Jr., NYIT

The Bears season was truncated sooner than expected, but it doesn't mitigate what Miller accomplished this year. There were only three games where he was kept from scoring, but he managed to dish out a combined 10 assists in those contests. Miller finished with 36 goals and a conference-best 49 assists. He also reached the four-point threshold in 13 of the teams 16 games for the 12-4 Bears.

Attack – Sal Tuttle, Soph., Adelphi

Tuttle had an outstanding rookie year, in which he was the Panthers leading scorer, and got even better. He again paced the team in points (55g, 20a) with 75. Adelphi won 17 games this spring and Tuttle potted the game-winner in over half of them while also finishing fourth in ground balls. Despite being without the services of attackman Nick Watson for a chunk of the season, Adelphi didn't miss a beat on offense thanks to Tuttle's presence.

Attack – Conor Whipple, Fr., Tampa

The Spartans became the first Florida team to play in, host and win an NCAA tournament game, thanks to the play of Whipple. He recorded a goal in every game this year at minimum, including 10 games with at least a hat trick, on his way to posting 43 markers and 35 assists (78 points). Whipple also had four game-winning goals and finished third on the team in ground balls (50).

Midfield – Andrew Chadderdon, Sr., Le Moyne

The Dolphins couldn't make their way back to defend their title, but through no fault of Chadderdon's. Just like last year, he was a playmaker out of the midfielder, scoring 24 goals while also setting up 22 others – the second most assists on the team. Chadderdon was deadly on the man-up unit (7g) and finished for on the team in caused turnovers.

Midfield – Reagan Harding, Jr., Lake Erie

It seemed like it took a month for the Storm to wake up, but they finally did with the help of Harding, who led the team in goals (36) and points (52). Harding had at least three points in 11 of LEC's 14 games, netting a hat trick with an assist in both ECAC tourney games, leading the Storm to the championship and a 10-1 run to finish the season.

Midfield – Mike Messenger, Soph., Limestone

Sal Tuttle (above) had a spectacular junior year, guiding Adelphi to the national semifinals once again. (Brian Ballweg)

The burly (6-foot-2, 205-pounds) High Point transfer needed little time to acclimate to Division II, finishing third on the team in points (65) with 42 goals and 23 assists. Messenger received a lot of attention this year from opposing defenses, opening up opportunities for Kyle Rhatigan, Vinny Ricci and Todd Nakasuji while still getting his share of chances.

Faceoff – Greg Puskuldjian, Sr., Adelphi

When Puskuldjian arrived in Garden City, he was a project. Mired way down the depth chart his rookie year, he took all of four draws that spring. But then the light bulb went on and Puskuldjian worked his way into being one of the finest draw men in Adelphi's storied history. After posting a staggering 67.2 winning percentage in a semi-platoon role last year, he bested those numbers this spring as the main man. He won 261-of-376 opportunities (69.4%) while also scoring seven goals and setting up three others.

Defensive Middie – Jamar Peete, Sr., Limestone

One of the top shorties for the past two seasons – he had the fourth most caused turnovers for the Saints this spring – Peete expanded his game this year. His 10 goals and eight assists gives him more points than the first three combined and adding another level of complexity for Limestone's opponents. He was targeted on a daily basis by opposing offenses, but stood tall in every game.

Long-stick Middie – Sheldon Burns, Sr., Dowling

Burns got it done on the defensive side of his job description, leading the team with a stunning 45 caused turnovers in addition to 67 ground balls (good for second on the squad). But Burns was also a factor in transition and on the offensive end of the field, where he finished eighth for Dowling in scoring (9g, 3a). He also had the second most faceoffs on the squad for the NCAA-qualifying Golden Lions.

Defense – Alex Cameron-Carter, Sr., Le Moyne

A team doesn't give up less than seven goals per outing without a solid defensive concept, but Cameron-Carter stood out on the Dolphins backline. He was fourth for Le Moyne in ground balls and tops in caused turnovers, clinging on to some of the best players in the country in the sturdy Northeast-10.

Defense – Anthony Starnino, Sr., Limestone

The Saints raised the hardware because of the outstanding play by numerous players, but Starnino was at the top of the list. He took over several big games on the defensive end, finishing up with 69 ground balls (second on Limestone) and a team best in caused turnovers (53) by a wide margin. He even chipped in with three goals and four assists.

Defense – Andrew Wagner, Sr., Mercyhurst

One of the top defensive players to ever play in the second division, Wagner graduates with a mantel full of trophies and a national championship ring from 2011. As usual, opposing offenses gave the rugged Wagner a wide berth, producing a relatively tepid stat line, but his ground ball and caused turnover numbers were some of the best on the team.

Goalie – Eric Dolan, Soph., Queens

LIU Post was dead in the water in late April, but thanks to the movitational acumen shown by Pioneers head coach John Jez (above), Post came one game away from a crown. (John Strohsacker)

The Royals run to the tournament for the first time in program history was one of the big storylines in D-II this year, and Queens would have been nowhere near the postseason if not for the play of Dolan, who had to make more saves than other stopper who advanced to the postseason (209). He made 13 stops in the one goal win over Merychurst – a win that likely cinched the bid for them – and 18 more in a crucial, late-season, one-goal win over Lenoir-Rhyne. He finished with a 9.44 goals against average and 57.1 save percentage, the latter of which was good for 11th in the country.

Player of the Year

Anthony Starnino, Limestone
The nature of lacrosse typically mandates that players on the offensive side of the ball, with the possible expcetion of goalies, garner all of the MVP or player of the year honors. But there is no getting past the impact that Starnino made on the field for the Saints as a long pole at every level of the field. In nearly every game, he was the best player on the field from whistle to whistle. Whether it was intercepting passes, muscling out opponents for a loose ball, sparking transition or even scoring on the other end, Starnino was responsible for Limestone's success this year more than any other single player – and the Saints had some good ones. Defense isn't usually sexy enough to win the big individual trophies, but Starnino made it as attractive as it can be this spring.

Rookie of the Year

Conor Whipple, Tampa
Even when Conor Whipple had some questions about whether he wanted to stay at Division I Georgetown last fall, his father, Tampa head coach Rory Whipple, encouraged him to stick it out, if only for a year. Conor bucked his father's advice and transferred to play for his dad. You won't find the Old Man arguing about the choice now. The Spartans reshaped themselves into a more complete team from top to bottom this year, but it's unlikely they would have earned the second seed in the South and advanced to the national semifinal finals without the presence of Whipple the Younger.

Coach of the Year

John Jez, LIU Post
One of the laments of many coaches back when the tournament had only four bids was that if a team suffered one or two losses, they were basically out of the mix, and it became a challenge to keep a team motivated. Well, this year, the Pioneers had five losses on April 19 and were seemingly completely out of even the most distant contention. Despite the long odds, Jez was able to keep his team on task, spurring them to the first-ever ECC championships, beating a pair of teams that downed Post earlier. Jez then coaxed his team to upsets over the top two seeds in the North – a tandem of teams with a combined record of 30-3 – on the road. The Pioneers came up short against a powerful Limestone team in the finals, but Jez's ability to keep his team focused in the face of such an uphill climb makes him the pick this year.

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