February 17, 2011

Weekender: How to Know You're Ready

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Is Franc Cook, along with the rest of the No. 10 Lynchburg team, ready for the opening game against No. 2 Salisbury on Saturday? We'll only know when the final whistle blows.
© Kevin P. Tucker

It's going to be a tough game. It says right here on the schedule that you're playing one of the top seven teams in the country. You're a good program, however. There's a number to the left of your school's name, too.

None of that stuff matters, though. When you walk out on that field, there's only one issue of consequence: is your team ready?

"If I had the answer to that question," said St. Mary's head coach Chris Hasbrouck, his answer trailing off to laughter, "I don't know if I'd be sitting in that chair if I knew that."

Hasbrouck, whose No. 20 Seahawks host No. 5 Roanoke on Sunday afternoon, is one of four coaches who will kick off their season with a highly ranked foe. The answer isn't easy for any of them.

"That's one of those questions coaches are always struggling with," said Haverford coach Colin Bathory, who plays No. 3 Stevenson on Saturday. "I think we're always looking at our guys and knowing what they are capable of, and seeing how close to that level of play that they are at. Early in the season it's tougher to figure that out."

Stevenson coach Paul Canatabene, who travels to No. 7 Haverford, believes his team is ready, but understands that doesn't really mean much.

"I think we're ready to play, but we'll find out on Saturday at 1 p.m," Cantabene said. "We have to put on the uniform and see what we're made of. I think we have a lot of good players at a lot of positions, but we haven't played anybody yet."

Lynchburg coach Steve Koudelka, who hosts No. 2 Salisbury on Saturday, will find out whether his team is ready for this game, but not all of a team's questions are going to be answered in one 60-minute span, whether it be against a ranked or unranked squad.

"I think this is something that every coach struggles with understanding: however important the first game is, it's still the middle of February," Koudelka said. "It's not about what is going to make us better on Feb. 19, but what will help us build up and be better on March 19 and, if you're still playing, May 19."

The issue of readiness takes on a heightened importance for Lynchburg and St. Mary's. Unlike Haverford and Stevenson, the Hornets and Seahawks were on the outside of the NCAA tournament last year, in no small part due to their inability to win their season openers against the same teams they face this weekend.

St. Mary's was tied at three with five minutes left in the first quarter in 2010 and feeling pretty good about its chances against Roanoke. Then the wheels came off, as the Maroons rolled to a 22-7 triumph.

"They were just that type of team with the talent and the chemistry where you'd blink and they scored five goals in about three and a half minutes," Hasbrouck said. "They were a team that capitalized on every mistake we made. Both teams are going to make mistakes because, they are going to be pretty excited, so it's the team that can capitalize on that. We really need to limit our turnovers and really execute. Whichever team makes the most of their opportunities is going to come out on top."

Lynchburg was run off the field by the Sea Gulls in the first half last spring, trailing 12-2 at the break, but the Hornets rallied before falling, 14-9.

"We told our guys the other night in the locker room that early in the year it is going to be the teams that can adjust as the game goes on the best that have the advantage, because no one early in the year knows anything about anybody," Koudelka said.

The matchup between Haverford and Stevenson will be a little different. Unlike Hasbrouck and Koudelka, who have a pretty good idea of the personnel and philosophies of their opponents from past meetings, this will be the first-ever match-up between the Mustangs and Black Squirrels. While the coaches have certainly poured over tape of each other and scouted live, the presence of the unknown forces them to look inward.

"We like to watch our opponents on tape and see where they are. But leading into the first game of the season, you don't get that luxury," Cantabene said. "There's a lot of truth to just worrying about yourself, because if you do execute, you're going to be pretty good. If you don't, then you're going to struggle."

"There are always going to be surprises depending on what they do, but that's the challenge," said Bathory. "There's only so much heading into a game like this that we can absolutely know about each other. Early in the season, it's going to be more about who we are and less about the other team."

There are multiple ways to prepare a team for the start of the season, but the question of readiness will perpetually haunt coaches. Why?

Because despite the hours of preparation, it's a question that can only be answered at the end of the game.

Slides & Rides

- As of Tuesday, Stevenson wasn't sure if it would have the services of All-American attackman Richie Ford for Saturday's game against Haverford. The senior is still waiting to hear back from the NCAA about his eligibility waiver for 2011. Mustang coach Paul Cantabene was obviously hoping for the waiver to clear, but didn't sound overly concerned about the issue. "We'll just have to wait and see," he said. "The rules change every year." If Ford can't go, look for sophomore transfer Tyler Reid to fill the hole.

- One overlooked factor in the repeat of the Lynchburg-Salisbury game is weather. No, not the weather expected on game day (which is supposed to 59 degrees and sunny). Rather the weather this spring. Remember, last year was a nightmare in terms of snow in the Mid-Atlantic region, stretching down into Virginia and North Carolina. It caused havoc among the warm-weather programs that weren't used to dealing with the white stuff.

"We haven't missed one day of practice because of weather this year, whereas last year we played in the opening game against Salisbury and we had been out on the full field twice," said Lynchburg's Steve Koudelka. "Here we are this year, and we've been on a full field every day. Not only do I think we're a better team right now than last year, we're ahead of where we were last year in our everyday X's and O's, game-day stuff."

Perhaps it's the nice warm sun on the players' faces – it was expected to be 71 degrees on Friday in Lynchburg – or the full-field practices, but there is certainly a measure of optimism running through the Hornets program.

"I don't think we're nearly as good as we can be and our guys know that," Koudelka said. "The older guys are telling each other we can get a lot better. I think we started turning the corner early March last year, whereas I think we started turning the corner a couple of weeks ago."

- I've got my eye on the No. 6 Dowling-Queens game on Sunday. These intra-regional games can be important at the end of the year, and this contest will be a good measuring stick for both programs. Despite making the tournament last year and barely losing to C.W. Post in the semis, 9-8, the Golden Lions haven't received much buzz this preseason. Much of that has to do with the amount of players graduated off last year's team, but a win over Queens would be a good start in showing that Dowling will again be a threat in the ECC.

As for Queens, the Royals were just a step behind Limestone in the Conference Carolinas preseason poll, snagging two of the six first-place votes. Now that the Saints are out of the gate with a 28-5 pounding of conference foe Lees-McRae, Queens will try to keep pace with a win over a nationally-ranked squad. The game is slated for 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

- Keep your eye on the scores from the Full House Face-Off in Las Vegas – Henderson, Nev., actually – as there will be several key MCLA Division II games. The five teams at the event – No. 3 Utah Valley, No. 4 Westminster, No. 10 Western Oregon, No. 18 Cal State-Fullerton and UC Santa Cruz – all have aspirations to make the national tournament. Utah Valley and Westminster are conference foes, so they won't play each other this weekend, but we should get a real good idea of what to expect from WOU and Fullerton this season. Check back with the MCLA Division II scoreboard section this weekend for the results.

- UC Santa Barbara junior Jamie Bridgman continues his charge toward All-American honors with another dynamic performance. Bridgeman scored four goals to lead the No. 14 Gauchos to a 13-10 victory over a highly-regarded Utah team on Thursday afternoon. The binge pushes Bridgman's numbers to 10 goals and eight assists after four games, with three coming against teams likely to be ranked in next week's MCLA Division I poll.

- In the Weekender from a couple of weeks ago, I talked about how the Pilgrim League was on the brink of NCAA insolvency after Norwich and Lasell bolted for the GNAC, leaving the Pilgrim with only six teams and a two-year grace period. Pilgrim commish Craig Poisson has rectified the issue. According to a release from the league, Regis (Weston, Mass.) College men's lacrosse will leave the Commonwealth Coast Conference at the conclusion of this academic year and join the Pilgrim. While it doesn't aid Springfield's quest to improve the league's stature – Regis went 1-10 in its first varsity year in 2010 – it does allow Keith Bugbee to continue his rugged non-conference slate.

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